On Belief

I’ve gone long enough without belief that I forget to notice the absence.

I wonder sometimes if the question of belief is a red herring. A name that names an impossible thing can still live in your head. When it does, what, apart from never seeing any, tells you that there are no unicorns?

Think of how much more it is possible to believe about the world now. Because belief is sensorily rich: seeing is believing, and it is its own kind of believing as well, with a special halo of actuality. Photographs concretize abstraction. A southerner might not have believed in bears, once upon a time, for all he ever saw of them.

But we see so much of the world now so clearly.There is much to be believed. As the known world gets bigger, does the unkown world shrink and disappear?

What is the point of Grasping after the Infinite? – As I have heard it called even by mathematicians, those most ascetic of monks and worshipers of abstraction.

(Faith is to behave as though you believe when you don’t – Not quite that, but something like that. C.f.  Fear and Trembling: to be a knight of faith is to know what you believe is impossible.)

Feynman articulates an optimistic atheistic vision. He rejects religion because it is an inferior form of explanation.

But then religion’s primary purpose is not explanatory but expressive. Ritual is stylized behavior.

(Performance art seems primarily to consist in confabulated ritual.)

Ritual and community and moral training: the worry is that without belief religion cannot properly provide these things either.

The problem is with how we imagine God, perhaps. Or with where we imagine him to be. Or with the suggestion that he somehow looks like or thinks like a man or that he is a man and not a woman, which is a problem peculiar to monotheism.

I imagine the question of belief to be more fluid and less pressing for polytheistic religious visions. Of course, as an art history professor of mine once remarked, Christianity has it’s own polytheism,  to gratify the need for multiple visions of divinity, with the pantheon of saints and angels.

Religion responds to need, presumably.

I had a painting teacher who would say, in a very charming way, “Oh nobody ever really believed”, and I’ve wondered what exactly he meant and whether it was true. I think of Zizek talking about children and Santa Claus – that the children are full participants in the charade and are quite as responsible for maintaining there side of it for the sake of the Parents – the children don’t really believe the absurd story but they intuit that it is important to behave as though they do.

I have a friend with two daughters. When I spend time at his house I like to do the dishes to help out. We joke sometimes that he needs a visit from the dish fairy. He told his children about the dish fairy and one of them drew a picture of her and named her Lexie and now they both talk about hearing the dish fairy in the night. I have become wary of doing the dishes in front of them because I like the idea of propagating our little myth.

But it has occurred to me, of course, that neither of the girls believe in the dish fairy in any real way. Its fun to suppose their might be such thing – but then part of the nature of the dish fairy, for which the girls need no explanation, is that she must inevitably evade detection.

The sense of reality is strange. One’s sense for how things really are can detach from how one behaves. The things you say are for others. Angry young men sneer and pound tables when they see the entrenchment of artifice in social interaction, when they realize that it is all lies, all of it, and no one seems to notice or mind.

This is a way that certain kinds of moral training may contain their own corruption for the too-literal mind. One learns to be honest and one learns to correct one’s dishonesty and suddenly it seems to be everywhere and it becomes impossible to smile.

The trouble is that language does not function primarily as a way of communicating information. It does that too and it is important that it does that and it is important to many human pursuits that they include linguistic contexts protected, so far as is possible, from the complications of interpersonal interaction.

But literal truth is not always the aim of language and it can turn out to be dishonest, or at any rate naive, to suppose so. Perhaps most of us have met someone who called themselves brutally honest. Would it were only so simple; but honesty does not consist always in the literal report of whatever thoughts occur. Which ones, for instance, do you choose to report?

We do not only say things to communicate, in the sense of conveying information, but also to draw others towards us or to push them away, to hurt them or to console them, to train them or manipulate them. These may sometimes involve talk that also contains information.



Innocence and experience

The fool chides Lear: you should not have been old before you were wise.

The opposite is a danger as well. To want too much to ape the sober wisdom of age, though still young, can be bad for vitality.

Of course it’s a fair question how true any such wisdom can really be without the benefit of excess time alive.

Chess and Specialization. Specialization is the scourge of academia – I have thought so aloud and everybody seems to agree, at least in theory, but it’s difficult to succeed in such a sphere without confabulating a market for you’re peculiar train of thought.

