My title is intentionally hyperbolic and provocative, but not without justification given the outrageously vile (e.g., Martin Bashir) and breathtakingly mindless (e.g., Melissa Harris Perry) commentary encountered at liberal media outlets such as MSNBC. Here is a measured formulation of my question: To what extent does liberal ideology militate against sanity and moral decency in those who imbibe it, people who otherwise are basically sane and decent?
A philosophy doctoral student at an Ivy League institution e-mails,
In a recent post, you wrote:
Can one be both a liberal and a decent and sane human being? Or is scumbaggery as it were inscribed into the very marrow of the contemporary liberal? Or perhaps it is more like this: once liberalism infects a person's mind, the decency that was there is flushed out.
Actually, I have struggled with relatives of these questions for some time, and honestly don't know what to think. Many of the people I rub shoulders with are liberal to the bone. But I know well enough to say they're genuinely nice people--and smart people (some, for instance, are brilliant philosophers). At the same time, I find most of the liberal claptrap so intellectually inane and morally repugnant that I have a genuinely hard time seeing how anyone--much less these seemingly smart and decent people--can believe it. I don't know how to reconcile the two observations. Surely you know at least one intelligent, morally decent liberal. How do you fit their existence into your ontology? Or do we have an argument from queerness motivating us to become liberal error theorists? Would such a creature--assuming they can exist--present a peer-disagreement scenario, or cause you to lower your credence in your own beliefs?
My correspondent poses the puzzle of reconciling
1. Some liberals are genuinely nice and highly intelligent people
2. These same liberals subscribe to intellectually inane and morally repugnant beliefs.
What makes this aporetic dyad truly puzzling is that the limbs are individually plausible but appear collectively inconsistent. Let's consider an example.
I don't know Robert Paul Wolff personally, but I was favorably impressed by a couple of his books and I read his blog, The Philosopher's Stone, despite the fact that he often comes across as a stoned philosopher. He is no doubt very intelligent, and he seems like a nice guy. But he says things so preternaturally moronic that I am left scratching my head. Here is just one of several examples:
Why Do Conservatives Oppose ObamaCare?
Robert Paul Wolff has an answer for us. Ready? The bolding is Wolff's own and is twice-repeated:
Because Obama is Black.
Is Professor Wolff serious? I'm afraid he is. But given that the man is neither stupid nor the usual sort of left-wing moral scumbag, how could he be serious? What explains a view so plainly delusional? How account for an emotion-driven mere dismissal of the conservative position the arguments for which he will not examine? How is it that a professional philosopher, indeed a very good one, can engage in such puerile ad hominem psychologizing? Wolff himself provides an answer in a later post:
My knowledge of the beliefs and sentiments of those on the right is based entirely on things I have read or have seen on television. I have never had a conversation with a committed right-wing opponent of the Affordable Care Act, nor have I even, to the best of my knowledge, met one. You would be quite correct in inferring that I live in a left-wing bubble [called Chapel Hill -- before that, I lived in a left-wing bubble called Amherst, MA, and before that I lived in the right wing bubbles called Morningside Heights, Hyde Park, and Cambridge.] If this strikes you as disqualifying me from having an opinion, you are free to ignore the rest of this post.
Need I say more?
This is a perfect illustration of my correspondent's puzzle. In Robert Paul Wolff we have a man who is intelligent and (I will give him the benefit of the doubt) morally decent, but who maintains a thesis that is both delusional and morally repugnant in that it constitutes a slander on conservatives. What explains this? Wolff himself provides what may be the best explanation: he lives in a bubble. He doesn't know conservative positions, nor interact with conservatives. But isn't it a moral failure in one who is supposedly a truth-seeker simply to ignore whole swaths of opinion that run counter to one's own? Is that not a mark of intellectual dishonesty?
But the best explanation, in terms of his 'bubbly' isolation, is still not very good. How could anyone of his maturity and experience with the world of ideas, even one unfamiliar with conservatism, imagine for even a second that the cheap psychologizing he engages in could be on target?
It is Christmas time, and so, to be charitable I won't accuse Wolff of a moral failing; I'll just say that he and so many of his ilk are topically insane: their leftism has rendered them incapable of rational thought with respect to certain issues, race being a chief one among them.
For further discussion of Robert Paul 'Howlin'' Wolff, see below.
According to Atran, people who decapitate journalists, filmmakers, and aid workers to cries of “Alahu akbar!” or blow themselves up in crowds of innocents are led to misbehave this way not because of their deeply held beliefs about jihad and martyrdom but because of their experience of male bonding in soccer clubs and barbershops. (Really.) So I asked Atran directly:
“Are you saying that no Muslim suicide bomber has ever blown himself up with the expectation of getting into Paradise?”
“Yes,” he said, “that’s what I’m saying. No one believes in Paradise.”
This post assumes that Harris has fairly and accurately reported Atran's view. If you think he hasn't then substitute 'Atran*' for 'Atran' below. Atran* holds by definition the view I will be criticizing.
If we are to be as charitable to Atran as possible, we would have to say that he holds his strange view because he himself does not believe in the Muslim paradise and he cannot imagine anyone else really believing in it either. So Muslims who profess to believe in Paradise with its black-eyed virgins, etc. are merely mouthing phrases. What makes this preposterous is that Atran ignores the best evidence one could have as to what a person believes, namely, the person's overt behavior taken in the context of his verbal avowals. Belief is linked to action. If I believe I have a flat tire, I will pull over and investigate. If I say 'We have a flat tire" but keep on driving, then you know that I don't really believe that we have a flat tire.
