To understand the Left you must understand that central to their worldview is the hermeneutics of suspicion which is essentially a diluted amalgam of themes from Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud.
Thus nothing has the plain meaning that it has; every meaning must be deconstructed so as to lay bare its 'real meaning.'
Suppose I say, sincerely, "The most qualified person should get the job." To a leftist that means: "People of color are given extra unfair benefits because of their race."
Or suppose I describe a black malefactor as a thug. What I have actually said, according to the hermeneutics of suspicion, is that the malefactor is a nigger. But 'thug' does not mean 'nigger.' 'Thug' means thug. There are thugs of all races.
Leftists often call for 'conversations' about this or that. Thus Eric Holder famously called for a 'conversation' about race. But how can one have a conversation -- no sneer quotes -- about anything with people who refuse to take what one sincerely says at face value?
Every day brings further evidence that contemporary liberals have lost their minds.
A yoga class has been cancelled at the University of Ottawa on the ground that participants are complicit in 'oppression' and 'cultural genocide.' By the way, we are talking about hatha yoga here which is essentially just stretching.
So you might think that re-labelling the course 'Stretching' would solve the problem. But no!
This is a good place to observe that stretching is an essential ingredient in a balanced physical fitness program along with aerobic exercise (walking, hiking, running, biking, etc.), anaerobic work (weight-lifting), and activities that maintain good hand-eye coordination (tennis, pickleball, etc.) The Maverick recommends a four-pronged approach.
Why is Canada such a Pee Cee place? I should think that with all that rugged country up there, those vast empty expanses, and the ass-freezing temperatures a tougher breed of cat would live there and not a bunch of pc-whipped pussies.
Another 'interesting' development is the assault on free speech. According to Pew Research, 40% of millennials think it acceptable to limit speech offensive to minorities.
Trouble is, almost anything will be found offensive by the members of some minority or other. Some blacks have shown themselves to be absurdly sensitive to the slights they imagine embedded in such words and phrases as 'niggardly,' 'denigrate,' 'black hole,' and 'watermelon.'
Some take offense at 'chink in the armor.' But if 'chink in the armor' is about Asians, then the Asians in question would have to be rather tiny to hang out interstitially in, say, a coat of mail.
Why not take offense at 'chunk'? Someone might get it into his Pee Cee head that a chunk is a fat chink.
There is no end to this madness once it gets going, which is why we sane and decent people need to mock and deride liberals every chance we get. Mockery and derision can achieve what calm reasoning cannot.
One cannot reason with those who are permanently in a state of self-colonoscopy.
Commenting on a recent post of mine, Malcolm Pollack takes issue with the notion that values are objective. While granting that there are objective truths, he denies that there are objective values because of a theory of value that he holds according to which values have their origin in valuing beings and merely reflect the needs and interests of these valuing beings.
The wider context of the debate is the assault upon Western values by those who would infiltrate our societies and foist Islamic values upon us. I had made the claim that in defending the values of the West we should insist that these are not just values for us in the West but are values for all. In this sense these values are universal and valid for all human beings even though not universally recognized as valid for all human beings, and even though they were first 'sighted' in the West. I pointed out that values could be universal without being universally recognized. That is indisputably true. What is not indisputably true, however, is the claim that there are objective values. If there are objective values, then these values are universal, i.e., valid for all. Does the converse also hold? Is it also true that if there are universal values, then they are objective? I don't think so. It may well be that some values are universal despite their being non-objective.
What I am going to argue is that, even if one were to concede what I don't concede, namely, that there are no objective values, it still would not follow that that there are no universal values. But first we need to discuss the question of the objectivity of values and give some examples of the values that we are concerned with.
I claim that there are some objective values. Malcolm claims that there are no objective values. He doesn't deny that are values, and I am confident that he and I agree on what some of the Western values are; what he denies is that these values are objective values. But first some examples of Western values.
Open inquiry I take to be an example of a Western value. Inquiry is open to the extent that it is not interfered with by religious or political authorities. The value of open inquiry presupposes the values of knowledge and truth. Inquiry is a value because knowledge is a value, and knowledge is a value because truth is a value. But the pursuit of truth via inquiry requires the free exchange of ideas. So freedom of expression is a value, whether in speech or in writing. Connected with this is the value of toleration. We tolerate other voices and opposing points of view because their consideration is truth-conducive. There are of course other values championed in the West such as equality of rights. But I will take as my central example the value of truth.
When I say that truth is a value I mean that truth is something that has value. I mean that truth is a valuable item. In general we ought to distinguish between an item that has value and its property of being valuable. And neither is to be confused with an act of valuation or with a disposition to evaluate.
The question, however, is whether truth is objectively valuable or else valuable only relative to beings having interests and needs.
In this discussion 'truth' is to be taken extensionally as referring to truths (the propositions, beliefs, judgments . . . that are true) and not intensionally as referring to that property in virtue of which truths are true. Now on to Malcolm's axiological theory.
Where do values come from? In general values represent some interest of their owner, and such interests range from such hard-wired preferences as biological survival and the survival of our offspring, to whether one roots for the Yankees or the Red Sox. In particular, many of the most important valuations humans make have a social context; in addition to valuing such obvious things as food, pleasure, comfort, sex, and shelter, humans tend to value those things that elevate their status in their group, and that help their group compete with other groups. Indeed, for creatures like us, social values can often trump more personal interests — because if your group is wiped out, you are too. Humans will make tremendous personal sacrifices both for the well-being of the group, and to attain and signal high status in whatever way it is acquired and displayed.
[. . .]
Let me put this another way: for a fish, a pre-eminent “value” is to be, at all times, fully immersed in water. This is not the case for a cat. Human groups may not differ from each other as much as fishes and cats do — but they differ enough, I think, that one group’s cherished value can be another’s damnable sin.
Let's examine this admittedly plausible view. The idea is that nothing is valuable or the opposite, in itself or intrinsically. If a thing is valuable, it is valuable only relative to a being who wants, needs, or desires it. If a thing lacks value, it lacks value only relative to a being who shuns it or is averse to it. In a world in which there are no conative/desiderative beings, nothing has or lacks value. Such a world would be value-neutral. This is plausible, is it not? How could an object or state of affairs have value or disvalue apart from a valuer with specific needs and interests? (As Malcolm might rhetorically ask.)
Imagine a world in which there is nothing but inanimate objects and processes, a world in which nothing is alive, willing, striving, wanting, needing, desiring, competing for space or scarce resources. In such a world nothing would be either good or bad, valuable or the opposite. A sun in a lifeless world goes supernova incinerating a nearby planet. A disaster? Hardly. Just another value-neutral event. A re-arrangement of particles and fields. But if our sun went supernova, that would be a calamity beyond compare -- but only for us and any other caring observers hanging around. For we are averse to such an event -- to put it mildly -- and this aversion is the ground of the disvalue of our sun's going supernova, just as our need for light and a certain range of temperatures is what confers value upon our sun's doing its normal thing.
An axiological theory like this involves two steps. The first step relativizes value claims. The second step provides a naturalistic reduction of them.
First, sentences of the form 'X is good (evil)' are construed as elliptical for sentences of the form 'X is good (evil) for Y.' Accordingly, to say that X is good (evil) but X is not good (evil) for some Y would then be like saying that Tom is married but there is no one to whom Tom is married.
The second step is to cash out axiological predicates in naturalistic terms. Thus,
D1. X has value for Y =df X satisfies Y's actual wants (needs, desires)
D2. X has disvalue for Y =df X frustrates Y's actual wants (needs, desires).
It is clear that on this theory value and disvalue are not being made relative to what anyone says or opines, but to certain hard facts, objective facts, about the wants, needs, and desires of living beings. That we need water to live is an objective fact about us, a fact independent of what anyone says or believes. Water cannot have value except for beings who need or want it; but that it does have value for such beings is an objective fact.
The needs of fish and the needs of cats are objective facts about fish and cats respectively; but the value of being totally immersed in water at all times is a value only for fish, not for cats. It follows on the axiological theory we are considering that values are relative: they are relative to the needs and interests of evaluators.
Does it follow from this that no value is universal? No. (Recall that 'universal' in this discussion of Western values in the context of the civilizational struggle between the West and the Islamic world means 'valid for all human beings.' It does not mean 'universally recognized.') It doesn't follow because a value could be non-objective in that it is necessarily tied to the needs/interests of evaluating beings and thus relative to beings having these needs/interests while also being universal. This will be the case with respect to all values that originate from needs that all humans possess. Thus being fully immersed in water at all times (without special breathing apparatus) is a universal disvalue for all human beings. And ingesting a certain amount of protein per week is a universal value.
There are also universal values for all living things, or at least for all terrestrial living things. For they all need our sun's light and a certain range of temperatures. The corresponding value is a value for all terrestrial biota despite the fact that this value is not universally recognized by these organisms. So once again a value can be non-objective, universal, and not universally recognized. Indeed, not even universally recognizable. For there is no possibility that an amoeba recognize the value of what it needs to exist.
As for the fish and the cats, they both need oxygen and they both get oxygen, but in different ways via gills and lungs respectively. So getting oxygen is a universal value for the union of the set of fish and the set of cats, and this despite the fact that this value is not only not universally recognized by these critters, but not recognized by them at all. The point I have just made is of course consistent with the fact that being fully immersed in water at all times is a value for fish but not for cats on the axiological theory under examination. (Note that it is not only not a value for cats, but a disvalue for them.)
As for truth, we presumably agree as to the first-order claim that truth has value. And I hope we can agree also on the first-order claim that truth trumps human feelings, that truth is of higher value than that no injury to human feelings occur, though I cannot expect any contemporary liberal to perceive this. The dispute occurs at the meta level: given that X (e.g. truth) has value, what is it for X to have value?
Suppose that values are non-objective: they merely reflect the interests and needs of evaluators. Given that truth is a value, the ground of truth's being valuable is that we need truth. And we do need it, and not only for the life of the mind. We need it to live well as animals. Truth is conducive to human flourishing, indeed, to a human existence that is not nasty, brutish, and short. Since we all need truth, truth is a universal value. Thus it is a value even for those who do not value it: it is a value even for those who are unwilling or unable to recognize its value for us.
The values of the West areuniversal values. They are not Western values or Caucasian values except per accidens. They are universal, not in that they are recognized by all, but in that they are valid for all. If a proposition is true, it is true for all including those who are unwilling or unable to recognize its truth. If a value is valid or binding or normative it is these things for all including those who are unwilling or unable to recognize its validity.
What I didn't realize at the time I wrote this was that the quoted paragraph is consistent both with my view that values are objective and with those views according to which values reflect the interests and needs of evaluators.
On my view, the universality and intersubjective validity of values is secured by their objectivity. On a view like that of Malcolm's, the universality of (some) values is secured by the objective fact that all the members of a class of evaluators share the need that is 'father' to the value. Thus all human beings, and indeed all intelligent beings, need truth to flourish, whence it follows that this value is universal even if non-objective.
What is crucial here is the distinction between a value's being universal and a value's being universally recognized. This distinction 'cuts perpendicular' to the distinction between objective and non-objective values. The Islamic world, benighted and backward as it is, either will not or cannot recognize certain values that are conducive to human flourishing, all human flourishing, including the flourishing of Muslims.
The message we need to convey to the Muslims and to the leftists who will listen is not that Western values are superior because they are Western but that they are best conducive to everyone's flourishing even that of Muslims and leftists. We have to convince them that we are not out to foist 'our' values on them, but to get them to recognize values that are valid for all.
An important essay by Niall Ferguson. The meat of the article (emphases and parenthetical material added):
Let us be clear about what is happening. Like the Roman Empire in the early fifth century, Europe has allowed its defenses to crumble. As its wealth has grown, so its military prowess has shrunk, along with its self-belief. It has grown decadent in its shopping malls and sports stadiums. At the same time, it has opened its gates to outsiders who have coveted its wealth without renouncing their ancestral faith.
The distant shock to this weakened edifice has been the Syrian civil war, though it has been a catalyst as much as a direct cause for the great Völkerwanderung [migration of the tribes/peoples] of 2015. As before, they have come from all over the imperial periphery — from North Africa, from the Levant, from South Asia — but this time they have come in their millions.
To be sure, most have come hoping only for a better life. Things in their own countries have become just good enough economically for them to afford to leave and just bad enough politically for them to risk leaving. But they cannot stream northward and westward without some of that political malaise coming along with them. As Gibbon saw, convinced monotheists pose a grave threat to a secular empire.
It is conventional to say that the overwhelming majority of Muslims in Europe are not violent, and that is doubtless true. But it is also true that the majority of Muslims in Europe hold views that are not easily reconciled with the principles of our modern liberal democracies, including those novel notions we have about equality between the sexes and tolerance not merely of religious diversity but of nearly all sexual proclivities. And it is thus remarkably easy for a violent minority to acquire their weapons and prepare their assaults on civilization within these avowedly peace-loving communities.
I do not know enough about the fifth century to be able to quote Romans who described each new act of barbarism as unprecedented, even when it had happened multiple times before; or who issued pious calls for solidarity after the fall of Rome, even when standing together in fact meant falling together; or who issued empty threats of pitiless revenge, even when all they intended to do was to strike a melodramatic pose.
I do know that 21st-century Europe has only itself to blame for the mess it is now in. For surely nowhere in the world has devoted more resources to the study of history than modern Europe. When I went up to Oxford more than 30 years ago, it was taken for granted that in the first term of my first year I would study Gibbon. It did no good. We learned nothing that mattered. Indeed, we learned a lot of nonsense to the effect that nationalism was a bad thing, nation-states worse, and empires the worst things of all.
