Choosing a Tack: Politics & Religion

My wonderful commentors have helped me realize that my previous sailing metaphor was a bit confusing.   So this post is to clarify by illustrating the sailing principles I had in the back of my head when I wrote those posts.

Concerning Sailboats

Physics of sailingI use to sail boat for several years both small boats and large team boats.  Sailing is a fun challenge — I remember sitting through classes on sailing to improve my skills.  And like many things, after learning about it, we forget that the knowledge is not common sense.  In fact, the reason you have to discipline yourself to study sailing is that (like math, statistics and much of science) it has principles that are counter-intuitive here are two:

    • A sailboat can sail against the wind
    • Sailboats can actually go faster than the wind

To understand these you need a little physics but I will leave that to these youtube videos if your aren’t familiar.  If you don’t understand the technical use of the word “tack” as related to sailing, please consider watching at least the first video:

    • Here is a video showing how sailboats can sail both INTO the wind and FASTER than the wind.
    • Here is video evaluating vectors of true and apparent wind — and teaching how to adjust the mainsail appropriately.

OK, now that you understand the word “tack” and how a sail boat can sail into the wind using tack, let me show you some sailing metaphors which I should have offered prior to my other posts.

Let’s start with politics — far less controversial than beliefs! 😉

Tacking through the Political Seas

Political_tacksInstead of the hackneyed “left vs right” or “liberal vs conservative” dichotomous way of thinking about political policies I usually us at least four perspectives: (1) economic prosperity, (2) personal freedom, (3) social well-being (this includes welfare of the poor and violence issues etc) and (4) international security. And as I discussed before, much of my “thinking” is done using overlapping metaphors — especially visual models. But a 4-dimensional map to illustrate my points would not only be impossible but confusing.  So for simplicity, I have made have chosen only two perspectives for a two-dimensional map: I am choosing only economic prosperity and individual freedom.

For the purpose of exploring the metaphor, consider that there is some “Perfect Harbor” where a society can have both economic prosperity AND individual freedom to the possible maximums.  Again, ignore the other factors for now.  And let’s say we agreed that heading to that goal is desirable. But let’s say there is a strong wind coming off the harbor at all times.  So if you were navigating the pink boat, which tack would you take, tack A or tack B?  Choosing tack “A” will sacrifice prosperity for freedom to begin its journey while choosing tack “B” will do the opposite. Both tacks get to the perfect harbor eventually, but the consequences will be different.  And imagine that whatever path you take, you may get stuck in midcourse with the compromises that entails.

Tacking through Religious Beliefs

Belief tacksNow let’s return to “beliefs”. Imagine a similar scenario where there is a “Perfect Harbor” where we have not only maximized the accuracy of our beliefs, but we have also maximized their usefulness.  So, to get to the Perfect Harbor, would you first sacrifice the accuracy of your beliefs or the usefulness of your beliefs. Of course you don’t always have to sacrifice accuracy for usefulness unless the wind is in your face!

Concerning the Wind

In my mind, I envision the winds to be the vagaries of our environment — always changing and always demanding us to change tack to accommodate.  The winds of chance cause us to compromise our ideal directions.

Question to Readers:

(1) Which tack strategies you’d use in the examples above?

(2) Did my explanation today make my previous metaphors more clear?  Please say “yes”!  😉



Filed under Philosophy & Religion

4 responses to “Choosing a Tack: Politics & Religion

  1. rautakyy

    I, as a sailor myself, like your metaphor. And yes, this one complemented your previous posts abuot the same metaphor.

    Here in Finnish politics the perfect harbour has been allready determined to be the wellfare society. Even our conservatives claim not to undermine it, but to support it, by supporting the economy ( though, through mainly that of the allready well-off people). As of late some rather extreme ideas have been presented by their youth clubs to include very ultra liberalistic ideals (though, I gather they got the idea from neo-conservatives of the US), which alarmed almost all the adult politicians here as more, or less fascistic.

    I guess here to be conservative, is to conserve the existing wellfare society that we find imperfect, but a lot better than the other choises around the world (much like what Winston Chruchill said about the failings of democracy). All people are “liberal” and for freedom in some issues and “conservative” as in being carefull not to extend individual freedoms too far in other issues.

    Whose prosperity are we talking about in your diagram? Individual freedom may even cause common economic prosperity, but the limits of freedom should be set where actual harm is caused by the hunt of individual profit. Correct? Generally speaking they are not set even near that, but there are good people trying to achieve such a world.

    I personally do not find, that accuracy and usefullness of beliefs go against each other, but if one has to choose between them (then in my experience of sailing a lot in the archipelago) accuracy is better, because most likely the usefulness of the next turn is directly dependant on the accuracy of the previous choise.

  2. Yeah! Thanks rautakyy! 🙂
    I don’t want to discuss politics in detail here, except that it is used to explore the the principles of the sailing and taking tacks. So I won’t go into the “prosperity” issue here and all. Don’t want to side track. But thanx for sharing the Finnish stuff.

    But your last paragraph is helpful. I think there are many examples in common secular life where we sacrifice accuracy of beliefs for usefulness. But thanks for your opinion on which your prefer. The point of my metaphor is to show the choice issue.

  3. I think I may be still be tracking (tacking?) with you. I was thinking this morning about how we each have to find a way to strike a balance between the way things are, the way we would like them to be and the way those around us see things.

    My religious upbringing only prepared me for a world of calm seas and low winds. I somehow managed to spend years in a sheltered harbor before finally being pushed into the open Sea of Life by relationships and circumstances. I have been lashed about and gotten seasick more than once in the last few years, but I think I’m finally getting my bearings and settling in for the remaining journey. Maybe I can find a nice harbor again, where the usefulness and accuracy of my beliefs can better coexist. Time will tell.

  4. Fantastic phrasing, MichaelB — you understood exactly the intent of this post. Thanx.

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