Wisdom is the scourge of modern chess. The distinction between finitude and the infinite is qualitative – systems whose possibilities inspire the notion of functional infinity reveal patterns of finitude under close examination. There are only so many ways things can go. So many might be a lot in some cases, but it’s less then forever.

And so the possibilities of the position constrain and it turns out the computers will win in the end with brute calculation. The time when heroic boldness could be seen from the sidelines by commoners are lost in a paper chase of accounting. A  great chess player must inevitably be an historian of chess these days.

Chess players, as a society, are obsessed with quantification and brute comparison, and have devised complex methods of rating players. I saw a graph in a chess book that superimposed lines charting development and experience over lines expressing natural aptitude over the course of a players life. There is a moment of convergence which, theoretically, should represent a peak, generally in the middle thirties.

It turns out that the game could be graphed much the same way.  The earliest notated games are naive on both sides, but often brilliant in the winner’s exploitation of the much worse ignorance of the loser. Later, conspicuous brilliance gives way to depth of analysis, and survival requires different abilities. The chess player changes and evolves with the history of the game.

An interesting thing about the history of chess is that, unlike the events of real history, the history of the game – by which I mean literally every game ever played – is always already present in the game. Unlike language, the game of chess is a closed system. (There are potentially closed systems within language, what Wittgenstein called language games, which may have more or less rigidly defined rules. But they exist within the universe of the whole language, whose boundaries are, like those of the spatial universe, horizonal and always expanding.) There is no relevant distinction between logical possibility and actual possibility.

It’s not clear that such a distinction is ever more than pragmatic – logic extrapolates further description from existing description. We learn a third thing about the world and its possibilities from two other things we know or hypothesize. Paradoxes are only ever apparent. They invariably hinge on equivocation of expression. Such equivocations can become entrenched. But, of course, it’s a limit of our imagination, for those of us insensitive to the textures of mathematics, that we advert to wobbling like a minor second between calling light a wave and calling it a particle. It’s neither, but instead some third thing that behaves like one or the other under the gaze of our not-perfectly-appropriate tools of observation. In chess there are not even apparent paradoxes; there is only occasional sleight of hand.

Sleight of hand works less and less well as the audience gets wise. I’m always amazed to see how crudely all the cartoons I watched as a child were animated. But as a child you don’t need so much to suspend your disbelief because you haven’t learned yet to disbelieve. A vaunted advantage of childhood. Discerning constrains enjoyment, unless you change how or what in particular you decide to enjoy. (To enjoy the irony of persisting attachment to something despite recognizing it’s inferiority is one way – though it seems like a last ditch, throwing good taste after bad, so to speak.)

Theoretical possibility. At the Univerisity of Chicago t-shirts could once be seen which read: That’s all well and good in practice, but how does it work in theory? Apparent paradoxes resolve themselves into ironies. The U of C is very much the University of Chicago. It was founded with John Rockafeller’s support to rival the ivy leagues with brute industrial money. To win you need to get to the point quickly and theory is the point of academia.

(They also had t-shirts which read: The University of Chicago: Where fun comes to die. The undergrad was notoriously difficult, especially the first year (The Art institute, where I undergraduated, had boasted the same – a tough first year – but I found it consisted mainly in an absurd quantity of tasks by themselves only difficult for the sacrifice of dignity they required (Some of us know without trying that we are not performance artists.).).)

Theoretical possibility occasionally wastes attention, of course.

I lost a lot of thought working through the permutations false truisms, like anything is possible. To which no one who would say such a thing was ever very committed, I imagine, but as a candidate truth about the world it seemed like something I should analyze. Because, after all, I had heard it said and yet it seemed to be false. Could it somehow still be true?

I first encountered the Cogito at Rosedale public library, when I was in 10th grade, I think. To confess too much what kind of young man I was, I think I had been referred to Descartes by Monty Python. It was my first experience with methodological skepticism.

And thus I learned to doubt.

I have suggested elsewhere that methodological skepticism ought really to be classified as a disorder in the Diagnostics and Statistical Manual. It begins innocently as an investigation into the limits of knowledge and ends with dysfunction and death. The psychopathology of a scholars everyday life is inevitably colored with the vocabulary of his practice. Like Chaplin stuck in the motions of turning a wrench. Over-devotion to method makes habits, inevitably, and there gets to be little difference between an hypothetical presupposition that nothing is safe from doubt and actually doubting everything all the time.