“Romans before the fall,” wrote Ward-Perkins in his “Fall of Rome,” “were as certain as we are today that their world would continue for ever substantially unchanged. They were wrong. We would be wise not to repeat their complacency.”
"Roughly 150 Black Lives Matter protesters reportedly stormed a library at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, Thursday night to berate students studying there for their supposed racial privilege." Here.
The solution, of course, is to expel the BLM thugs. But that would be a 'racist' thing to do. So is it the leftist view that blacks are thuggish by nature and simply cannot be expected to behave in a civilized manner? So who are the real racists here?
TRIGGER WARNING! The above contains careful thought and big words and will upset and offend the 'safe space' crybullies, the BLM thugs, and the liberal- left scum who apologize for them.
Addendum (11/20): If the secular sphere has a 'sacred' space, that would be the university library, the repository of the best thoughts of humanity. The university is finished if such a space is allowed to be invaded and disrupted by thugs and savages.
A 'pastafarian' idiot was allowed to wear a colander in an official DMV photo in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Bring on the hoodies, the sombreros, the ski masks . . . . Story here.
Does this have anything to do with the decline of the West? Something. It is just another little indication of the abdication of those in positions of authority. A driver's license is an important document. The authorities should not allow its being mocked by a dumbass with a piece of kitchenware on her head. But Massachusetts is lousy with liberals, so what do you expect? A liberal will tolerate anything except common sense and good judgment.
A penne for her thoughts as she strains to find something to believe in. If only she would use her noodle.
Responding to a commenter who states that one exposes oneself to tremendous risk by speaking out against leftist insanity, Malcolm Pollack writes:
Most bloggers who write from a contrarian position about these things seem to use noms de plume. In fact, I do have another blog I’ve set up for this purpose, but I almost never post anything to it. I prefer to speak under my own name — not because I’m trying to be “brave”, which this really isn’t at all, but just because it feels more honest, and because I have a right to, and because I’m ornery. (Running into that theater in Paris to try to save the people inside, knowing you are overwhelmingly likely to be killed: that’s brave. Writing grumpy blog-posts from the comfort and safety of my home is not.)
I would underscore the First Amendment right to free speech under one's own name without fear of government reprisal. Use it or lose it. (Unfortunately, the disjunction is inclusive: you may use it and still lose it.) But use it responsibly, as Pollack does. The right to express an opinion does not absolve one of the obligation to do one's level best to form correct opinions. Note however that your legal (and moral) right to free speech remains even if you shirk your moral (but not legal) obligation to do your best to form correct opinions.
I would add to Pollack's reasons for writing under his own name the credibility it gives him. You lose credibility when you hide behind a pseudonym. And when you take cover behind 'anonymous,' your credibility takes a further southward plunge, and shows a lack of imagination to boot.
Pollack is right: it doesn't take much civil courage to do what he and I do. I've made mine, and he is on the cusp of making his, if he hasn't already. (You could say we are 'made men.') We don't need jobs and we have no need to curry favor. And our obscurity provides some cover. Obscurity has its advantages, and fame is surely overrated. (Ask John Lennon.)
This is why I do not criticize the young and not-yet-established conservatives who employ pseudonyms. Given the ugly climate wrought by the fascists of the Left it would be highly imprudent to come forth as a conservative if you are seeking employment in academe, but not just there.
What is civil courage? The phrase translates the German Zivilcourage, a word first used by Otto von Bismarck in 1864 to refer to the courage displayed in civilian life as opposed to the military valor displayed on the battlefield. According to Bismarck, there is more of the latter than of the former, an observation that holds true today. (One example: there is no coward like a university administrator, as recent events at the university of Missouri and at Yale once again bear out.) Civil courage itself no doubt antedates by centuries the phrase.
Mark Steyn is a profile in civil courage unlike the 'safe space' administrative and professorial pussies who now infest the universities. Where have all the John Silbers gone, long time passing? Some delightful excerpts:
When the Allahu Akbar boys opened fire, Paris was talking about the climate-change conference due to start later this month, when the world's leaders will fly in to "solve" a "problem" that doesn't exist rather than to address the one that does. But don't worry: we already have a hashtag (#PrayForParis) and doubtless there'll be another candlelight vigil of weepy tilty-headed wankers. Because as long as we all advertise how sad and sorrowful we are, who needs to do anything?
With his usual killer comedy timing, the "leader of the free world" told George Stephanopoulos on "Good Morning, America" this very morning that he'd "contained" ISIS and that they're not "gaining strength". A few hours later, a cell whose members claim to have been recruited by ISIS slaughtered over 150 people in the heart of Paris and succeeded in getting two suicide bombers and a third bomb to within a few yards of the French president.
Visiting the Bataclan, M Hollande declared that "nous allons mener le combat, il sera impitoyable": We are going to wage a war that will be pitiless.
Does he mean it? Or is he just killing time until Obama and Cameron and Merkel and Justin Trudeau and Malcolm Turnbull fly in and they can all get back to talking about sea levels in the Maldives in the 22nd century? By which time France and Germany and Belgium and Austria and the Netherlands will have been long washed away.
Among his other coy evasions, President Obama described tonight's events as "an attack not just on Paris, it's an attack not just on the people of France, but this is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values we share".
But that's not true, is it? He's right that it's an attack not just on Paris or France. What it is is an attack on the west, on the civilization that built the modern world - an attack on one portion of "humanity" by those who claim to speak for another portion of "humanity". And these are not "universal values" but values that spring from a relatively narrow segment of humanity. They were kinda sorta "universal" when the great powers were willing to enforce them around the world and the colonial subjects of ramshackle backwaters such as Aden, Sudan and the North-West Frontier Province were at least obliged to pay lip service to them. But the European empires retreated from the world, and those "universal values" are utterly alien to large parts of the map today.
This is very good and needs to be said and endlessly repeated for the sake of self-enstupidated liberals, but I think Mr Steyn stumbles on one important point, and in a way that may give aid and comfort to relativism. The values of the West are universal values. They are not Western values or Caucasian values except per accidens. They are universal, not in that they are recognized by all, but in that they are valid for all. If a proposition is true, it is true for all including those who are unwilling or unable to recognize its truth. If a value is valid or binding or normative it is these things for all including those who are unwilling or unable to recognize its validity.
This is very important. There is no such thing as Western physics; there is just physics. There is no such distinction as that between German physics and Jewish physics any more than there is a distinction between Protestant and Catholic mathematics. There are Muslim mathematicians, but no Islamic mathematics. There are Arabic numerals but no Arabic numbers. If a mathematically competent Arab and a mathematically competent Roman do a sum they will get the same result despite the difference in their notations. When a Palestinian terrorist makes a bomb he relies on the same underlying science as does the Israeli surgeon who re-attaches a severed limb. There is no such thing as Soviet philology or Soviet biology. If Judeo-Christian values are valid and life-enhancing then they are Judeo-Christian only per accidens.
There is no contradiction in saying that salvation came from the Jews and that this salvation is salvation for all. "How odd of God to choose the Jews." Odd, but possible.
The fact that the science of nature and the discernment of universal values "sprang from a relatively narrow segment of humanity" does not make them any less universal. In fairness to Steyn, however, he may be using using 'universal values' to mean 'universally recognized values.'
The rest of his piece earns the coveted MavPhilsigillum approbationis. (I just now made up that Latin off the top of my head. If it is wrong shoot me an e-mail.)
And then Europe decided to invite millions of Muslims to settle in their countries. Most of those people don't want to participate actively in bringing about the death of diners and concertgoers and soccer fans, but at a certain level most of them either wish or are indifferent to the death of the societies in which they live - modern, pluralist, western societies and those "universal values" of which Barack Obama bleats. So, if you are either an active ISIS recruit or just a guy who's been fired up by social media, you have a very large comfort zone in which to swim, and which the authorities find almost impossible to penetrate.
[. . .]
To repeat what I said a few days ago, I'm Islamed out. I'm tired of Islam 24/7, at Colorado colleges, Marseilles synagogues, Sydney coffee shops, day after day after day. The west cannot win this thing with a schizophrenic strategy of targeting things and people but not targeting the ideology, of intervening ineffectually overseas and not intervening at all when it comes to the remorseless Islamization and self-segregation of large segments of their own countries.
So I say again: What's the happy ending here? Because if M Hollande isn't prepared to end mass Muslim immigration to France and Europe, then his "pitiless war" isn't serious. And, if they're still willing to tolerate Mutti Merkel's mad plan to reverse Germany's demographic death spiral through fast-track Islamization, then Europeans aren't serious. In the end, the decadence of Merkel, Hollande, Cameron and the rest of the fin de civilisation western leadership will cost you your world and everything you love.
It began in the universities in the '60s. And now it is in full 'flower.' I recall Dennis Prager putting it this way: "There is no coward like a university administrator." Now hear David French:
Fortunately for the radicals, our universities are populated by the craven and the cowardly. Push a professor, even slightly, and it’s likely he’ll fold. Demand faculty support for your protest, and dozens will rush to join, self-righteously advancing their own false oppression narratives even as they enjoy lives billions of others would covet. There is nothing brave about these people. They are not “elite.” They don’t deserve a single dime of taxpayer money or one cent of student tuition. They dishonor their schools and their country.
Closeted campus conservatives are worse than useless. Indeed, their very timidity contributes to the narrative that there is something shameful about their beliefs. To read anonymous letters from professors who are afraid to “out” themselves in a hostile campus culture is to read the sad dispatches of people too pitiful for their profession. Do something else, anything else, than merely sit and watch while the revolutionaries shred the Constitution, reject our culture, and assert their own will to power.
The true shame is that it doesn’t even require actual courage to defeat the university Left, just a tiny bit of will — a small measure of staying power. No one is shooting at trustees. No one is beheading professors. There’s no guillotine in the quad. Instead, campus “leaders” tremble before hashtags and weep at the notion of losing a football team so inept that it couldn’t score a touchdown through most of the month of October. Let them strike. With an offense that inept, the SEC won’t even notice.
These are the times that try men’s souls? No. These are the times of men without chests. The Left has the will to power. University leaders have no will at all. They have earned nothing but contempt.
Many of my sons’ teachers were trained at Columbia University’s Teachers College or the nearby Bank Street College of Education. At these citadels of progressivism, future educators were inculcated in the “child-centered” approach to classroom instruction. All children, in this view, were “natural learners” who—with just a little guidance from teachers—could “construct their own knowledge.” By the same token, progressive-ed doctrine considered it a grave sin for teachers to engage in direct instruction of knowledge (dismissed as “mere facts”). The traditional, content-based instruction that had worked so well for my generation of immigrant children from poor and working-class families was now dismissed as “drill-and-kill” teaching that robbed kids of their imagination. Progressives also rejected the old-fashioned American idea, going back to the Founders, that the nation’s schools should follow a coherent, grade-by-grade curriculum that not only included the three Rs but also introduced children to our civilizational inheritance.
I am tempted to explain just how wrong this is. But I will resist the temptation. If you are a regular reader of this weblog, then you don't need it explained to you. But if you are the sort of liberal who accepts the above claptrap, then you don't need explanations, you need treatment. Please seek it for your own good.
Arthur C. Brooks deplores the lack of ideological diversity and the prevalence of 'groupthink' in academia in an October 30th NYT editorial entitled "Academia's Rejection of Diversity." He is of course right to do so. But this is nothing new as any conservative will tell you. And we don't need studies to know about it, which is not to say that studies are not of some slight use in persuading doubters.
What I would take issue with, though, is Brooks' apparently unqualified belief that "being around people [ideologically] unlike ourselves makes us [intellectually] better people . . . ." I have added, charitably I should think, a couple of qualifiers in brackets.
Interaction with ideological opponents can be fruitful, and sometimes is. That goes without saying.
But I think it is very easy to overestimate the value of interactions with people with fundamentally different views. It is a mistake to think that more and more 'conversations' will lead to amicable agreements and mutual understanding. This mistake is based on the false assumption that there is still common ground on which to hold these 'conversations.'
I say we need fewer 'conversations' and more voluntary separation. In many situations we need the political equivalent of divorce. In marriage as in politics the bitter tensions born of irreconcilable differences are relieved by divorce, not by attempts to reconcile the irreconcilable. Let's consider some examples. In each of these cases it is difficult to see what common ground the parties to the dispute occupy.
1. Suppose you hold the utterly abhorrent view that it is a justifiable use of state power to force a florist or a caterer to violate his conscience by providing services at, say, a same-sex 'marriage' ceremony.
2. Or you hold the appalling and ridiculous view that demanding photo ID at polling places disenfranchises those would-be voters who lack such ID.
3. Or you refuse to admit a distinction between legal and illegal immigration.
4. Or you maintain the absurd thesis that global warming is the greatest threat to humanity at the present time. (Obama)
6. Or, showing utter contempt for facts, you insist that Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri was an 'unarmed black teenager' shot down like a dog in cold blood without justification of any sort by the racist cop, Darren Wilson.
7. Or you compare Ferguson and Baltimore as if they are relevantly similar. (Hillary Clinton)
8. Or you mendaciously elide distinctions crucial in the gun debate such as that between semi-auto and full-auto. (Dianne Feinstein)
9. Or you systematically deploy double standards. President Obama, for example, refuses to use 'Islamic' in connection with the Islamic State or 'Muslim' in connection with Muslim terrorists. But he has no problem with pinning the deeds of crusaders and inquisitors on Christians.
10. Or you mendaciously engage in self-serving anachronism, for example, comparing current Muslim atrocities with Christian ones long in the past.
11. Or you routinely slander your opponents with such epithets as 'racist,' 'sexist,' etc.
12. Or you make up words whose sole purpose is to serve as semantic bludgeons and cast doubt on the sanity of your opponents. You know full well that a phobia is an irrational fear, but you insist on labeling those who oppose homosexual practices as 'phobic' when you know that their opposition is in most cases rationally grounded and not based in fear, let alone irrational fear.
