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Just Mutt: Affirmation and denial


No, I don’t believe in myself.  No, this isn’t a democracy. No, Trump is not a dictator; dictators don’t have to run for re-election or contend with a hostile press. 

No, God doesn’t depend on me. Yes, I depend on him. I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth — words from the Nicene Creed compiled nearly 1,700 years ago.

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Yes, I admire Abraham, Job, Moses, Jonah, St. Paul, John the Evangelist, Augustine, John Calvin, C.H. Spurgeon, G.K. Chesterton, Flannery O’Connor, Vivian Maier, Jung Chang, Thomas Sowell, and Alexander Solzhenitsyn — none of whom were perfect.  

Yes, we all depend on each other to varying degrees. Yes, we can learn from each other. We were made in the image of God, and we are all fallen. Is one race superior? No. 

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Science exists. Why deny it? Its underpinnings are philosophical. I hear people say that facts are stubborn things. It could be true, I’m not sure. I don’t agree with the Beatles who said, “I am you and you are me and we are all together.” I guess it could be true that we are together in the sense that we can be lumped into one category. 

We absorb sayings over a lifetime. One I’ve had to disown: “You are what you are and you ain’t what you ain’t. If you can’t do nothing else, you can always paint.” My dad more or less followed that dictum his entire adult life. And I’m still in the paint, so who knows? Maybe it’s true. Then again, I’ve done other things, so maybe it’s not. Can I still paint? Yes — so far, so good.

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Conundrum. Do I think outside the box? Yes and no. Which box are we talking about? When you say “box,” are you thinking about the same box I’m thinking about? Bob Dylan said this: “So many times I’ve heard people say, ‘If I had the money, I’d do things my way.’ ” And Reb Tevye said, “When you’re rich they think you really know.” 

I wonder why cats like boxes so much. They peer out at you with this mystical gaze. Do I have to bring Schrodinger into this? Or Dr. Seuss? Boxes are a handy analogy for categories. I’ve spent years thinking about what makes things similar. No conclusions yet. 

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Here is something strange. We hyperbolize to strengthen our case, but undercut ourselves in the process. For example, I might say, “That man always lies.” That is not a credible statement. In fact, it’s a lie. To falsify my claim, one could simply point to any true statement the man has said.  

The nature of a declarative sentence is to affirm something. Even a bald-faced lie claims to be telling the truth. That’s the way language is set up. I don’t know if there’s any language where that’s not the case. There are other kinds of sentences, but this kind says, “I do declare.”

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I affirm the value of true or false questions. As a teacher I’m entitled to do that. Essay questions are laborious to grade. Sure, at times in this column I’ve equivocated, such as waffling about whether facts are stubborn. It’s more a matter of what we can know. 

An out-of-focus photograph reflects the shutter speed and lens-setting of the camera I’m using, not the scene (such as the clouds outside my airplane window) I’ve photographed. The clouds are what they are, whether I’ve photographed them properly or not.     

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This began as a cursory listing of affirmations and denials, but has somehow drifted into indeterminacy. Please don’t say we can’t know anything. Perhaps we can’t know anything as thoroughly as we’d like. We see through a glass darkly.

We huff and we puff. We spout enthymemes with something that looks like confidence. Our bluster conceals the missing premise. Perhaps it’s a passion we’ve never been able to express, or perhaps it’s a hidden principle we haven’t yet taken the time to forge into something intelligible.

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Badgett formerly shared this column with fellow conservative Paige Meredith.