Which, it turns out, can be counterproductive outside the arm chair. Because it takes time to think and there are too many thoughts to entertain them all before one must inevitably take a leap of faith and accept, at least provisionally, that the outside world  does indeed exists and you had better have something to eat.

Pushkin wrote: Habit is Heaven’s own redress: it takes the place of happiness. Or as Boris Berezofsky renders: Habit is a substitute for love.

Sometimes yes

Sometimes yes,
Sometimes no,
Sometimes come
Sometimes go.

Sometimes fickle,
Sometimes fat
Sometimes clever like a rat
Sometimes ordinary times

Call for extraordinary measures.
And, of course, vice versa.




Thoughts on Depression

I’ve read a lot of things like this on the internet.

I’ve never met a depressed person who did not have some reason to be depressed.

Don’t say: But Robin Williams had reached a pinnacle of success. How could he want to kill himself?

Invention creates need. How long had phone’s let go of their wires before it became an acknowledged necessity for everyone to own a wireless phone?

Depression, according to its popular conception, is a conspiracy. Drug manufacturers and professional therapists must maintain their markets.

Yes: people truly suffer real symptoms. But the pro-depression lobby asserts a tyranny of privileged access. Like T-shirts worn by embittered veterans of Vietnam: if you weren’t there, keep your mouth shut. If you question clinical dogma about the nature of depression you must not understand what it means to suffer.

I know what it means to be depressed. I know what it means to be crippled by fear and anxiety. I have sought out talk therapy, on various occasions, though I have avoided taking pills.

We are told that depression has physical symptoms. Of course it does. Why wouldn’t it? It is a chemical imbalance in the brain. Of course it is. Our mental and emotional states as we subjectively experience them correspond to observable physical states.

The question is: does the clinical perspective usefully advance our understanding of how to deal with depression, as individuals, families, or communities? I’ve read: depression is not sadness; depression is a clinical term for a disease. Well, yes: because it has been conventionally stipulated, by  mental health clinicians. But – and this is crucially important – there is no fact of the matter.  The term existed before the clinics. When articles assert that, no, depression is not this way that you see it, but rather this other way, it is a dogmatic assertion of medical authority. It may be supported in some way by clinical study, but it’s not like when your cold turns out to be pneumonia. The claim: no, it isn’t sadness, its a chemical imbalance with physical symptoms, is a rhetorical deflection which tends to favor more recent research into ‘mental health’ and more currently fashionable treatments.

William Blake: Nebuchadnezzar

But diseases of the soul have always existed. That we should suffer our own peculiar brands of them, in contrast to prior epochs, should not be surprising. We have different things to worry about. Our ways of life and our training to live them are radically different from times past in many ways. Whether you say they are usurped or superceded, previously available ways of understanding diseases of the soul and how best to approach them have largely fallen out of favor. Religion has lost its potency for many of us.

It often surprises me that there should be any doubt that our habits of media consumption would have profound effects on mental and neurological development and conditions. Like when people doubt climate change, I wonder: why wouldn’t all the things we have done affect the climate? Never mind ‘greenhouse gas’ emissions for a moment. An asphalt road is like a micro dessert and we’ve covered the earth with webs of them. We’ve dug big holes where once were mountains. We’ve cut down whole forests. We pick things up from one place and put them down in other places on such a grand scale that it should be surprising if it didn’t affect the climate in some way. It is a very new thing to be so steeped in media. The contemporary conception and reality of fame, for instance, is a not like anything experienced previous to the combination of photography and industrial media distribution. Most people had never seen so many different people. Imagine if the only time you saw people was in person? Now we see people in essentially perfect representation all the time, and we see thousands of them. People we fear or lust after. People we admire or find disgusting.

Pictures of people abound. But our ways of encountering others involve complex patterns of response, developed in prior states of evolution. A television image of a person disrupts this natural pattern of response, whatever it is. This is not changed by the fact that you know, consciously, that you are not in front of a real person. That is precisely the disruption! We are forced to consciously subvert our natural responses and to engage in interpretation.

I am not saying: TV caused Depression. I think it definitely contributes though, and it is just an example of how our modern condition creates its own peculiar kinds of dissatisfaction.

People who are depressed lack motivation. It can be difficult to feel motivated when you do not see the connection between your efforts in the world and your spiritual or material well-being. And it can be hard to see that, for instance, when you have a job that you don’t like. I often think when articles on depression talk about the inability to keep focused at work: maybe your job is fucking boring! Or maybe it is not good for you to be in a florescent lit cave staring at black marks on paper, or at computer screens, most of the day, every day. Maybe what your depression tells you is some much deeper truth about the insanity of your lifestyle.