13. Or you bandy the neologism 'Islamophobia' as a semantic bludgeon when it is plain that fear of radical Islam is entirely rational. In general, you engage in linguistic mischief whenever it serves your agenda thereby showing contempt for the languages you mutilate.
14. Or you take the side of underdogs qua underdogs without giving any thought as to whether or not these underdogs are in any measure responsible for their status or their misery by their crimes. You apparently think that weakness justifies.
15. Or you label abortion a 'reproductive right' or a 'women's health issue' thus begging the question of its moral acceptability.
On each of these points and many others I could write a book demolishing the hard Left position that underlies the points and that dominates the universities, the mainstream media, the courts, and our current government. So what's to discuss? What conceivable motive could a conservative have to enter into debates with people who, from a conservative point of view, are willfully wrongheaded and demonstrably mistaken? There are open questions that need discussing, but the above aren't among them.
VDH asks: "What has become of free speech, free markets, and the rule of law?"
Essential reading. I am tempted to quote big chunks of it. Maybe later. For now, this:
Do we really enjoy free speech in the West any more? If you think we do, try to use vocabulary that is precise and not pejorative, but does not serve the current engine of social advocacy — terms such as “Islamic terrorist,” “illegal alien,” or “transvestite.” I doubt that a writer for a major newspaper or a politician could use those terms, which were common currency just four or five years ago, without incurring, privately or publicly, the sort of censure that we might associate with the thought police of the former Soviet Union.
As I have asked more than once: Did the US defeat the SU only to become the SU?
Could Europe’s liberal political traditions, its religious and cultural heritage, long survive a massive influx of Muslim immigrants, in the order of tens of millions of people? No. Not given Europe’s frequently unhappy experience with much of its Muslim population. Not when you have immigrant groups that resist assimilation and host countries that make only tentative civic demands.
Assimilation is key. Are the Muslim immigrants willing to assimilate? Are they willing to adopt the values and culture of successful societies that promote human flourishing? Or is it their intention to enjoy the benefits of successful societies while retaining the values and culture that account for the unsuccess of the societies from which they flee?
Remove the question mark from the above caption and you have the title for a New York Timeseditorial for 16 October. Here are the first three paragraphs with my comments interspersed:
Lawmakers in Washington and around the country are in an uproar over what they derisively call “sanctuary cities.” These are jurisdictions that limit cooperation with federal immigration enforcement, or try in other ways to protect unauthorized immigrants from unjust deportation.
"Derisively call"? Here is a well-known leftist tactic. Words and phrases that have long been in use, have clear meanings, are descriptive rather than emotive, and are therefore innocuous, are given such labels as 'derisive,' 'insulting,' demeaning,' 'racist,' and so on. 'Anchor baby,' 'illegal alien,' and 'Obamacare' are three examples that come immediately to mind. As for 'anchor baby,' Alan Colmes recently opined on The O'Reilly Factor that it is demeaning because it likens the babies of illegal border crossers to weights that place a burden on American society. I kid you not. That's what our boy said. But the term implies no such thing. Anchor babies are so-called because, if you will permit me to change the metaphor, they provide a foothold in the U.S. for their illegal alien parents. This is because, on current law, anyone born within the boundaries of the U. S. is automatically a citizen of the U. S. Now whether this is or ought to be an entailment of Section 1 of Amendment XIV of the U.S. Constitution is an important question, but not one for the present occasion.
Notice in the second sentence of the first paragraph the phrase "unjust deportation." If you will excuse the expression in this context, it takes cojones to call unjust the lawful deportation of illegal aliens. Cojones or chutzpah, one.
The Senate is voting Tuesday on a bill from David Vitter of Louisiana to punish these cities by denying them federal law-enforcement funds. The House passed its version [hyperlink suppressed] in July. North Carolina’s Legislature has passed a bill forbidding sanctuary policies. Lawmakers in Michigan and Texas are seeking similar laws.
This a distortion of Vitter's proposal. The truth: "Vitter’s legislation would withhold certain federal funding from sanctuary states or cities that fail to comply with Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued detainer requests for illegal aliens." (Emphasis added)
These laws are a false fix for a concocted problem. They are based on the lie, now infecting the Republican presidential campaign, that all unauthorized immigrants are dangerous criminals who must be subdued by extraordinary means.
It takes unmitigated gall to claim that your opponents are lying, when you are lying. I'd like to know who among Republicans has claimed that ALL illegal aliens are dangerous criminals. So who is slandering whom here?
At this point I stopped reading. Three paragraphs, four howlers: first a trade-mark leftist act of linguistic obfuscation, then an outright lie, then a distortion of the truth, then another outright lie.
But of course few if any contemporary liberals will agree with what I have just written. This leads us beyond this particular issue to a strange, ominous, and yet fascinating development in American life which of course has been long in the making: we can't agree on much of anything any more. We are, unbelievably, arguing over what really are beneath discussion, over issues that ought to be non-issues. And every year it gets worse. Suing gun manufacturers? Aussie-style gun confiscation? No photo ID at polling places? Sanctuary cities? Social Security benefits for illegal aliens?
Now you can perhaps understand why I often refer to contemporary liberals as morally and intellectually obtuse. There is really nothing reasonably to debate on these and many other, not all, current hot topics. Those who think otherwise and are willing to use the power of the State to enforce their crazy and deleterious ideas are making a very strong argument, nolens volens, for Second Amendment rights.
Consider first a parallel question: Could I support a Christian for president? Yes, other things being equal, but not if he or she is a theocrat. Why not? Because theocracy is incompatible with the principles, values, and founding documents of the United States of America.
Similarly, I could easily support a Muslim such as Zuhdi Jasser for president (were he to run) because he is not a theocrat or a supporter of Sharia. To be precise: Jasser's being a Muslim would not count for me as a reason not to support him, even though I might have other reasons not to support him, for example, unelectability.
When Dr. Ben Carson said he could not support a Muslim for president what he meant was that he could not support a Muslim who advocated Sharia. That was clear to the charitable among us right from the outset. But he later clarified his remarks so that even the uncharitable could not fail to understand him.
Some dismissed this clarification as 'backtracking.' To 'backtrack,' however, is to say something different from what one originally said. Carson did not 'backtrack'; he clarified his original meaning.
Nevertheless, CAIR has absurdly demanded that Carson withdraw from the presidential race.
Is there anything here for reasonable people to discuss? No. Then why is this story still in the news? Because as a nation we are losing our collective mind.
It's like Ferguson. What's to discuss? Nothing. We know the facts of the case. Michael Brown was not gunned down by a racist cop seeking to commit murder under the cover of law. Brown brought about his own demise. On the night of his death he stole from a convenience store, assaulted the proprietor, refused to obey a legitimate command from police officer Darren Wilson, but instead tried to wrest the officer's weapon from him. He acted immorally, illegally, and very imprudently. He alone is responsible for his death.
So there is nothing here for reasonable and morally decent people to discuss. But we are forced to discuss it because of the lies told about Ferguson by the Left. The truth does not matter to leftists; what matters is the 'empowering' narrative. A narrative is a story, and a story needn't be true to be a good story, an 'empowering' story, a story useful for the promotion of the Left's destructive agenda.
Another pseudo-issue that deserves no discussion except to combat the lies and distortions of the Left: photo ID at polling places.
For years it’s been remarked that we no longer have one American culture but many, that we’ve become Balkanized into a dizzying array of interests and identity groups separated by race, ethnicity, religion, and much else.
But we’re also separated, increasingly, by the news and commentary we read and watch. To the extent that it informs us of what’s going on, and why, and what to expect, our fragmentation and insularity has reached a dangerous tipping point: we no longer agree on what’s real.
Davidson illustrates his point by analysis of three recent examples: Ahmed Mohamed the Clock Maker; Carly Fiorina vs. Planned Parenthood; the invasion of illegals from Central America.
But what makes Davidson's article especially good is that he provides historical context by suggesting that the current mess had its origin in 1968 in a rancorous exchange between William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal.
Buckley and Vidal met ten times over the course of the two conventions and spent most of their time attacking one another. Much of the debate footage is online, but the documentary plumbs the motivations of each man and the profound consequences of their televised battle. Of Vidal, Heritage Foundation historian Lee Edwards said, “I don’t think he was really interested in conducting a debate about the issues, or about the parties, or about the policies, or about the platforms of the two parties. What he wanted to do was to expose Bill Buckley.” In this Vidal succeeded, but not quite in the way he’d hoped.
The infamous moment came while they were debating the Vietnam War. Buckley compared opponents of the war to Nazi appeasers. Vidal, an opponent of the war, responded: “The only pro- or crypto-Nazi I can think of is yourself.” Back then, calling someone a Nazi was taboo (unlike today, when it is mostly ridiculous). Buckley lost his temper. He leaned toward Vidal, shaking with anger, narrowed his eyes and said: “Now listen, you queer, quit calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in the goddamn face and you’ll stay plastered.”
That moment, together with all the rancor and ad hominem attacks that had led up to it, inaugurated a new era in American media: the end of the old, sober centrism and the beginning of open ideological warfare. It didn’t happen overnight, but ABC’s success—the Buckley-Vidal debates propelled them to No. 1—didn’t go unnoticed, and on-air political debates between liberal and conservative pundits gradually became a regular feature of TV news programming: “The McLaughlin Group,” “Capital Gang,” “Crossfire,” and all the rest. The personal, vituperative tone of the Buckley-Vidal debates became the now-familiar register of political punditry.
We are now one step further into the cultural sewer:
Instead of shouting each other down the way they did on “Crossfire,” the new pundits are more apt to sneer and mock in the style of Jon Stewart. There’s little to be gained in arguing with an opponent but much to be gained by mocking him. What this means in practice is that we tend to seek out news and commentary that more or less reflects our own opinions back to us. Reading the news becomes an exercise in confirmation bias.
Very few would have predicted on September 11, 2001 that the headlines 14 years later would feature an American president arming Iran; that there would be millions of Middle Eastern Arabs flooding into the heart of Europe. Or Saudi Arabia, while refusing to accept any refugees from an Islamic civil war in Syria, would instead offer to build 200 mosques in Germany, one for every hundred who has arrived to spare the Germans the trouble and expense of building the mosques themselves.
Hardly anyone would have foretold the return of the Russia to the Middle East, spearheaded by a legion of forces who had honed their skill at “hybrid warfare” — then an unknown term — in Ukraine. Not just anyone mind you, but as Michael Weiss in the Daily Beast notes, “the Kremlin isn’t sending just any troops to prop up the Assad regime. It’s dispatching units that spearheaded Russia’s slow-rolling invasion of Ukraine.”
Except one man: Osama bin Laden. Unlike the American public, which still expected its leaders to defend them against aggression on that fatal day, Bin Laden had come to the conclusion the American elite would run at the slightest difficulty. What convinced him was the precipitate withdrawal of American troops from Somalia in 1996 following the incident popularly known as Blackhawk Down.
The photos taken by Canadian photographer Paul Watson, of a dead American soldier being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu spelled the beginning of the end for U.S.-U.N. peacekeeping force. Domestic opinion turned hostile as horrified TV viewers watched images of the bloodshed—-including this Pulitzer-prize winning footage of Somali warlord Mohammed Aideed’s supporters dragging the body of U.S. Staff Sgt. William David Cleveland through the streets of Mogadishu, cheering. President Clinton immediately abandoned the pursuit of Aideed, the mission that cost Cleveland his life and gave the order for all American soldiers to withdraw from Somalia by March 31, 1994. Other Western nations followed suit.
When the last U.N. peacekeepers left in 1995, ending a mission that had cost more than $2 billion, Mogadishu still lacked a functioning government. The battle deaths, and the harrowing images prompted lingering U.S. reluctance to get involved in Africa’s crises, including the following year’s genocide in Rwanda. In 1996, Osama bin Laden cited the incident as proof that the U.S. was unable to stomach casualties: when “one American was dragged in the streets of Mogadishu you left; the extent of your impotence and weaknesses became very clear.” Never before or since had a photo altered a nation’s political destinies so much so.
Bin Laden knew that the weakness of the West lay, not in it’s armed forces, technology or economy, but in the alienation of its own elites. Attempting to explain the complete capitulation of the Western decision makers to the refugee flood rushing at their borders Peggy Noonan notes in her Wall Street Journal article that the political and cultural elites no longer even regard territorial integrity as an existential issue. It was something well enough to have, but certainly nothing worth defending to the point of inconvenience; and most assuredly not unto the death.
Like the barons of yesteryear, they were secure in castles rising above the squalid countryside, safe from pestilence, hunger and even war. Noonan describes the modern aristocracy as a law unto themselves, living in a world unto itself, with more in common with foreign princes, other elite classes than with the commoners who surround them.
Rules on immigration and refugees are made by safe people. These are the people who help run countries, who have nice homes in nice neighborhoods and are protected by their status. Those who live with the effects of immigration and asylum law are those who are less safe, who see a less beautiful face in it because they are daily confronted with a less beautiful reality—normal human roughness, human tensions. Decision-makers fear things like harsh words from the writers of editorials; normal human beings fear things like street crime. Decision-makers have the luxury of seeing life in the abstract. Normal people feel the implications of their decisions in the particular.
The decision-makers feel disdain for the anxieties of normal people, and ascribe them to small-minded bigotries, often religious and racial, and ignorant antagonisms. But normal people prize order because they can’t buy their way out of disorder.
People in gated communities of the mind, who glide by in Ubers, have bought their way out and are safe. Not to mention those in government-maintained mansions who glide by in SUVs followed by security details. Rulers can afford to see national-security threats as an abstraction—yes, yes, we must better integrate our new populations. But the unprotected, the vulnerable, have a right and a reason to worry.
