Category: politics, economics

Reading Gestures

From left, Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. raise their hands to answer a question Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019, during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by ABC at Texas Southern University in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

If you read gestures, as ritual studies folks tend to do, this is a provocative photo.

In reading sacred texts a religious studies scholar wants to be doing exegesis and avoiding eisegesis. “Exegesis” means “to read out of.” “Eisegesis” means “to read into.” A believer, unlike the scholar, is engaged in eisegesis.

To read the political gestures in the photo is eisegetical:

Bernie: Damn it, listen to me. I reach forward, not backward. I’m balding from wisdom.

Joe: Before God in heaven, I tell you. I am an upright man. My hand is desk-steady.

Elizabeth: My hand and my brain are connected. Shorter than a man but brighter. Please, teacher, my turn.

It’s fun to play the game. Get 3 friends. Ask each to write down 3 meanings for each candidate’s gestures and postures. Compare. Argue. Vote, not on the basis of each candidate’s explicit ideology but on the basis of your gut, gesture-informed feeling.

The internet is full of guides for reading and using what we used to call “body language.” Here’s an example from MindTools and another from VeryWellMind.

I’m not a believer in the “this gesture means that” school of thought. For one thing, too much depends on context. For another, gestures are easily taught, learned, then performed.

When I watched this debate, I quickly tuned out hair (dyed, permed), clothing (chosen to send a message), arms (too choreographed) and eyes (too busy reading teleprompters and pretending to “see” the audience) and went for mouths as the most revealing: how they twisted and turned, whether sound came from the middle or sides, how they opened and closed.

As the debate wore on, I lost focus. I was watching everything, which, of course, is more than humans can do. By end I had “a feel” for ways to cast my vote.

Eisegetical? Sure.

A Big Question for voters: Should I vote on the basis of (1) Ideology: explicit, verbally articulated policy? (2) Identity: female/male, black/white, gay/straight, old/young, rich/poor? (3) Intuition: a “feel” informed by postures, gestures, and tones of voice? (4) Strategy: I feel this way, but will vote that way?

Truth be told

“Truth Be Told,” ice sculpture by Nora Ligorano & Marshall Reese

After my last post about the pope’s view of truth, fake news and lies, my son Bryn, born and bred on Big Questions, played the devil and wrote:

BSG: ​Are you suggesting that no mortal human can ever speak or know ‘the truth’? That we’re all just guessing? What if one of our guesses is ‘the truth’, and God has a little checklist with all the Big Questions & answers, and whoever guesses one right gets rewarded in (or punished) in some manner?

Or what about scientific facts: water boils at 100 degrees. Isn’t that ‘a truth’ that was discovered and is now professed by humans?

RLG: You are raising two questions, one about God, the other about truth. If God, in fact, has a list of questions and answers, none of us can see it. I wouldn’t believe anyone who claims to have taken a peek at it.

Pascal argued that humans should wager in favor of God. If He exists and we don’t join up, we’re in trouble. So, for ass/soul-covering purposes, it’s best to bet on God. But what kind of a god does that imply? A heavenly father who rewards guessing, betting, and ass-covering? My dad wasn’t perfect, but he was fairer and more compassionate than that.

I’m not really saying there is no truth, only that no one, including clergy, politicians, or scientists, has a monopoly on it. I’m also saying that every uttered truth comes from a perspective. In quantum theory, this is called the observer effect. The observer changes–at least somewhat–the observed. I’m certain this effect is true about social interactions, social truths, but quantum theory holds that it is also true of physical interactions.

Water only boils at 100 degrees if you participate in the social convention called the metric system. If you live in a Fahrenheit country, water boils at 180 degrees. Right?


As I await Bryn’s reply, The Daily Beast reports on an art show containing a 3000-pound ice sculpture by Nora Ligorano and Marshall Reese for an international Art Action Day. The sculpture, “TRUTH BE TOLD,” has, unfortunately, melted already, along with other ice sculptures: “DEMOCRACY,” “THE FUTURE,” “MIDDLE CLASS,” and “THE AMERICAN DREAM.”



How shall we say no?

Susan, Bryn, and I attended the Women’s March, 2016, in Toronto. Cailleah had to work.

There were 60,000 of us who said an across-the-border no to Donald Trump.

Is democracy lost? We hope not.

If so, Leonard Cohen says it’s coming soon.
Doesn’t he?
Is it coming?
or coming back?
or, having left, returning?