Conditions are more often diagnosed as their existence becomes more well known. I don’t exactly doubt that attention deficit disorder exists, in the sense that many children have trouble focusing at school, or on single tasks in general. But its stupid to suppose it isn’t rooted in the most obvious things. Sensory over load from too-early exposure to media combined with a bad diet overloaded with sugar are to blame – combined with a host of other cultural phenomena too complex and varied to adequately describe, I’m sure, but so the same with everything. Like the climate.

We are depressed because we see the futility of our way of life.

Or maybe something about your moral and social training has habituated you to look for and fixate on causes for sadness and dissatisfaction with yourself and your life. My own mind is perpetually embattled. I feel pushed and pulled by multiple competing and incompatible visions of life of which I worry I can never adequately disabuse myself. As it happens, though I have my own special case, I think the leading opposition is a common one – between a christian vision of morality, which emphasizes the importance of love, kindness, and understanding, versus a late capitalist vision of happiness and success, where guilt attaches to failure to flourish in the marketplace.

Do other animals suffer from depression? I imagine if they do they tend to die from it before anyone diagnoses it. Or they die from complications, like being eaten because they can’t be bothered to flee or defend themselves.

Depression is a corruption and confusion of the will to live. It is also a matter of habit.

When I read descriptions of depression which ‘only people with depression can understand’ I tend to think: you will not let other people understand. I do not doubt the utter darkness of the worst depression. I have suffered the same, though of course it’s pointless to make comparisons of intensity. But I also know that someone who suffers can become incorrigibly attached to their suffering. Habit reinforces itself. The behaviors of depression naturally reinforce themselves – lying in bed all day wishing you had the motivation to get up and do something is depressing.

Calling yourself depressed is depressing. Having someone tell you its a defect of your brain chemestry, though perhaps liberating in terms of personal responsibility is, it seems to me, depressing.

A point about brain chemistry: conditioned response affects chemistry. Things in the world that make you happy or sad affect your chemistry. Every state of mind you experience is a chemical state. It is not just a chemical state. That one’s mood can be usefully described in terms of chemical release and interaction does not obviate other forms of description. The suggestion in the case of clinical depression of course is that physical and chemical descriptions are more useful than the descriptions of introspective reflection or life circumstance or interpersonal drama, perhaps because the latter seem inadequate. But those are still useful ways to think about things.  And they have some affect on your chemistry, though again, the nature of the causal relationships is, like the weather, complex and obscure.

So, to give a crude but, I think, essentially plausible description of a possible state of affairs, when something makes you sad it involves some chemical response – and probably some musculo-skeletal response as well. If, for some reason, one is conditioned to go after that feeling rather than to avoid it, certain chemical responses will be favored and after a while might create an overall chemical imbalance.

Guilt is a curious mechanism. It would seem to consist in abstinence from happiness in light of transgression. When one is a child, one looks for things to be good at and so gain the favor of surrounding authorities – the adults. So, before you can recognize it for the confusion it is you can, essentially, bind your happiness to unhappiness.

The point is: flawed moral training could plausibly account for the development of chronic depression and there is no reason to suppose that it wouldn’t also manifest, therefore, as an observable chemical imbalance.

But depression has been shown to be a hereditary disposition! Well, so is religion, though not in the sense of genetics.


Wittgenstein wrote: 

If life becomes hard to bear we think of a change in our circumstances. But the most important and effective change, a change in our own attitude, hardly even occurs to us, and the resolution to take such a step is very difficult for us.

When you find you don’t enjoy the compounded advantages of early success you’re forced to find the advantage in your disadvantage. The uses of adversity, if you like. The successful people look more and more like they belong that way because what looks like success tends to provide for a more reliable reinvestment of capital of all kinds. If you make a living from you’re artwork you’re able to spend more time making it and so spend more time and effort getting better.

Adorno said talent may well be only sublimated rage. I’m not precisely sure what that means but I resonate with the thought.

It is a very middle class sentiment.


On advertising

I have thought for a while that advertising ought really to be illegal. But that isn’t right. Really men and women ought to see it for what it is and refuse to be a party to it.