Economists describe this as the principal-agent problem. “The dilemma exists because sometimes the agent is motivated to act in his own best interests rather than those of the principal. … Common examples of this relationship include corporate management (agent) and shareholders (principal), or politicians (agent) and voters (principal).” In layman’s language, the principal-agent problem occurs when it is the interest of the agent to sell out the principal.
The problem arises where the two parties have different interests and asymmetric information (the agent having more information), such that the principal cannot directly ensure that the agent is always acting in its (the principal’s) best interests, particularly when activities that are useful to the principal are costly to the agent, and where elements of what the agent does are costly for the principal to observe. Moral hazard and conflict of interest may arise. … The deviation from the principal’s interest by the agent is called “agency costs”.
Almost everything former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has stated about her improper use of a private e-mail account and server has been proven false. A State Department staffer who worked on Clinton’s private server plans to invoke the Fifth Amendment to avoid testifying before a congressional committee about his role in privatizing Clinton’s email.
But like Lerner, Clinton has escaped an indictment or jailing.
Not so Kim Davis. She is a conservative Christian court clerk in Kentucky who apparently thought, given the lawless times, that she could ignore without consequence a Supreme Court decision making gay marriage legal.
Davis was jailed for not enforcing the law. That is a justifiable punishment — if it were applied equally to the progressive mayors of sanctuary cities and all officials who likewise ignore federal law.
. . . I predict things are going to get hot in the coming years. The summer of 2015 should prove to be positively 'toasty' in major urban centers as the destructive ideas of the Left lead to ever more violence.
But liberal fools such as the aptronymically appellated Charles Blow will be safe in their upper-class enclaves.
A Turkish proverb has it that "the fish stinks from the head." And indeed it does. From Obama on down, the vilification of law enforcement has lead to a nation-wide spike in violent crime. But while liberals caused the Ferguson effect, they won't suffer from it. Urban blacks will. Having seen how Officer Darren Wilson's career was destroyed, cops can be expected to hang back and avoid pro-active interventions. I predict a long, hot, violent summer. On the upside, Dunkin' Donuts will do better business and more cats will be rescued from trees.
Some of us are old enough to remember the Watts riots from the summer of 1965 in Los Angeles, 50 years ago. At the time a joke made the rounds. "How much power would it take to destroy Los Angeles?"
You keep talking about the Benedict Option, but you never say what it is. Give us the formula.
I keep telling you that there is no formula! We are going to have to be experimental, because we have never faced a post-Christian culture. The first point is for Christians to wake up and face reality. There will be no “take back our country” moment, because we have lost, and lost decisively. We are rapidly de-Christianizing. True, we have a long way to go before we get to European rates of secularization and religious indifference, but the trajectory is the same. Rather than change the world, the world is changing the churches. The power of popular culture is overwhelming, and in ways that many Christians scarcely grasp — and this, as MacIntyre says, is part of our predicament.
Granted, there is no formula: there are different ways of implementing the Benedict Option. But there ought to be discussion -- not provided by Dreher in the above-referenced piece -- of a potential problem with one form of the Option's implementation.
Suppose you and yours join a quasi-monastic community out in the middle of nowhere where you live more or less 'off the grid,' home-school your kids, try to keep alive and transmit our Judeo-Christian and Graeco-Roman traditions, all in keeping with that marvellous admonition of Goethe in Faust:
Was du ererbt von deinen Vätern hast, erwirb es, um es zu besitzen!
What from your fathers you received as heir,
Acquire if you would possess it. (tr. W. Kaufmann)
So now you are out in the desert or the forest or in some isolated place free of the toxic influences of a society in collapse. The problem is that you are now a very easy target for the fascists of the Left. You and yours are all in one place, far away from the rest of society and its infrastructure. All the fascists have to do is trump up some charges, of child-abuse, of gun violations, whatever. The rest of society considers you kooks and benighted bigots and religious fanatics and won't be bothered if you are wiped off the face of the earth. You might go the way of the Branch Davidians.
Is this an alarmist scenario? I hope it is. But the way things are going, one ought to give careful thought to one's various withdrawal options.
It might be better to remain in diaspora in the cities and towns, spread out, in the midst of people and infrastructure the fascists of the Left will not target. A sort of subversive engagement from within may in the long run be better than spatial withdrawal. One can withdraw spiritually without withdrawing spatially. One the other hand, we are spatial beings, and perhaps not merely accidentally, so the question is a serious one: how well can one withdraw spiritually while in the midst of towns and cities and morally corrupt and spiritually dead people?
And then there is the vexed and vexing question of armed resistance. This is especially vexing for Christians. Should we meet violence with violence, or let ourselves and our culture be destroyed? On Christian metaphysics, this world is not an illusion. It is not a dream one can hope to wake up from. On the other hand, it is not ultimately real: it, and we who sojourn through it, are in statu viae. What then should be the measure and mode of our defense of it?
If you think violence is to be met with violence, then I advise you to remain in diaspora in the cities and towns, spread out, in the midst of people and infrastructure the fascists of the Left will not target.
We are indeed living in very interesting times. How can one be bored?
This is the hopeful side of the culture wars—a call for engagement, not retreat. Religious believers weighing the option of withdrawing from a culture increasingly hostile to their values should redouble their efforts to cultivate their ideas within active subcultures that influence the nation and the next generation of Americans. Those who share a commitment to the freedom to think, speak, associate, publish, and express their beliefs may not have the American Civil Liberties Union in our corner any more—but that just means that we get to take up the noble cause, and the moral authority, they have abandoned.
Yes, this can be a dangerous time to be active in the culture. But it’s very hard to make speech codes, safe spaces, and other anti-thoughtcrime measures work in the long term. Sometimes all it takes for the whole apparatus to come crashing down is a handful of people brave enough to speak their minds without fear.
Should this trouble the philosopher? Before he is a citizen, the philosopher is a "spectator of all time and existence" in a marvellous phrase that comes down to us from Plato's Republic (486a). The rise and fall of great nations is just more grist for the philosopher's mill. His true homeland is nothing so paltry as a particular nation, even one as exceptional as the USA, and his fate as a truth-seeker cannot be tied to its fate. Like the heavenly Jerusalem, the heavenly Athens is not bound to a geographical location.
And if the philosopher should also aspire to the heavenly Jerusalem, he is all the more freed from an excess of anxiety over the inevitable passing away of what must pass away.
St. Augustine had to endure the twilight of a civilization. In 410 Alaric and his barbarian horde of Goths sacked Rome. There followed the invasion of North Africa and the siege of Hippo where Augustine was bishop and where he died in 430 while the city was under assault. But the owl of Minerva spreads its wings at dusk, and as the curtain fell on Rome, Augustine's thoughts took flight, the result being The City of God.
Am I succumbing to an excess of Kulturpessimismus? Perhaps. We shall see.
In the wake of recent events, Rod Dreher renews his call for the Benedict Option:
It is now clear that for this Court, extremism in the pursuit of the Sexual Revolution’s goals is no vice. True, the majority opinion nodded and smiled in the direction of the First Amendment, in an attempt to calm the fears of those worried about religious liberty. But when a Supreme Court majority is willing to invent rights out of nothing, it is impossible to have faith that the First Amendment will offer any but the barest protection to religious dissenters from gay rights orthodoxy.
This is especially the case, as it seems to me, given the Left's relentless and characteristically dishonest assault on Second Amendment rights. The only real back up to the First Amendment is the exercise of the rights guaranteed by the Second. You will have noticed that the Left never misses an opportunity to limit law-abiding citizens' access to guns and ammunition. What motivates leftists is the drive to curtail and ultimately eliminate what could be called 'real' liberties such as the liberty to own property, to make money and keep it, to defend one's life, liberty and property, together with the liberty to acquire the means to the defense of life, liberty and property.
Indeed, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito explicitly warned religious traditionalists that this decision leaves them vulnerable. Alito warns that Obergefell “will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy,” and will be used to oppress the faithful “by those who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent.”
[. . .]
It is time for what I call the Benedict Option. In his 1982 book After Virtue, the eminent philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre likened the current age to the fall of ancient Rome. He pointed to Benedict of Nursia, a pious young Christian who left the chaos of Rome to go to the woods to pray, as an example for us. We who want to live by the traditional virtues, MacIntyre said, have to pioneer new ways of doing so in community. We await, he said “a new — and doubtless very different — St. Benedict.”
Throughout the early Middle Ages, Benedict’s communities formed monasteries, and kept the light of faith burning through the surrounding cultural darkness. Eventually, the Benedictine monks helped refound civilization.
I believe that orthodox Christians today are called to be those new and very different St. Benedicts. How do we take the Benedict Option, and build resilient communities within our condition of internal exile, and under increasingly hostile conditions? I don’t know. But we had better figure this out together, and soon, while there is time.
Last fall, I spoke with the prior of the Benedictine monastery in Nursia, and told him about the Benedict Option. So many Christians, he told me, have no clue how far things have decayed in our aggressively secularizing world. The future for Christians will be within the Benedict Option, the monk said, or it won’t be at all.
Obergefell is a sign of the times, for those with eyes to see. This isn’t the view of wild-eyed prophets wearing animal skins and shouting in the desert. It is the view of four Supreme Court justices, in effect declaring from the bench the decline and fall of the traditional American social, political, and legal order.
There is a potential problem with the Benedict Option, however. Suppose you and yours join a quasi-monastic community out in the middle of nowhere where you live more or less 'off the grid,' home-school your kids, try to keep alive and transmit our Judeo-Christian and Graeco-Roman traditions, all in keeping with that marvellous admonition of Goethe:
Was du ererbt von deinen Vätern hast, erwirb es, um es zu besitzen!
What from your fathers you received as heir,
Acquire if you would possess it. (tr. W. Kaufmann)
The idea is that what one has been lucky enough to inherit, one must actively appropriate, i.e., make one's own by hard work, if one is really to possess it. The German infinitive erwerben has not merely the meaning of 'earn' or 'acquire' but also the meaning of aneignen, appropriate, make one's own.
So now you are out in the desert or the forest or in some isolated place free of the toxic influences of a society in collapse. The problem is that you are now a very easy target for the fascists. You and yours are all in one place, far away from the rest of society and its infrastructure. All the fascists have to do is trump up some charges, of child-abuse, of gun violations, whatever. The rest of society considers you kooks and benighted bigots and won't be bothered if you are wiped off the face of the earth. You might go the way of the Branch Davidians.
Is this an alarmist scenario? I hope it is. But the way things are going, one ought to give careful thought to one's various withdrawal options.
It might be better to remain in diaspora in the cities and towns, spread out, in the midst of people and infrastructure the fascists of the Left will not target. A sort of subversive engagement from within may in the long run be better than spatial withdrawal. One can withdraw spiritually without withdrawing spatially. One the other hand, we are spatial beings, and perhaps not merely accidentally, so the question is a serious one: how well can one withdraw spiritually while in the midst of towns and cities and morally corrupt and spiritually dead people?
We are indeed living in very interesting times. How can one be bored?
Dennis Prager was complaining one day about how the Left ridicules the Right. He sounded a bit indignant. He went on to say that he does not employ ridicule. But why doesn't he? He didn't say why, but I will for him: Because he is a gentleman who exemplifies the good old conservative virtue of civility. And because he is a bit naive.
Prager's behavior, in one way laudable, in another way is not, resting as it does on an assumption that I doubt is true at the present time. Prager assumes that political differences are more like intellectual differences among gentlemanly interlocutors than they are like the differences among warring parties. He assumes that there is a large measure of common ground and the real possibility of mutually beneficial compromise, the sort of compromise that serves the common good by mitigating the extremism of the differing factions, as opposed to that form of compromise, entered into merely to survive, whereby one side knuckles under to the extremism of the other.
But if we are now in the age of post-consensus politics, if politics is war by another name, then it is just foolish not to use the Left's tactics against them.
It is not enough to be right, or have the facts on your side, or to have the better arguments. That won't cut it in a war. Did the Allies prevail over the Axis Powers in virtue of having truth and right on their side? It was might that won the day, and, to be honest, the employing of morally dubious means (e.g., the firebombing of Dresden, the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki), the same sort of means that the Axis would have employed had they been able to. One hopes that the current civil war doesn't turn bloody. But no good purpose is served by failing to understand that what we have here is a war and not minor disagreements about means within the common horizon of agreed-upon assumptions, values, and goals.
Have we entered the age of post-consensus politics? I think so. We should catalog our irreconcilable differences. For now a quick incomplete list. We disagree radically about: the purpose of government; crime and punishment; race; marriage; abortion; drugs; pornography; gun rights; the interpretation of the Constitution; religion; economics.
Take religion. I have no common ground with you if you think every vestige of the Judeo-Christian heritage should be removed from the public square, or take the sort of extremist line represented by people like Dawkins and A. C. Grayling. If, however, you are an atheist who gives the Establishment Clause a reasonable interpretation, then we have some common ground.
Don't things seem to be coming apart faster and faster now? Or am I just getting old, and so the distance between this madding world and my reference frame for 'normal life' is just making it seem that way?
No, I don't think it's just geezerism. The more rotten something becomes, the faster it falls apart. We have crossed the event horizon, and are accelerating toward the singularity. The tidal forces are already doing their work.
Serious question for you: has this been inevitable since the Enlightenment? Here's what I'm getting at (from another recent post):
"Given that what gives a culture its form is essentially 'memetic' — an aggregation of ideas, lore, mythos, history, music, religion, duties, obligations, affinities, and aversions shared by a common people — an advanced civilization is subject to corrosion and decomposition by ideas. And the most corrosive of all such reagents in the modern world is one that our own culture bequeathed to itself in the Enlightenment: the elevation of skepsis to our highest intellectual principle.
