Tuesday, October 16, 2012

ZAMM (part 7) - Yes or No - Gotcha!

Carter - Reagan 1980

It's 2012 ...
and another presidential election cycle.  

As we are smack in the middle of the month of October, that means we are smack in the middle of those political debates.

And October has been known for its surprises - that "Gotcha" moment.  Once a candidate has misspoken ... oh, the shame ... you might as well just hang it up ....  especially if most of the press is hostile toward you anyway, not mention the beating you will take in cyberspace as your words go viral.

Pundits, challengers, reporters, opponents, bloggers wait like cougars to pounce on their political prey when they stumble and make that career-ending gaff.   Even a minor gaff can change the course of the election.  Just ask President Gerald Ford who, in the debate with then Governor Jimmy Carter, had a brain freeze and said there was no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.  (reference: Gerald Ford's Denial ) Goodbye President Ford.  Hello President Carter.

Often to pin down a politician, a reporter will push for a "Yes" or "No" answer.  As shown in the clip below,  when pressed for a "Yes" or "No" about a senator receiving a gift of free suits - among other similar questions, the spokesman deflects with a broad statement - we may call it a "talking point."  But the reporters are not buying it ... and the spokesman is not giving a "Yes" or "No" answer, either.  Stalemate.

Yes or No?  Fair enough question?  Was the senator trying to hide something?  Possibly.  Then again, possibly not.  The spokesman may not know the answer to that specific question and is making a broad statement to avoid a trap.

But as the Psalmist David wrote -

I said in my haste, All men are liars.
Psalm 116:11

Many would give an amen to that - especially for politicians and their spokespeople.  But "all" would include the reporters as well.  And a hostile opponent or press corps prays for that "Gotcha" moment to distort the true position of a candidate or discount the fair assessment of a situation.  It's called propaganda

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (ZAMM) has something to say about these "gotcha"  questions.

Robert Pirsig, the author, during one of his Chautauquas discussions, points out the flaw to this Yes-or-No ...  True-or-False ... One-or-Zero  logic.  The real world -  whether in the realm of science, politics, religion,... however you slice it -  is complicated.  And often a truth cannot be captured by an answer to a simple "yes-or-no" question or an assessment of a "true-or-false" state.

An example from high tech comes in the binary world of computer data.  A circuit is said to have two states, "1" or "0."  But what is the state of the circuit when the power is off?  Neither.  It's indeterminate.

Another old warhorse and its infinite variations come with this line of questioning.  A hostile reporter asks a man running for office, for example,  "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?  Yes or No."  The correct answer is an emphatic - "That is a stupid question!"  Neither a "yes" or a "no" reflects the true relationship of this man with his wife - that is, if he is not abusive to his wife.

mu - ouyang
To paraphrase Pirsig  -

Often the question is too small for nature's answer and the context of the question must be enlarged.

Japanese culture had a term for this type of answer to an inadequate question -

Mu.  (shown to the right)
No thing.  No class.  Null.  Void. Not one, not zero, not yes, not no.
(reference:  The Japanese Word, Mu, by Robert Pirsig)

But back to in the world of politics ...

Isn't "mu"  just fancy talk for dodging the question?

Yes and No.  Mu.  (I'm serious.  :) )

Knowing all things, discerning all things, the Jesus of the New Testament knew the absolute Truth and yet ...

Jesus was the Master of Mu.

Let's pull out one gem illustrating this from the Gospels, which is relevant for the presidential debates of today.  One issue talked about in the world of politics (and this can be another career-ender)  is


In the 1984 elections, President Ronald Reagan's challenger Walter Mondale stated quite bluntly that he would raise our taxes.  (reference: Walter Mondale Raise Taxes 1984) The result? Landslide victory for President Reagan.  (reference: 1984 Presidential General Election Results)  In the 1992 elections, President George H W Bush lost to his challenger, then Governor Bill Clinton, who largely capitalized on President Bush breaking his read my lips - no new taxes pledge that he had made in the 1988 campaign. (reference: George H. W. Bush

Like bitter political rivals of today trying to destroy their opponents, the religious leaders hounded Jesus during His earthly ministries as they relentlessly tried to trap Him.  They thought they could get Him on an issue.  Taxes.  And they pressed Jesus for a "yes" or "no" answer on whether it was lawful for them to pay taxes to Caesar, as shown here in this clip from the Jesus movie (1979):

If Jesus had answered - "Yes" - then the leaders could question how could He could possibly be the true Messiah if He were in league with Rome.  If He had  answered "No" - then they could accuse Him as being a traitor to Rome as Rome was ruling over Israel at the time.

This was a "gotcha" question.  Either answer - yes or no, they had Him.  So they had thought.

But Jesus recast the question.  He asked them for a coin and asked whose image was on it.  It was Caesar's, of course.  Jesus responded to their answer - So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.  (reference:  Matthew 22:16-22

Smart Jesus.  Brilliant - the "mu" to the nth degree.  His critics' original question was too small to contain the greater truth - both in the realm of politics and religion.

The answer that the critics gave to Jesus' recast question lent credence that they did owe Caesar something.  Rome had given them law and order, roads, safety, common currency, security, some justice, some measure of peace.  But likewise that did not exempt them from their obligations to God.  And this is only one example of many of the "mu" answers in the teachings of Jesus.  Each time He recast their "stupid" questions meant to trap Him, and He elicited an answer of a greater truth, which we still marvel at 20 centuries later.

Back in the world of politics, most likely the candidates are dodging the questions as politicians try to be all things to all people to get votes.  It's called pandering.  But also politics is a dirty sport. Many questions are not sincere intelligence gathering.  They are traps.  Neither a "Yes" or "No" is adequate to contain the truth or properly address the issue that was raised.  And the real intent of the question is to harvest ammunition to destroy the opponent in that "Gotcha" moment.  Rightly Jesus called those asking such questions hypocrites.

And the best answer to such inadequate "yes-or-no" questions is .....

* MU *

Couldn't resist the pun or the cute cat....

Question:  Any "mu" answers you would like to share?


Previous articles in the ZAMM series:

ZAMM (part 1) - Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (2011)

ZAMM (part 2) - Journey through Life (2011)

ZAMM (part 3) - Chautauqua, then and now (2011)

ZAMM (part 4) - Ghosts (2011)

ZAMM (part 5) - Sheldon vs Penny (2012)

ZAMM (part 6) - Sloth, or just not caring ... (2012)

Photo from:  Wikipedia - Carter Reagan Debate 10-28-80 , muTiberius

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