What it is, outside of its informative purpose, is an attempt to control behavior. It’s primary tactic is distraction. Its tools are the hard won discoveries of art, perversely devoted to usury and wantonness by forces of the same. Which sounds like a fairly baroque sentiment as I rethink it to myself, but there it is. No one seems to think there is much if anything to admire about a career in advertising apart from the pay check.

And certain lines of work are not and should not be considered respectable. Steve McQueen apparently wondered aloud if it befit a man to be a film star. It makes sense: he understood there was something distancing about the practice of representation. As he came more to represent masculinity he became, one can imagine, more and more alienated from it, like a worker is alienated from his labor, which produces commodities he cannot enjoy.

It’s important to remember that the bottom line is not the bottom line, whatever the bankers say. That doesn’t mean all you need is love. Death is the bottom line. Money can help to not feel you’ve languished in the mires of potential. But etc. How you make your money is part of what makes up your character, or lack therof.

America doesn’t like nice guys. Fools abound and we are fools ourselves for refusing to exploit them. Maybe. But what is so frustrating about conservatives is their mean spiritedness. I’m not mistaking tough, call a spade a spade candor for meanness. I sympathize with the impulse. I feel like I lost my sense of humor when I tried to stop making fun of people so much. I’m not sure I shouldn’t roll back the policy just a little, but I’ve become wary of contempt for inspiring facial expressions I either find painful or frightening to enjoy.

All of our emotional responses must be rooted in some genre of response developed for more primitive conditions than those we live in now. That is: we feel contempt because contempt is somehow useful. But when? How? Does a wolf feel contempt for a deer?


On the burdensomeness of thinking

There is no reason to suppose that other animals do not experience or engage in something very much like what we call thinking. Our own thoughts are bound in form to the forms of our perceptions – we hear our thoughts, we see our thoughts, we feel and taste our thoughts.

A lot of it involves words,  which would seem to be, if nothing else, the most conspicuous difference between ours and the minds of animals. Language is a technology. It is the ur-technology, like the lever is the ur-machine. We can imagine ourselves without it.

Which is why its possible to imagine other animals being in some real sense smarter than ourselves, because to think with words is not an unequivocal advantage and it is a costly development, evolutionarily. Which is what, in fact, makes it difficult to imagine ourselves without language, and yet otherwise alike, because we have evidently evolved to foster our use of the technology.

Part of its advantage is as an aid to memory. We are always abstracting. A word is a type, not a token. Even a name that means to name a single individual can only be a name with repetition. When we use a word we step away from the immanence of nature.

An animal never does that. An animal is always perfectly engaged with the present moment. But we can imagine them thinking in a kind of brute idiolect. An antelope has a vision of a lion, perhaps, which is the sum of his experience of lions. If he’s seen a lion twice, perhaps he is conditioned enough to  notice a pattern the third time, which could only mean that he has been conditioned to respond a certain way to stimuli. After which the question is: can he present the idea to himself?

Maybe, maybe not. It seems like language gives us such abilities, but it can also seem like special abilities of ours make such kinds of mind possible.

Still, with the sense we know we share we can try to imagine the consciousness of other animals, and we can even try to imagine what its like for truly alien perceptions, like a bats echolocation, which must be something like feeling the space with your voice and your ears with detail comparable to vision.


Shy with a Smile, Dour with a Scowl

A smile signals to others that you mean no harm.

Human’s are animals – a fact well noted and much discussed.  But, of course, if so, surely with a difference. An essential difference eludes description – other animal’s use tools, manipulate objects, alter their environments, have complex social structures, and some even seem to have something like language. On the other hand humans take all of these to extremes unseen elsewhere in nature.

And language floats above. The crude psychoanalytic vision of the ‘unconscious’ mind must be refined: it’s not like we have tandem minds, real but hidden. Only: intention sometimes detaches  from behavior. Self control has an horizon beyond which prior, stronger forces determine what we do.

The refined psychoanalytic vision: just so, and so we learn that we must fine tune our language training at more fundamental levels. The trouble is with the proliferation of apparatus this inspires, which is why some people never complete their analysis. The psychoanalytic tools of introspection would seem to breed their own objects of study.

When I studied philosophy there were certain ideas whose contemplation inspired a kind of idle terror, and were difficult to think about and difficult to avoid thinking about. Epiphenominalism, for example, the view that our conscious experience of having minds and perception is a causally inert after-effect of material phenomena.