Radical doubt, as it turns out, is a “universal acid”; given enough time, there is no container that can hold it. Once doubt is in control, there is no premise, no tradition, nor even any God that it cannot dissolve. Once it has burned its way through theism, telos, and the intrinsic holiness of the sacred, leaving behind a only a dessicated naturalism, its action on the foundations of culture accelerates briskly, as there is little left to resist it.
Because it is in the nature of doubt to dissolve axioms, the consequence of the Enlightenment is that all of a civilization’s theorems ultimately become unprovable. This is happening before our eyes. The result is chaos, and collapse."
This is a very large cluster of themes; I approach it and them with trepidation.
First, we do seem to be accelerating, or perhaps jerking, toward some sort of sociocultural collapse or break-up. And to point this out is not the mere grumbling of geezers or the wheezing of dinosaurs; we really are losing it as a culture, with the older among us simply better positioned to see what we are losing. The old have a temporal perspective the young lack. So if you owls of Minerva seek understanding, I recommend that you live as long as possible in possession of your faculties. As for the litany of what we have lost, there is no need to rehearse it. Malcolm and I are in broad agreement about the items on the list.
But is the Enlightenment the problem? Malcolm seems to be maintaining that our current woes are the inevitable consequence of Enlightened modes of thought that first arose in the 18th century.
The first two points I would make in response is that enlightenment did not begin with the Enlightenment, and that enlightenment is in many respects good even if in some respects bad.
Malcolm is a student of science and thinks it a high cultural value indeed. Now science brings enlightenment and the enlightenment it brings had its origin with the ancient nature philosophers of Ionia. Logical thinking, in a broad sense of 'logical,' began in the West with a break-away from mythical modes of thought. (Ernst Cassirer is worth reading on this.) Logical thinking began with doubts about the tales and legends that had been handed down. The cosmogonic myths were called into question. Doubt, as I like to say, is the engine of inquiry. Doubt is a driver, a motor. Inquiry aims to shed light on what is dark and hidden. Science aims to banish the occult and the mysterious. But it cannot do this without doubting the myths and lore and whatnot that had been handed down, a lot of which was obscurantist nonsense. In an obvious sense, inquiry is in the service of enlightenment. Doubt, its motor, is therefore good.
Skepsis need not be destructive or corrosive. The very word skepsis is translatable as inquiry, and Malcolm will allow that inquiry is good, ceteris paribus. But Malcolm seems to be using skepsis to mean doubt. If so, the Enlightenment did not elevate skepsis or doubt to our highest intellectual principle. I would suggest that the Enlightenment elevated Reason to our highest principle, the reason of the autonomous individual who "dares to be wise." (See Kant's essay, "What is Enlightenment?" with its slogan, sapere aude, dare to be wise.) I think it would be accurate to say that the Enlightenment involved a faith in Reason and in the power of Reason to get at the truth, banish superstition, purify religion (cf. Kant, Religion within the Bounds of Reason Alone) and improve the human lot.*
Doubt is the engine of rational inquiry, where 'rational' does not exclude the empirical. (A reasonable person is not one who relies on reason alone but one who also consults the senses.) Doubt is good. But good things can be taken too far. So doubt can ramp up to what Malcolm calls radical doubt: an all-corrosive acid that cannot be contained. Using 'axiom' in the old-fashioned way, Malcolm tells us that it is the nature of doubt to dissolve all axioms, with the result that all theorems become unprovable. Malcolm's point is that doubt has the natural tendency to destroy the self-evidence or objective certainty of everything that hitherto counted as self-evident or objectively certain.
I think this is right. But it is one-sided. The power to doubt is in one way a god-like power, and as such good: it is the power spiritually to distance oneself from a thing or proposition and examine it critically. It is the salutary power to pose such questions as the following: is it real as people say? Is it truly valuable? Is it true? Is it worth doing? Does it even make sense? Is the explanation truly explanatory? Is a certain hypthesis necessary (e.g., the ether hypothesis)? Is there evidence for it? Does the earth really rest on a turtle? Is it turtles all the way down? Does it function merely to legitimate the power of the oppressor? Isn't this talk of 'structural racism' just obscurantist bullshit promulgated by losers and race-baiters who seek power by political means and intimidation because they are incapable of achieving it by making worthwhile contributions to human flourishing? Is it really the case that climate change skeptics are anti-science know-nothings?
So doubt is a god-like power. But is is also diabolical. Lucifer the light-bearer becomes drunk on his own power and blinded by his own light. He will not obey. He will not recognize any authority other than his own will. His mind is not for minding any antecedent reality. He will not submit in piety to a Power outside of himself. He would be auto-nomous and give the law to himself as opposed to accepting it, hetero-nomously, from Another. In the same vein, Goethe in Faust speaks of Mephistopheles as "the spirit that always negates." I am struck by the similarity of the German Zweifel (doubt) to the German Teufel (devil) -- not that that proves anything by itself. (Nor am I claiming a genuine etymological connection.) Zwei --> zwo --> two --> duplicity. Doubt as splitting in two of an antecedent wholeness or integrity.
Doubt is good insofar as it is in the service of cognition. How do we keep it in the service of cognition, and prevent it from becoming an all-corrosive end in itself and to that extent a disease of cognition and an underminer of all 'axioms,' especially those on which our civilization rests?
I don't know. I do know that Islam is not the answer. And I do know that barbaric, world-darkening systems such as Islam (or radical Islam, if that is different) can only be kept in check with the tools and attitudes of the Enlightenment.
The power to doubt and question and critically examine may lead some to become rudderless decadents, but it will prevent others from becoming Muhammad Attas. What the Muslim world needs is precisely a healthy dose of doubt-driven open inquiry. It needs skepticism. It needs philosophy. What we in the West need, perhaps, is less philosophy, more openness to the possibility of divine revelation, more prayerful Bible study.
There was no Enlightenment in the Muslim world. This is part of the explanation of its misery and inanition.
To answer Malcolm's question: the Enlightenment is not at the root of our current malaise, though I grant that elements of it, taken to extremes, are contributory to our present mess. Perhaps Kant's "Copernican revolution" 'paved the way for' conceptual relativism despite Kant's not being a conceptual relativist. That's one example.
*The greatest figure in the German Enlightenment was Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). He famously remarks in the preface to the second edition of his Critique of Pure Reason (1787, first ed. 1781), "I have found it necessary to deny reason in order to make room for faith." Now how does that jive with what I wrote in the preceding paragraph? I can't explain this now; it is just too complicated! This is what i call the invocation of blogospheric privilege. Brevity is the soul of blog. This being so, I am justified in this venue of just stopping.
Thanks to 'progressives,' our 'progress' toward social and cultural collapse seems not be proceeding at a constant speed, but to be accelerating. But perhaps a better metaphor from the lexicon of physics is jerking. After all, our 'progress' is jerkwad-driven. No need to name names. You know who they are.
From your college physics you may recall that the first derivative of position with respect to time is velocity, while the second derivative is acceleration. Lesser known is the third derivative: jerk. (I am not joking; look it up.) If acceleration is the rate of change of velocity, jerk, also known as jolt, is the rate of change of acceleration.
If you were studying something in college, and not majoring in, say, Grievance Studies, then you probably know that all three, velocity, acceleration, and jerk are vectors, not scalars. Each has a magnitude and a direction. This is why a satellite orbiting the earth is constantly changing its velocity despite its constant speed.
The 'progressive' jerk too has its direction: the end of civilization as we know it.
'Dawn' in the title above is curiously inapt in these times of twilight as the light goes out in the West. Indications of decline: fascination with the grotesque and the abnormal; the mainstreaming of deviant behavior; the cultural ubiquity of pornography; the loss of any sense that we are spiritual beings with a destiny that transcends the merely physical; the loss of the belief that there is anything worth living for beyond the gratification of our basest desires; the abdication of those in positions of authority, together with their denial of reality and their routine lying, as witness the brazen mendacity of Obama and Hillary. Vanity Fair, May 2015:
At 55, he [David Mills] is tired of atheism activism, which he’s been doing since the late 1970s, and ready for a career reboot. Recently he became the owner of a RealDoll—the Rolls-Royce of sex dolls, created two decades ago by artist and entrepreneur Matt McMullen. Mills, who learned about them from an episode of the sitcom Family Guy, visited the company’s Web site and was convinced the photos were of models, not dolls, because they all looked so realistic. More research proved otherwise.
“I thought, Well, gee, I would enjoy something like that!” he recalls. “I mean, I love women. God, I absolutely love women.” And especially their legs. “That’s what attracts me to a woman as much as a face, if not more.” Big problem, though: “My fundamental personality conflict is that I really like women but I don’t like to be around people.”
Mills is morally sick with a sickness that eventually comes to seem normal to its victim. For Mills, a woman is just a female animal body. But such bodies have their manifold physical imperfections. So he wants a perfect body, one that maximally excites his lust, whether or not the body embodies a person. To relate to a person is too much of a bother when the gratification of lust is the supreme desideratum. Enter the sexbot, a body that embodies nothing.
What’s an average day like for him [Mills] now?
“Well, somebody will send me an e-mail: Oh, it’s just so sadddd. I know you’re such a sad person with this doll and I feel sooo sorry for you,” he says, mocking this individual. “Well, here’s how sorry you should feel for me: I sleep till 11, and if I want, maybe later. I get up. I sit around a couple hours, watch TV, maybe have lunch with my daughter if she comes. You know, go out to a restaurant and have a good dinner, come back, maybe watch some porn or TV. Maybe have a late-night snack, a beer or two, and go to bed. So don’t feel sorry for me, for Christ’s sake.”
Matt McMullen, above, of the appropriately named Abyss Creations. Look at his eyes. If the eyes are the windows of the soul . . . . Look at his arms, plastered with ugly tattoos, the graffiti of the human body whereby a spiritual animal defaces the temple of the spirit . . . .
While I am on the topic of doom, gloom, and decline, I may as well draw your attention to another fine jeremiad by Victor Davis Hanson. Excerpt:
A pre-Enlightenment Age is not just the absence of uncomfortable free expression. It is also a sort of groupthink acceptance of a lie in place of the truth on grounds of social utility. Forensic evidence, testimony, and logic have shown that “hands up, don’t shoot” is a complete myth. Michael Brown, fresh from committing a robbery, walking down the middle of the street, apparently under the influence, lunged at a policeman, grabbed for his weapon, fled, turned around and charged, before being shot and killed. He was not shot in the back. Nor did he halt and put his hands up, begging the policeman not to shoot him. Yet the president of the United States often invokes generically “Ferguson,” as if it were proof of police brutality. “Hands up, don’t shoot” is analogous to “the earth is flat” or “the sun revolves around the earth.”
“Mattress Girl” is a Columbia University co-ed who had post facto regrets about once sexually hooking up with a young male student. She then recalibrated their pairing as a forcible rape, and yet was not able to demonstrate to either the university or the police that her allegations were valid. Yet she became a cult-hero. The progressive world embraced her as a feminist icon, as she lugged around a mattress and made an explicit sex tape, to further a narrative that could not be proven true. If one assumed that 2,500 years ago Socrates destroyed for good the notion of moral relativism in his take down of the Sophists, think again. The subtext of Mattress Girl’s whine is that even if she is lying, her cause still furthers progressive agendas and thus is not really a lie after all.
Current popular culture is not empirically grounded, but operates on the premise that truth is socially constructed by race, class, and gender concerns. Imagine if Mattress Girl’s male sexual partner had alleged that, in fact, he was coerced into sex, and then he carried his own 50-pound mattress around campus to draw public attention to her coercion. Certainly, he would be ignored or laughed at. Science, logic, probability, evidence — all these cornerstones of the Enlightenment — now mean little in comparison to the race, class, and gender of those who offer narratives deemed socially useful.
Eric Holder called the nation “cowards” for not holding a national conversation on race. But Holder did not wish a freewheeling discussion about the break-up of the black family, the epidemic of violence and drug use, the cult of the macho male, the baleful role of anti-police rhetoric and rap music — in addition to current racism, a sluggish economy, and the wages of past apartheid. Instead, the ground rules of racial discussion were again to be anti-Enlightenment to the core. One must not cite the extraordinary disproportionate crime rate of inner-city black males, or the lack of inspired black leadership at the national level. One most certainly does not suggest that other minority groups either do not promote leaders like Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson or do not seem to have a need for national collective spokespeople at all.
Really, is there any more pertinent sign for most colleges and universities? Cigarettes manufacturers are required to ornament their wares with all manner of alarming advisories, why shouldn’t institutions of higher education face similar requirements? After all, the noxious atmosphere they diffuse is perhaps even more dangerous than cigarette smoke, which harms only the body. A college education threatens to eat away at a student’s soul and capacity for a healthy, robust, adult emotional life. “You Are Leaving the American Sector.” For many, perhaps most colleges and universities today, that about sums it up.
Alasdair MacIntyre's 1981 After Virtue ends on this ominous and prescient note:
It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the most misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age in Europe and North America and the epoch in which the Roman empire declined into the Dark Ages. Nonetheless certain parallels there are. A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead –- often not recognizing fully what they were doing –- was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time, however, the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another -- doubtless very different -- St. Benedict. (University of Notre Dame Press, 1981, pp. 244-245.)
This was written 34 years ago, 20 years before 9/11. It is the charter for Rod Dreher's recent talk of a Benedict Option. Excerpts from an eponymous article of his:
Why are medieval monks relevant to our time? Because, says the moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, they show that it is possible to construct “new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained” in a Dark Age—including, perhaps, an age like our own.
