Sunday, June 20, 2004
Does God Belong on the Stump?
A Conversation with Stephen Carter, Charles Krauthammer, and Leo Ribuffo
Posted: Saturday, December 2, 2000
[...] The one that most interests me at the moment is that he felt a Christian party would be an oxymoron. Why? Because if it were truly Christian, he said, it would preach the entire gospel -- even the hard parts -- and therefore get no votes. If it were truly a party wanting to win, it would craft a kind of modified gospel, emphasizing some parts, omitting or muting others, compromising the purity of the faith in order to prevail in the election, and then it would not be truly Christian. He thought this would be a very bad thing. I agree that it is a very bad thing, and it is what tends to happen.
Later in the article, Leo Ribuffo -- a professor of History -- gives us an overview of the religious leanings of several dead presidents, such as the following, which reminds us of the influence of Deism in early American politics:
Of the deist-influenced Founders, Washington was among the most conventionally religious and started our tradition of civil religion, adding to the presidential oath, for example, “So help me God.” The least conventional was Thomas Jefferson, who said that he was a true Christian, by which he meant a follower of the ideals of Christ stripped of the mythology. Jefferson was a founder of the Democratic Party, which from the outset was more religiously diverse and more secular than its Federalist, Whig, or Republican foes.
Another interesting reminder is this:
The reference to Nixon reminds us that claims of religiosity are no guarantee against unethical behavior. On second thought, maybe that is not significant: we hardly need a reminder of that. On the other hand, claims of religiosity to not guarantee unethical behavior:
See this for a review of Niebuhrian theology, and this for a copy of Carter's speech. Carter was a sincerely religious man, but he lost. This brings me to my point: people don't want to be called back from their pride and their greed.
Everybody loves a winner, and the American stereotype is that winners are proud. The American tradition is this: to the victor belongs the spoils. The winner-take-all philosophy is perhaps the most important distinction between American political though and that of Europe, where an expectation of compromise is the starting point for negotiations. We Americans often look down on our European cousins for their quaint, outmoded ways.
As it happens, though, the notion of compromise is quaint, indeed, but it also has a solid mathematical foundation. The paper that demonstrates this is available as a 83KB PDF file. The illustrations are contained in a separate .tar compressed file, which is almost 50MB.
by Theodore P. Hill
Volume 88, No. 4
The oldest known written fair-division problem is an estate-division issue from the 2nd century AD Babylonian Talmud (Figure 1). A man dies owing 100, 200, and 300 zuz to each of three claimants, A, B, and C respectively. In most modern bankruptcy proceedings the claimants receive shares of the estate proportional to their individual claims, no matter what the size of the estate. In the Talmudic problem, A would always receive one-sixth of the total estate, B one-third, and C one-half. The solution presented in the Talmud is also this proportional one if the total estate value is 300 zuz (see Figure 1), but if the estate is only 100 zuz, each claimant receives equal shares. And even more curiously, if the estate is 200, then A receives 50 and B and C receive equal amounts of 75 each, even though their claims are not equal.
The logic of the Talmudic solution remained mysterious until 1984 when Israeli mathematicians Aumann and Maschler discovered that these seemingly inconsistent settlement methods actually anticipated the modern “nucleolus” solution of a single 3-person cooperative game. Roughly speaking, the nucleolus is that solution which minimizes the largest dissatisfaction among all possible coalitions. [...] [emphasis mine]
The Corpus Callosum is fond of making connections. What is the connection between religion-in-politics and mathematics-in-politics? The article, Does God Belong on the Stump?, makes the point that "if it [a Christian party] were truly Christian, he said, it would preach the entire gospel -- even the hard parts -- and therefore get no votes." And the article, Mathematical Devices for Getting a Fair Share, makes the point that the logical solution to fair-division problems is the solution that "minimizes the largest dissatisfaction among all possible coalitions." Yet, a politician who followed this method would get no votes. He or she would not be perceived as a winner, in the American stereotype. Fair-division problems are common in politics, but the truly fair solutions don't make anyone especially happy; instead, they minimize unhappiness. This is one reason that politicians are not mathematicians.
The other reason is that most politicians are not smart enough to understand this kind of thing. (Al Gore was, but he lost.) Jimmy Carter's "malaise" speech was characterized as an effort to "call Americans back from their pride and their greed." In other words, it was an attempt to introduce fairness into the political process. By advocating a limit on energy imports, he also was advocating a society of mutual sacrifice. No one was interested. Such limits would minimize the number of persons who would loose out, but it would create no winners.
Carter's notion was not based upon a mathematically rigorous fair-division solution; rather, it was based upon a Biblical motion of modesty. As it happens, both the Talmudic fair-division approach, and the Biblical repudiation of greed, lead to roughly the same outcome: no clear winners, but no big losers.
Is that such a bad thing? Apparently, American voters think it is.
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