That consciousness is an after-effect of more fundamental physical events is in a sense proved by scientific observation – of the temporal lag between observable physical indications of volition and conscious awareness of the same as reported by subjects. That doesn’t prove that conscious phenomena are inert. But it shows our intuitive experience of instantineity, perhaps, for what it is: a pragmatic artifice of cognition.

My anxiety over philosophical problems would seem, to refute the claim – here I was. moved to despair by a philosophical argument. But then again, I was nonplussed, not moved to action. Philosophical problems inspire idle panic. I cannot unequivocally praise a sensitivity to them.  A professor of mine once said that the peculiar talent of philosophers was to be utterly perplexed by things everyone else takes completely for granted. That talent has limited application and I’m not sure it should  be over-encouraged.

And of course for the most part it isn’t, but nowadays I’m half of a mind with Socrates’s accusers. Socrates, convicted on charges of corrupting the youth of Athens, was executed by enforced suicide – his sentence bid he drink poison at an appointed time. And so his is the ur-story of philosophy. He spent time with friends, comforted them, and faced his death with good cheer, because, after all, how much time one has had to live is a matter of perfect indifference if one is dead, and to die deliberately, amongst friends, by relatively gentle means, is about the best one can hope for, and not an opportunity to be lost over vanity’s attachment to life.

(Death is the after effect of poison.)

Heidegger said it was suicide for philosophy to make itself intelligible. And he must be right, in a sense. The twentieth century Anglo-American quest for perfect clarity was an attempt to bring about that suicide. Philosophy, whatever else it is, is a conversation that can fascinate the mind away from distraction with fear of death in idle moments. Conversations also end.

A smile signals to others you mean no harm.  A perfect smile, like the smile of a child, moves towards without fear or inhibition. To be the cause of such a smile is one of the happier achievements in life. Most smiles are imperfect. They aren’t therefore insincere, though of course they can be. But adult expression is fraught with deliberation, and so almost every smile we make as adults includes nuances of moving away, like salt or bitter hinting sweet.

Certain virtuousic actors, like Tilda Swinton, seem to have a perfect understanding of the semantics of expression. Also: excellent cartoonists. Expressions follow codes of inflection. Components of expression can be variously anatomized, but they inevitably are anatomized when honing for legibility.

How does the expression read? Getting along with others forces the consideration. We must learn to smile, regardless of our private conditions of happiness or unhappiness. We don’t have to smile continuously, or too beemingly at everyone, but we must at least signal to others that we mean no harm.

And that we are not afraid. I know a very protective pit bull named Buddy. He’s an anxious dog. He seems crazed by alertness. He sometimes runs back and forth through the house whining pathetically, which creates an atmosphere of anxiety for everyone else in the house.

It’s near impossible to calm him down. I tried sometimes. I would hold his neck, which was twice the size of his head, pet him and talk to him, and it worked, but only as long as I stayed there with him. It might well have prolonged the overall outburst.

But I’ve noticed since I’ve learned to make friends with dogs that they prioritize the facts of the situation very straightforwardly. Some dogs are sufficiently civilized or docile to take their safety amongst humans and other dogs for granted, going along with the general tendencies of their human friends. But other dogs want to know first of all whether you’re a threat.

Alertness to threat is deeply rooted, and in humans subject to extreme confusion. Our training for our ways of life involves complicated conditioning, whereby we deliberately manipulate natural patterns of response evolved to approach simpler problems more directly. A baby wales to get attention and also because he’s terrified.  But these can detach. Like when the waling baby stops suddenly, as though noticing he isn’t really scared anymore but then starts up waling again because he still want’s his mother. Maybe the new cause for crying is hunger. What the baby discovers in any case is that he can control his expressions.

Of course I have no idea how a baby thinks, but that is how I imagine things, and it seems plausible enough for Illustration’s sake. Adults need to communicate increasingly specific things with expression for more specific purposes, where one’s affective relationship to the context of expression can be, so to speak, abstract. Politicians reduce this to absurdity, where the guise of credibility undermines itself with relentless gesture of sincerity – the politician’s face protests too much. Some do it better than others and the better ones can be a pleasure to witness, whatever else. But politicians are arch-cartoonists. I think of Clinton pulling up his chin,

or of G.W. Bush’s squinting, while pulling up his chin

Reagan was a master in his way, but also frightening.