For MacIntyre, we too are living through a Fall of Rome-like catastrophe, one that is concealed by our liberty and prosperity. In his influential 1981 book After Virtue, MacIntyre argued that the Enlightenment’s failure to replace an expiring Christianity caused Western civilization to lose its moral coherence. Like the early medievals, we too have been cut off from our roots, and a shadow of cultural amnesia is falling across the land.
The Great Forgetting is taking a particular toll on American Christianity, which is losing its young in dramatic numbers. Those who remain within churches often succumb to a potent form of feel-good relativism that sociologists have called “moralistic therapeutic deism,” which is dissolving historic Christian moral and theological orthodoxy.
A recent Pew survey found that Jews in America are in an even more advanced state of assimilation to secular modernity. The only Jews successfully resisting are the Orthodox, many of whom live in communities meaningfully separate and by traditions distinct from the world.
Is there a lesson here for Christians? Should they take what might be called the “Benedict Option”: communal withdrawal from the mainstream, for the sake of sheltering one’s faith and family from corrosive modernity and cultivating a more traditional way of life?
The broader topic here is that of voluntary withdrawal from a morally corrupt society and its morally corrupt institutions. There are various options. One could join a monastic order and live in community. This is the monastic cenobitic option. There is also the monastic eremitic option: one lives as a hermit within a religious context subject to its rules and having taken vows. Both the cenobitic and the eremitic options can be made less rigorous in various ways. One could attach oneself as an oblate to a monastery visiting it from time to time and participating in its communal prayers and other activities (Ora, labora, et lectio are the three 'legs' of the Benedictine 'stool.'). This could also be done in an eremitic way. (From the Greek eremos, desert.)
Spiritual withdrawal is of course greatly aided by physical withdrawal from cities into deserts and other remote locales; but one could voluntarily withdraw from a morally corrupt society while living in the midst of it in, say, Manhattan. (I cannot, however, advise setting up as the resident monk in a bordello in Pahrump, Nevada.)
What of the Maverick Option? As I have been living it since 1991 it does not involve drastic physical isolation: I live on the edge of a major metropolitan area which is also the edge of a rugged wilderness area. Ready access to raw nature (as opposed to, say, Manhattan's Central Park) may not be absolutely essential for spiritual development, but it is extremely conducive to it (in tandem with other things of course). Nature, experienced alone, removes one from the levelling effects of the social. (Henry David Thoreau: "I have no walks to throw away on company." That sounds misanthropic and perhaps from Henry David's mouth it was; but it can be given a positive reading.) It would be the height of folly to suppose that man's sociality is wholly negative; but its corrupting side cannot be denied. Encounter with nature in solitude pulls one out of one's social comfort zone in such a way that the ultimate questions obtrude themselves with full force. In society, they can strike one like jokes from a Woody Allen movie; in solitude, in the desert, they are serious. Nature is not God; but the solitary encounter with it, by breaking the spell of the social, can orient us toward Nature's God.
I will have more to say of the Maverick Option, its nature and pitfalls, in a later post.
Where Jeremiah counsels engagement without assimilation, Benedict represents the possibility of withdrawal. The former goal is to be achieved by the pursuit of ordinary life: the establishment of homes, the foundation of families, all amid the wider culture. The latter is to be achieved by the establishment of special communities governed by a heightened standard of holiness.
Although it can be interpreted as a prophecy of doom, the Jeremiah Option is fundamentally optimistic. It suggests that the captives can and should lead fulfilling lives even in exile. The Benedict Option is more pessimistic. It suggests that mainstream society is basically intolerable, and that those who yearn for decent lives should have as little to do with it as possible. MacIntyre is careful to point out that the new St. Benedict would have to be very different from the original and might not demand rigorous separation. Even so, his outlook remains bleak.
We need to catalog and examine all the options. A man once said that the unexamined life is not worth living. He was the wisest of mortals.
British (Catholic) historian Paul Johnson in his wonderful Modern Times attributes relativism's rise to Einstein! So does Einstein's latest biographer.
There are two questions that must be distinguished. The first is whether Einstein's Theory of Relativity entails either moral or cognitive (alethic) relativism. The second question is whether Einstein's revolutionary contributions to physics, via their misinterpretation by journalists and other shallow people (am I being unfair?), contributed to an atmosphere in which people would be more likely to embrace moral and cognitive relativism. The first question belongs to the philosophy of science, the second to the sociology of belief. The questions are plainly distinct.
The answer to the first question is a resounding No. Since physics has nothing to do with moral questions — which is not to say that moral questions do not arise in the technological application of physical knowledge or in its dissemination or in the construction of experiments, etc. — it is quite clear that neither STR nor GTR nor any physical theory has any logical consequences in respect of meta-ethical doctrines such as moral relativism. And as for cognitive or alethic relativism, far from its being entailed by the Theory of Relativity, I should think that the latter presupposes the absoluteness of truth.
Take the Galilean principle of the additivity of velocities. Suppose I'm on a train moving with velocity v1. I fire my gun in the direction of the train's travel. The projectile's muzzle velocity is v2. The projectile's total velocity is v1 + v2. But STR implies that the additivity of velocities breaks down at relativistic speeds, speeds approaching the speed of light. Now the proposition that the principle of the additivity of velocities fails at relativistic speeds is not merely true relative to STR, but true absolutely. And the same goes for any number of other propositions of STR and GTR such as the one bearing upon the conversion of mass and energy, E=mc^2, or that the speed of light remains a constant 186, 282 mi/sec. Or consider the proposition that motion and rest are relative to reference-frames. That proposition's truth is not relative to any reference-frame or to any conceptual framework either.
In short, Einstein's Theory of Relativity, far from entailing relativism about truth, presupposes, and thus entails the absoluteness of truth. But I don't need to make that strong a claim to refute the thesis that the Theory of Relativity entails the relativity of truth. It suffices to point out that the theory is logically consistent with the absoluteness of truth.
As for the sociological question, I suppose one would have to grant that misinterpretations and shallow expositions of the Theory of Relativity did contribute to the spread of moral and cognitive relativism. But of course that is not the responsibility of Einstein or modern physics but the responsibility of those shallow-pates we call journalists. (Am I being unfair a second time?)
Both. Here is a liberal professor, writing (not very well) under a pseudonym (of course!) who says he or she is terrified of his or her liberal students. But he or she does make a good point when he or she points to the consumerist mentality that prevails among students. That's been in place for a long time now and is one of the reasons I gave up a tenured position in 1991.
One of the phrases one increasingly hears these days is 'comfort zone.' I humbly suggest that if you are not prepared to leave said zone on a regular basis you will never really live.
One needs stress to grow, mentally, physically, and in every way. Stress is not to be had in a 'safe space.'
Glaubt es mir! – das Geheimnis, um die größte Fruchtbarkeit und den größten Genuß vom Dasein einzuernten, heißt: gefährlich leben!For believe me! — the secret for harvesting from existence the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment is: to live dangerously! Build your cities on the slopes of Vesuvius! Send your ships into uncharted seas! (Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, sec. 283, tr. Walter Kaufmann)
There is a website by the name of The Philosophers' Cocoon. You read that right: cocoon. On the masthead: "A safe and supportive forum for early-career philosophers."
Years ago I answered a reader's e-mail on line, providing his full name. The topic was technical and non-political. A while back he contacted me because he wanted his name removed from an arcane post buried deep in my archives. I did so. But then he started worrying about his name's occurrence in the ComBox . . . .
Now I sympathize with the young and unestablished. We live in nasty, illiberal times. I've made mine, so it requires no great courage to speak the truth under my real name. But it requires some, and more need to 'man up' and 'woman up' to confront the fascist scum on the Left. There is such a thing as civil courage without the exercise of which by large numbers we are done for as a free republic. Click on the link for another example of a reader who requested that his name be removed from my weblog.
And if you are unfamiliar with the disgusting Laura Kipnis affair, bang on this. Dreher's piece ends ominously.
UPDATE: A nationally known conservative college professor, a man who is well into his career, and protected by tenure, just wrote to say “it’s worse than you think,” then sent evidence. He said this has definitely had a chilling effect on the lectures he gives, for fear of triggering a Little Empress or Emperor, who will set out to ruin his academic life. I’m not going to quote his post, because I want to protect him and his position on his campus. But he adds:
If I had to do it over again, I would have never, ever entered academia. I cringe when I think of the few young, ambitious, and bright conservatives who are entering the academy now who have no idea of how even uttering their viewpoints will be turned against them to destroy them.
A safe and supportive forum for early-career philosophers. - See more at: http://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/#sthash.d68YIgKt.dpuf
A safe and supportive forum for early-career philosophers. - See more at: http://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/#sthash.d68YIgKt.dpuf
A safe and supportive forum for early-career philosophers. - See more at: http://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/#sthash.d68YIgKt.dpuf
Professor of Government Charles Kesler in the Spring 2015Claremont Review of Books laments that "The culture of free discussion and debate is declining, and with it liberty, on and off the campus." He is right to be offended by the new culture of 'trigger warnings' and 'microaggressions,' but I wonder if his analysis is quite right.
What’s behind the decline? There are many factors, but among the most influential is that dead-end of modern philosophy called postmodernism, which has had two baneful effects. By teaching that reason is impotent—that it can’t arrive at any objective knowledge of truth, beauty, and justice because there is nothing “out there” to be known—postmodernism turns the university into an arena for will to power. All values are relative, so there is no point in discussing whether the most powerful values are true, just, or good. The crucial thing is that they are the most powerful, and can be played as trumps: do not offend me, or you will be in trouble. If we say it’s racist, then it’s racist. Don’t waste our time trying to ask, But what is racism?
Second, postmodernism devotes itself to what Richard Rorty called “language games.” For professors, especially, this is the most exquisite form of will to power, “a royal road to social change,” as Todd Gitlin (the rare lefty professor at Columbia who defends free speech) observes. So freshman girls became “women,” slaves turned into “enslaved persons,” “marriage” had to be opened to “same-sex” spouses, and so forth. Naming or renaming bespeaks power, and for decades we have seen this power rippling through American society. Now even sexual assault and rape are whatever the dogmatic leftists on and off campus say they are.
No truth, then no way things are; power decides
Kesler's analysis is largely correct, but it could use a bit of nuancing and as I like to say exfoliation (unwrapping). First of all, if there is no truth, then there is nothing to be known. And if there is neither knowledge nor truth, then there is no one 'way things are.' There is no cosmos in the Greek sense. Nothing (e.g., marriage) has a nature or essence. That paves the way for the Nietzschean view that, at ontological bottom, "The world is the Will to Power and nothing besides!" We too, as parts of the world, are then nothing more than competing centers of power-acquisition and power-maintenance. Power rules!
This is incoherent of course, but it won't stop it from being believed by leftists. It should be obvious that logical consistency cannot be a value for someone for whom truth is not a value. This is because logical consistency is defined in terms of truth: a set of propositions is consistent if and only if its members can all be true, and inconsistent otherwise.
Don't confuse the epistemological and the ontological
To think clearly about this, however, one must not confuse the epistemological and the ontological. If Nietzsche is right in his ontological claim, and there is no determinate and knowable reality, then there is nothing for us, or anyone, to know. But if we are incapable of knowing anything, or limited in what we can know, it does not follow that there is no determinate and knowable reality. Of course, we are capable of knowing some things, and not just such 'Cartesian' deliverances as that I seem to see a coyote now; we know that there are coyotes and that we sometimes see them and that they will eat damn near anything, etc. (These are evident truths, albeit not self-evident in the manner of a 'Cartesian' deliverance.) Although we know some things, we are fallible and reason in us is weak and limited. We make mistakes, become confused, and to make it worse our cognitive faculties are regularly suborned by base desires, wishful thinking, and what-not.
Fallibilism and objectivism
It is important not to confuse the question of the fallibility of our cognitive faculties, including reason in us, with the question whether there is truth. A fallibilist is not a truth-denier. One can be -- it is logically consistent to be -- both a fallibilist and an upholder of (objective) truth. What's more, one ought to be both a fallibilist about some (not all) classes of propositions, and an upholder of the existence of (objective) truth. Indeed, if one is a fallibilist, one who admits that we sometimes go wrong in matters of knowledge and belief, then then one must also admit that we sometimes go right, which is to say that fallibilism presupposes the objectivity of truth.
Just as a fallibilist is not a truth-denier, a truth-affirmer is not an infallibilist or 'dogmatist' in one sense of this word. To maintain that there is objective truth is not to maintain that one is in possession of it. One of the sources of the view that truth is subjective or relative is aversion to dogmatic people and dogmatic claims.
One cannot be a liberal (in the good old sense!) without being tolerant, and thus a fallibilist, and if the latter, then an absolutist about truth, and hence not a PC-whipped leftist!
And now we notice a very interesting and important point. To be a liberal in the old sense (a paleo-liberal) is, first and foremost, to value toleration. Toleration is the touchstone of classical liberalism. (Morris Raphael Cohen) But why should we be tolerant of (some of) the beliefs and (some of) the behaviors of others? Because we cannot responsibly claim to know, with respect to certain topics, what is true and what ought to be done/left undone. Liberalism (in the good old sense!) requires toleration, and toleration requires fallibilism. But if we can go wrong, we can go right, and so fallibilism presupposes and thus entails the existence of objective truth. A good old liberal must be an absolutist about truth and hence cannot be a PC-whipped lefty.
Examples. Why tolerate atheists? Because we don't know that God exists. Why tolerate theists? Because we don't know that God does not exist. And so on through the entire range of Big Questions. But toleration has limits. Should we tolerate Muslim fanatics such as the Taliban or ISIS terrorists? Of course not. For they reject the very principle of toleration. That's an easy case. More difficult: should we tolerate public Holocaust denial via speeches and publications? Why should we? Why should we tolerate people who lie, blatantly, about matters of known fact and in so doing contribute to a climate in which Jews are more likely to be oppressed and murdered? Isn't the whole purpose of free speech to help us discover and disseminate the truth? How can the right to free speech be twisted into a right to lie? But there is a counter-argument to this, which is why this is not an easy case. I haven't the space to make the case.
Getting back to the radical Muslims who reject the very principle of toleration, they have a reason to reject it: they think they know the answers to the Big Questions that we in the West usually have the intellectual honesty to admit we do not know the answers to. Suppose Islam, or their interpretation thereof, really does provide all the correct answers to the Big Questions. They would then be justified in imposing their doctrine and way of life on us, and for our own eternal good. But they are epistemological primitives who are unaware of their own fallibility and the fallibility of their prophet and their Book and all the rest. The dogmatic and fanatical tendencies of religion in the West were chastened by the Greek philosophers and later by the philosophers of the Enlightenment. First Athens took Jerusalem to task, and then Koenigsberg did the same. Unfortunately, there has never been anything like an Enlightenment in the Islamic world; hence they know no check on their dogmatism and fanaticism.
Defending the university against leftists and Islamists
The university rests on two main pillars. One has inscribed on it these propositions: There is truth; we can know some of it; knowing truth contributes to human flourishing and is thus a value. The other pillar bears witness to the truth that we are fallible in our judgements. Two pillars, then: Absolute truth and Fallibilism. No liberal (good sense!) education without both.
The commitment to the existence of absolute truth is common to both pillars, and it is this common commitment that is attacked by both leftists and Islamists. It is clear how leftists attack it by trying to eliminate truth in favor of power. That this eliminativism is utterly incoherent and self-refuting doesn't bother these power freaks because they do not believe in or value truth, which is implied by any commitment to logical consistency, as argued above. (Of course, some are just unaware that they are inconsistent, and others are just evil.)
But how is it that Islamists attack objective truth? Aren't they theists? Don't they believe in an absolute source and ground of being and truth? Yes indeed. But their God is unlimited Power. Their God is all-powerful to the max: there are no truths of logic, nor any necessary truths, that limit his power. The Muslim God is pure, omnipotent will. (See Pope Benedict's Regensurg Speech and Muslim Oversensitivity.)
The subterranean link
Here is perhaps the deepest connection between the decidedly strange bedfellows, leftism and Islamism: both deny the absoluteness of truth and both make it subservient to power.
Nietzsche is culturally important, but philosophically dubious in the extreme. Some of our current cultural woes can be ascribed to the influence of his ideas. Suppose we take a look at Will to Power #534:
Das Kriterium der Wahrheit liegt in der Steigerung des Machtgefühls.
The criterion of truth resides in the heightening of the feeling of power.
A criterion of X is (i) a property or feature that all and only Xs possess which (ii) allows us to identify, detect, pick out, Xs. 'Criterion' is a term of epistemology. So one could read Nietzsche as saying that the test whereby we know that a belief is true is that it increases or enhances the feeling of power of the person who holds the belief. To employ some politically correct jargon that arguably can be traced back to Nietzsche, if a belief is 'empowering,' then it is true; and if a belief is true, then it is 'empowering.'
A second way to read the Nietzschean dictum is to take it not as offering a criterion (in the epistemological sense) of truth, but as stating what the nature of truth is. Accordingly, truth just is the property of increasing the feeling of power: to say that a belief (statement, representation, etc.) is true is just to say that it increases the feeling of power in the one who holds the belief.
Now suppose we ask a simple question. Is it true that the criterion of truth is the heightening of the feeling of power? If it is, then every truth empowers, and every belief that empowers is true. But surely not every truth empowers. You find out that you have some medical condition, hypertension, say. The truth that you have hypertension does not increase your sense of power; if anything it diminishes it. Or the report comes in that you have pancreatic cancer and will be dead in six months. I should think such news would have a depressing effect on one's vitality. And yet it is true. So some truths do not enhance the feeling of power. Nor do they enhance one's power if you care to distinguish power from the feeling of power.
On the other hand, there are empowering beliefs that are not true. Hitler's belief in his invincibility was surely empowering, but it was false as events showed. Believing that he was invincible, he undertook to do what Napoleon failed to do, subjugate the Russians. Like Napoleon, he failed, and it was all down hill from there.
One can multiply such counterexamples ad libitum. Of course, in constructing such counterexamples, I am relying on the ordinary notion of truth, as old as Aristotle, that truth implies correspondence with reality, correspondence with the way things are independently of our beliefs, desires, and feelings.
Do I beg the question against Nietzsche by recurring to the old understanding of truth? If I do, then so does Nietzsche. For what is he doing with his dictum if not telling us how it is with truth? Is he not purporting to tell us the truth (in the old sense) about truth?
What Nietzsche wants to say is that there is no truth 'in itself'; there are only various interpretations from the varying perspectives of power-hungry individuals, interpretations that serve to enhance the power of these individuals. At bottom, the world is a vast constellation of ever-changing power-centers vying with each other for dominance, and what a particular power-center calls 'true' are merely those interpretations that enhance and preserve its power. For the essence of the world is not reason or order, but blind will, will to power.
But if that is the way it is, then there is an absolute truth after all. Nietzsche never extricates himself from this contradiction. And where he fails, his followers do not succeed. We are now, as a culture, living and dying in the shadow of this contradiction, reaping the consequences of the death of God and the death of truth.
I fear that we are coming apart as a nation. We need to face the fact that we do not agree on a large number of divisive, passion-inspiring issues. Among these are abortion, gun rights, capital punishment, affirmative action, legal and illegal immigration, same-sex 'marriage,' taxation, the need for fiscal responsibility in government, the legitimacy of public-sector unions, wealth redistribution, the role of the federal government in education, the very purpose of government, the limits, if any, on governmental power, and numerous others.
We need also to face the fact that we will never agree on them. These are not merely academic issues since they directly affect the lives and livelihoods and liberties of people. And they are not easily resolved because they are deeply rooted in fundamental worldview differences, in a "conflict of visions," to borrow a phrase from Thomas Sowell. When you violate a man's liberty, or mock his moral sense, or threaten to destroy his way of life, or use the power to the state to force him to violate his conscience, you are spoiling for a fight and you will get it.
We ought also to realize that calls for civility and comity and social cohesion are pretty much empty. Comity (social harmony) in whose terms? On what common ground? Peace is always possible if one side just gives in. If conservatives all converted to leftism, or vice versa, then harmony would reign. But to think such a thing will happen is just silly, as silly as the silly hope that Obama, a leftist, could 'bring us together.' We can come together only on common ground, or to invert the metaphor, only under the umbrella of shared principles. And what would these be?
There is no point in papering over very real differences.
Not only are we disagreeing about issues concerning which there can be reasonable disagreement, we are also disagreeing about things that it is unreasonable to disagree about, for example, whether photo ID ought to be required at polling places, and about what really happened in the Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin cases. When disagreement spreads to ascertainable facts, then things are well-nigh hopeless.
The rifts are deep and nasty. Polarization and demonization of the opponent are the order of the day. Do you want more of this? Then give government more say in your life. The bigger the government, the more to fight over. Do you want less? Then support limited government and federalism. A return to federalism may be a way to ease the tensions, some of them anyway, not that I am sanguine about any solution.
What is Federalism?
Federalism, roughly, is (i) a form of political organization in which governmental power is divided among a central government and various constituent governing entities such as states, counties, and cities; (ii) subject to the proviso that both the central and the constituent governments retain their separate identities and assigned duties. A government that is not a federation would allow for the central government to create and reorganize constituent governments at will and meddle in their affairs. Federalism is implied by the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited to it by the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."
Federalism would make for less contention, because people who support high taxes and liberal schemes could head for states like Massachusetts or California, while the conservatively inclined who support gun rights and capital punishment could gravitate toward states like Texas.
We see the world differently. Worldview differences in turn reflect differences in values. Now values are not like tastes. Tastes cannot be reasonably discussed and disputed while values can. (De gustibus non est disputandum.) But value differences, though they can be fruitfully discussed, cannot be objectively resolved because any attempted resolution will end up relying on higher-order value judgments. There is no exit from the axiological circle. We can articulate and defend our values and clarify our value differences. What we cannot do is resolve our value differences to the satisfaction of all sincere, intelligent, and informed discussants.
Consider religion. Is it a value or not? Conservatives, even those who are atheistic and irreligious, tend to view religion as a value, as conducive to human flourishing. Liberals and leftists tend to view it as a disvalue, as something that impedes human flourishing. The question is not whether religion, or rather some particular religion, is true. Nor is the question whether religion, or some particular religion, is rationally defensible. The question is whether the teaching and learning and practice of a religion contributes to our well-being, not just as individuals, but in our relations with others. For example, would we be better off as a society if every vestige of religion were removed from the public square? Or does Bible study and other forms of religious education tend to make us better people?
For a conservative like Dennis Prager, the answer to both questions is obvious. No and Yes, respectively. As I recall, he gives an example something like the following. You are walking down the street in a bad part of town. On one side of the street people are leaving a Bible study class. On the other side, a bunch of Hells [sic] Angels are coming out of the Pussy Cat Lounge. Which side of the street do you want to be on? For a conservative the answer is obvious. People who study and take to heart the Bible with its Ten Commandments, etc. are less likely to mug or injure you than drunken bikers who have been getting in touch with their inner demons for the last three hours. But of course this little thought experiment won't cut any ice with a dedicated leftist.
I won't spell out the leftist response. I will say only that you will enter a morass of consideration and counter-consideration that cannot be objectively adjudicated. You won't get Christopher Hitchens to give up his view.
My thesis is that there can be no objective resolution, satisfactory to every sincere, intelligent, and well-informed discussant, of the question of the value of religion. And this is a special case of a general thesis about the objective insolubility of value questions with respect to the issues that most concern us.
Another sort of value difference concerns not what we count as values, but how we weight or prioritize them. Presumably both conservatives and liberals value both liberty and security. But they will differ bitterly over which trumps the other and in what circumstances. Here too it is naive to expect an objective resolution of the issue satisfactory to all participants, even those who meet the most stringent standards of moral probity, intellectual acuity, knowledgeability with respect to relevant empirical issues, etc.
Liberal and conservative, when locked in polemic, like to call each other stupid. But of course intelligence or the lack thereof has nothing to do with the intractability of the debates. The intractability is rooted in value differences about which consensus is impossible. On the abortion question, for example, there is no empirical evidence that can resolve the dispute. Empirical data from biology and other sciences are of course relevant to the correct formulation of the problem, but contribute nothing to its resolution. Nor can reason whose organon is logic resolve the dispute. You would have to be as naive as Ayn Rand to think that Reason dictates a solution.
Recognizing these facts, we must ask ourselves: How can we keep from tearing each other apart literally or figuratively? Guns, God, abortion, illegal immigration -- these are issues that get the blood up. I am floating the suggestion that federalism and severe limitations on the reach of the central government are what we need to lessen tensions. (But isn't border enforcement a federal job? Yes, of course. In this example, what needs to be curtailed is Federal interference with a border state's reasonable enforcement of its borders with a foreign country. Remember Arizona Senate Bill 1070?)
Suppose Roe v. Wade is overturned and the question of the legality of abortion is returned to the states. Some states will make it legal, others illegal. This would be a modest step in the direction of mitigating the tensions between the warring camps. If abortion is a question for the states, then no federal monies could be allocated to the support of abortion. People who want to live in abortion states can move there; people who don't can move to states in which abortion is illegal. Each can live with their own kind and avoid having their values and sensibilities disrespected.
I understand that my proposal will not be acceptable to either liberals or conservatives. Both want to use the power of the central government to enforce what they consider right. Both sides are convinced that they are right. But of course they cannot both be right. So how do they propose to heal the splits in the body politic?
'Truth decay' aptly describes the growing lack of concern for truth among influential players in our society. I got the phrase from Douglas Groothuis. Truth itself, of course, cannot decay, but truthfulness can and is. We are in trouble, deep trouble. Victor Davis Hanson collects some examples in Lying, Inc.:
Everyone knows that “Hands up, Don’t Shoot” was an outright lie. Michael Brown never did or said that. Forensics, logic, and the majority of eyewitness accounts confirm that the strong-armed robber struggled with a policeman, lunged at his weapon, ran away, and then turned and charged him, not that he was executed in polite submission.
Does that lie matter? Not at all. “Ferguson” is routinely listed as proof of police racist brutality — and by no less than the president of the United States. Michael Brown is now the Paul Bunyan of the inner city. U.S. congressional representatives and professional athletes alike chant and act out “Hands up, Don’t Shoot” dramatics. The public shrugs that although it is all a lie, it is felt to be sort of true on the theory that something like that could happen one day, and thus it is OK to lie that it already has. Most knew that the strong-arm robber Michael Brown was about as likely a “gentle giant” as Trayvon Martin was still a cute preteen in a football uniform.
Community agitator and frequent White House visitor Al Sharpton has lied repeatedly about his income taxes and the reasons why he cannot produce accurate tax records, in the manner that he habitually lied about the Tawana Brawley case, the Duke Lacrosse caper, and the Ferguson “hands up, don’t shoot” meme. The public assumes both that Sharpton is an inveterate liar and that to dwell on the fact is either a waste of time or can incur charges of illiberality or worse. Most are more interested in his more mysterious, almost daily-changing appearance than the untruth that he hourly espouses.
Hillary Clinton, to be candid, is a habitual fabulist. She entered public life lying about everything from her 1-1000 cattle futures con to the location of her law firm’s subpoenaed legal documents. Recently she has been unable to tell the truth in any context whatsoever. She will lie about big and small, trivial and fundamental, from the immigrant myths about her grandparents to the origins of her own name Hillary to her combat exposure in the Balkans. The subtext of “what difference does it make” was something like: “Even if you find out that I lied about the run-up to and follow up on the Benghazi killings, it won’t matter in the least to my career.” She was right, of course, in her assumption that lying had career utility and brought more pluses than negatives, as her current presidential campaign attests.
Her press conference on the disappearing emails was unique in American political history in that everything Ms. Clinton said was, without exception, a demonstrable untruth. It is not that no one believes her, but rather than no one can possibly believe her when she insisted that she would have needed multiple devices for multiple email accounts, or that public officials routinely alone adjudicate what is and is not public and private communications, or that other cabinet officers apparently created, as she did, exclusively private email accounts — and servers — for public business or that security personnel on the premises protect the airwaves from hackers. Even her own supporters know that she lied, and trust that it likely will not hamper her presidential run. Her life has become about as real as that of Annie Oakley’s.
Both Hillary and Bill Clinton lied about almost every aspect of the Clinton Foundation. She knew that the foundation was created to spend 90% on travel and insider salaries and benefits, and 10% on direct grants to charities, that it offered thin moral cover to skullduggery, and that it drew donations from zillionaires, who in turn offered Bill Clinton lopsided lecture fees that he otherwise would not have commanded, and expected favorable U.S. government treatment for their cash. Hillary assumed that beneath the skin of a “charitable organization” the three Clintons ran a veritable shake down operation that resulted in mother, father, and daughter becoming multimillionaires. The Clintons will expect the issue to dissolve, either on the premise that the notoriety cannot do much more damage to the already sullied Clinton name, or that the Democratic Party feels that it can nominate no other candidate who raises as much money and is so recognizable as the proverbial prevaricator Hillary Clinton.
President Obama’s approval ratings seem to have gone up almost in direct proportion to the degree he has lied. On over twenty occasions in reelection scenarios, Obama lied in stating that he would not issue blanket amnesties and order non-enforcement of current immigration law given that it would be unconstitutional and unlawful to do so. We accept at the time that such assurances were about as truthful as his convenient opposition to gay marriage — rhetorical constructs that warp and weave according to the realities of the next election. Who objects when Obama’s lying is felt to be for the higher cause of equality of result?
Almost every element of his promises about Obamacare — easy online signups, reduced premiums and deductibles, maintenance of current policies and doctors, national savings, and less frequent emergency room use were not just untrue, but realized in advance as simply not possible. Almost every parameter that Obama outlined in advance about the current Iranian talks proved about as true as were his redlines to Syria should it use chemical weapons. As a good community organizer, Obama accepts that his noble goals are government-mandated egalitarianism and that such utopian agendas require any means necessary to achieve them. And so he lies and the public seems bored and apparently appreciates why he must do so.
When elites customarily lie without much consequence, the public follows their examples.
This is indeed troubling, but there is worse to come. According to McBrayer, the kiddies are taught that claims are either facts or opinions, where the disjunction is exclusive. And to make it even worse, the little rascals are further indoctrinated that every value claim is an opinion!
And so 'Cheating on tests is wrong' is an opinion, not a fact, hence neither true nor provable, and therefore something someone merely thinks, feels, or believes. God help us! Yet another argument for private schools and home-schooling.
I will now give you my considered opinion on how best to think about this topic.
First of all, it is a major mistake to think that an opinion cannot be true because it is an opinion. Some opinions are true and some are false. In this respect, opinions are no different from beliefs: some are true and some are false. It follows that some opinions are facts, on one use of 'fact.' I distinguish among three uses of 'fact':
Logical Use: A fact is a truth, whether a true proposition, a true judgment, a true belief, a true opinion, a true statement, a true declarative sentence, etc. In general, a fact is a true truth-bearer. If this is what we mean by 'fact,' then it is obvious that some opinions are facts. For example, my opinion (and presumably yours too) that the Moon is uninhabited is a fact. It is a fact because it is true. But much of what is true is true because of the way the world is. So we note a different but related use of 'fact,' namely, the
Ontological Use: A fact is an obtaining (concrete) state of affairs that can serve as a truth-maker of a truth. When a famous philosopher opined that the world is the totality of facts, not of things, he was not putting forth the view that the world is the totality of truths, nor the totality of what is known. (Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus 1.1)
Epistemological Use: A fact is an obtaining state of affairs known to be the case or believed to be the case on evidence. It is important not to confuse what is known to be the case with what is the case. Everything one knows to be the case is the case; but there is plenty that is the case that no one of us knows to be the case.
The foregoing should make it obvious that a second major mistake is to think that only what is testable or provable is a fact. To make that mistake is to confuse the logical and the ontological on the one side with the epistemological on the other. There are facts (truths) that cannot be empirically tested or verified, but also cannot be proven by deduction from other truths. The Law of Non-Contradiction (LNC) is an example: No proposition is both true and not true. LNC is true and known to be true, but it is not known to be true on the basis of empirical observation or experiment. It is also not known by inference from propositions already accepted. How then do we know it to be true? A reasonable answer is that it is self-evident, objectively self-evident. One enjoys a direct intellectual insight into its truth.
If so, then some facts are objectively self-evident despite the fact that they are neither empirically verifiable nor provable by non-circular deductive inference from propositions known to be true. And so it may well be that a proposition like Setting bums on fire for fun is morally wrong is an objective fact (truth) and therefore not a mere opinion. Or perhaps a better example would be a proposition from which the foregoing is derivable, to wit, Causing severe pain to sentient beings for the sheer fun of it is morally wrong. The graphic depicts a homeless, mentally unstable, Pakistani set afire for blasphemy by adherents of the religion of peace. Now either you see (morally intuit) that doing such a thing is a grave moral wrong, or you don't, and if the latter then you are either morally obtuse or a liberal, which may well come to the same thing.
Without getting too deep into the topic of moral realism, all I want to say at the moment is that there is at least a very serious set of questions here, questions that cannot be ignored once one avoids the elementary confusions into which contemporary liberals tend to fall. Not every contemporary liberal, of course, but enough to justify my issuing a general warning against their slopheadedness.
Liberals typically confuse opinions with mere opinions. They confuse truths with known truths. They confuse the property of being believed by some person or group of persons with the property of being true. They confuse making moral judgments with being judgmental. They confuse merely subjective judgments of taste with moral judgments.
Men in bow ties look ridiculous. Or so say I. That is a merely subjective sartorial opinion of mine, and I recognize it as such. There is no fact of the matter here and so if you say the opposite you are not contradicting me, logically speaking. Note that It strikes me that men in bow ties look ridiculous is an objective statement of fact about how certain sartorial matters seem to me. But from this objectively true statement one cannot infer the former subjective statement. If you can't distinguish those two sentences, then you are not thinking clearly.
Too many liberals cannot see the incoherence of maintaining that we must respect other cultures because judgments as to right and wrong are culturally relative. They fail to see that if such judgments are indeed relative, then there cannot be any objective moral requirement that members of a given culture respect other cultures. If all such moral judgments are culturally relative, then the members of a culture who believe that the strong have the right to enslave the weak are perfectly justified in enslaving the weak. For if right and wrong are culturally relative, then they have all the justification they could possibly have for enslaving them.
“History assures us that civilizations decay quite leisurely,” Will and Ariel Durant wrote in 1968’s “The Lessons of History.” Even as ancient Greece and Rome faced serious “moral weakening” and societal decay, for instance, both continued to produce “masterpieces of literature and art” and a steady flow of “great statesmen, philosophers, poets, and artists” for hundreds of years.
“May we take as long to fall,” the Durants exhort in their book, “as Imperial Rome!”
If the couple were alive today, one wonders if they could have retained their trademark pluck. On college campuses across America, an army of leftist snowflakes — a generation long told they’re special, fragile, and never, ever wrong — is on the march, aiming to squelch any threatening idea that “triggers” uncomfortable thoughts.
The lunacy of the Left seems to know no bounds. This shrinking violet needs a 'safe space' to hide from equity feminist Christina Hoff Sommers (via Legal Insurrection):
The man is a dangerous fool. A clear recent instance of his folly is his preposterous assertion that “Today, there is no greater threat to our planet than climate change.” The claim is beneath refutation. But what is it a symptom of? That truth is not a leftist value, or that lefties are very poor at threat assessment? Or both? Or both and some third thing?
As for the dangerousness of the feckless incompetent, Kirsten Powers exposes his unconcern for the slaughter of Christians by radical Muslims.
The man was elected twice! How long can we last with an electorate of fools?
Another indication thereof being the increasing number of well-placed and influential individuals, some of them well-meaning, who now believe that it is morally justifiable to use state power to violate the consciences of individuals by forcing them to do that to which they are morally opposed on grounds that are well-articulated, thoroughly reasoned, and supported by distinguished traditions and authorities.
I'm with Gray. This July will be the 50th anniversary of Barry Maguire's Eve of Destruction. It has been a long and lucky half-century eve, and by chance, if not by divine providence, the morning of destruction has not yet dawned with the light of man-made suns. Now take a cold look at the state of the world and try to convince yourself that we are making moral progress and that war and violence and ignorance and hatred and delusion are on the decline. I won't recite the litany that each of you, if intellectually honest, can recite for himself.
The 'progressive' doesn't believe in God, he believes in Man. But right here is the mistake. For there is no Man, there are only human beings at war with one another and with themselves. We are divided, divisive, and duplicitous creatures. We are in the dark mentally, morally, and spiritually. The Enlightenment spoke piously of reason, but the light it casts is flickering and inconclusive and its deliverances, though not to be contemned, are easily suborned by individual passions and group tribalisms. And just as it is certain that there is no Man, it may doubted that there is any such thing as Reason. Whose reason? There are two points here. The first is that reason is infirm even on the assumption that there is such a universal faculty. The second, more radical point, one that I do not endorse but merely entertain, is that there may be no such universal faculty.
The 'progressive' refuses to face reality, preferring a foolish faith in a utopian future that cannot possibly be brought about by human collective effort. As Heidegger said in his Spiegel interview, Nur ein Gott kann uns retten. "Only a God can save us."
You say God does not exist? That may be so. But the present question is not whether or not God exists, but whether belief in Man makes any sense and can substitute for belief in God. I say it doesn't and can’t, that it is a sorry substitute if not outright delusional. We need help that we cannot provide for ourselves, either individually or collectively. The failure to grasp this is of the essence of the delusional Left, which, refusing the tutelage of tradition and experience, goes off half-cocked with schemes that in the recent past have employed murderous means for an end that never materialized. Communist governments murdered an estimated 100 million in the 20th century alone. That says something about the Left and also about government. What is says about the latter is at least this much: governments are not by nature benevolent. It may be that man is by nature zoon politikon, as Aristotle thought: a political animal. But what may be true of man cannot be true of the polis.
Op-ed commentary at The New York Times is abominably bad. But there are a couple or three exceptions, one of which is the work of Ross Douthat. This from For Poorer or Richer:
But the basic point is this: In a substantially poorer American past with a much thinner safety net, lower-income Americans found a way to cultivate monogamy, fidelity, sobriety and thrift to an extent that they have not in our richer, higher-spending present.
So however much money matters, something else is clearly going on.
The post-1960s cultural revolution isn’t the only possible “something else.” But when you have a cultural earthquake that makes society dramatically more permissive and you subsequently get dramatic social fragmentation among vulnerable populations, denying that there is any connection looks a lot like denying the nose in front of your face.
But recognizing that culture shapes behavior and that moral frameworks matter doesn’t require thundering denunciations of the moral choices of the poor. Instead, our upper class should be judged first — for being too solipsistic to recognize that its present ideal of “safe” permissiveness works (sort of) only for the privileged, and for failing to take any moral responsibility (in the schools it runs, the mass entertainments it produces, the social agenda it favors) for the effects of permissiveness on the less-savvy, the less protected, the kids who don’t have helicopter parents turning off the television or firewalling the porn.
This judgment would echo Leonard Cohen:
Now you can say that I’ve grown bitter but of this you may be sure /
The rich have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor.
And without dismissing money’s impact on the social fabric, it would raise the possibility that what’s on those channels sometimes matters more.
A recent article bears the title, "The vast right-wing conspiracy is still real. Also, the media is really stupid." The first sentence reads, "Let me start by admitting, upfront, how truly fucking boring I find the Hillary Clinton e-mail story."
I stopped right there.
Suppose Mrs. Clinton broke no law. Her imprudence alone in conducting official business while Secretary of State using a private e-mail server is a strong argument against her. It smacks of an imprudence born of arrogance and of a sense of high entitlement as if nothing she does nor how she appears can impede her progress to her rightful place. If anyone understands that the world runs on appearances, it is the politician. What level of chutzpah does it then bespeak that she appears not to care that people find out what she must know they will find out?
UPDATE (3/11): Roundup of reactions to Hillary's press conference yesterday. The imperiousness of the lady may contribute to her undoing. That, and her naked ambition. With apologies to William Shakespeare, "Yon Hillary hath a lean and hungry look . . . ." She lusts after the title Hillaria Imperatrix. She would push further the executive overreach of Obama's imperial presidency.
But conservatives beware. Her egregious blunders if not illegalities may not sink her. Nor the vacuousness of her rhetoric. Nor the deviousness of her stealth leftism. The feckless Obama was elected and elected twice. Hillary is not to be discounted. Her base is large and will support her no matter what she does. The next election is not to be sat out. Politics is a practical business; it is always about the lesser or least of evils.
But the West is in grave danger. Attacked from without, she is also collapsing from within under the weight of her own decadence. Can we and it survive? The short answer is that, while we are running on fumes, they are rich and voluminous and long-lasting. It will take some time before they and we peter out. So there is still time to take action. Decline is not inevitable. But do we have the will?