Same with the Muslim terrorist. If he invokes the greatness of his god while decapitating someone, then that is the best possible evidence that he believes in the existence of his god and what that god guarantees to the faithful, namely, an endless supply of post-mortem carnal delights. This is particularly clear in the case of jihadis such as suicide bombers. The verbal avowals indicate the content of the belief while the action indicates that the content is believed.
Now compare this very strong evidence with the evidence Atran has for the proposition that "No one believes in Paradise." His only evidence is astonishingly flimsy: that he and his ilk cannot imagine anyone believing what Muslims believe. But that involves both a failure of imagination and a projection into the Other of one's own attitudes.
The problem here is a general one.
"I don't believe that, and you don't either!"
"But I do!"
"No you don't, you merely think you believe it or are feigning belief."
"Look at what I do, and how I live. The evidence of my actions, which costs me something, in the context of what I say, is solid evidence that I do believe what I claim to believe."
Example. Years ago I heard Mario Cuomo say at a Democratic National Convention that the life of the politician was the noblest and best life. I was incredulous and thought to myself: Cuomo cannot possibly believe what he just said! But then I realized that he most likely does believe it and that I was making the mistake of assuming that others share my values and assumptions and attitudes.
It is a bad mistake to project one's own values, beliefs, attitudes , assumptions and whatnot into others.
Most of the definitions of psychological projection I have read imply that it is only undesirable attitudes, beliefs and the like that are the contents of acts of projection. But it seems to me that the notion of projection should be widened to include desirable ones as well. The desire for peace and social harmony, for example, is obviously good. But it too can be the content of an act of psychological projection. A pacifist, for example, may assume that others deep down are really like he is: peace-loving to such an extent as to avoid war at all costs. A pacifist might reason as follows: since everyone deep down wants peace, and abhors war, if I throw down my weapon, my adversary will do likewise. By unilaterally disarming, I show my good will, and he will reciprocate. But if you throw down your weapon before Hitler, he will take that precisely as justification for killing you: since might makes right on his neo-Thrasymachian scheme, you have shown by your pacific deed that you are unfit for the struggle for existence and therefore deserve to die, and indeed must die to keep from polluting the gene pool.
Projection in cases like these can be dangerous. One oftens hears the sentiment expressed that we human beings are at bottom all the same and all want the same things. Not so! You and I may want "harmony and understanding, sympathy and trust abounding" but others have belligerence and bellicosity as it were hard-wired into them. They like fighting and dominating and they only come alive when they are bashing your skull in either literally or figuratively. People are not the same and it is a big mistake to think otherwise and project your decency into them.
I said that the psychologists classify projection as a defense mechanism. But how could the projection of good traits count as a defense mechanism? Well, I suppose that by engaging in such projections one defends oneself against the painful realization that the people in the world are much worse than one would have liked to believe. Many of us have a strong psychological need to see good in other people, and that can give rise to illusions. There is good and evil in each person, and one must train oneself to accurately discern how much of each is present in each person one encounters.
People come to philosophy from various 'places.' Some come from religion, others from mathematics and the natural sciences, still others from literature and the arts. There are other termini a quis as well. In this post I am concerned only with the move from religion to philosophy. What are the main types of reasons for those who are concerned with religion to take up the serious study of philosophy? I count five main types of motive.
1. The Apologetic Motive. Some look to philosophy for apologetic tools. Their concern is to clarify and defend the tenets of their religious faith, tenets they do not question, or do not question in the main, against those who do question them, or even attack them. For someone whose central motive is apologetic, the aim is not to seek a truth they do not possess, but to articulate and defend a truth, the "deposit of faith," that they already possess, if not in fullness, at least in outline.
2. The Critical Motive. Someone who is animated by the Critical Motive seeks to understand religion and evaluate its claim to truth, while taking it seriously. To criticize is not to oppose, but to sift, evaluate, assay, separate the true from the false, the reasonable from the unreasonable. The critic is not out to defend or attack but to understand and evaluate. Open to the claims of religion, his question is: But is it true?
3. The Debunking Motive. If the apologist presupposes the truth of his religion, or some religion, the debunker presupposes the falsehood of a particular religion or of every religion. He takes the doctrines and institutions of religion seriously as things worth attacking, exposing, debunking, unmasking, refuting.
The apologist, the critic, and the debunker all take religion seriously as something worth defending, worth evaluating, or worth attacking using the tools of philosophy. For all three, philosophy is a tool, not an end in itself.
The apologist moves to philosophy without leaving religion. If he succeeds in defending his faith with the weapons of philosophy, well and good; if he fails, it doesn't really matter. He has all the essential truth he needs from his religion. His inability to mount an intellectually respectable defense of it is a secondary matter.
The critic moves to philosophy with the option of leaving religion behind. Whether or not he leaves it behind depends on the outcome of his critique. Neither staying nor leaving is a foregone cnclusion.
The debunker either never had a living faith, or else he had one but lost it. As a debunker, his decision has been made and his Rubicon crossed: religion is buncombe from start to finish, dangerous buncombe that needs to be unmasked and opposed. Strictly speaking, only the debunker who once had a living faith moves from it to philosophy. You cannot move away from a place where you never were.
4. The Transcensive Motive. The transcender aims to find in philosophy something that completes and transcends religion while preserving its truth. One way to flesh this out would be in Hegelian terms: religion and philosophy both aim to express the Absolute, but only philosophy does so adequately. Religion is an inadequate 'pictorial' (vortstellende) representation of the Absolute. On this sort of approach all that is good in religion is aufgehoben in philosophy, simultaneously cancelled and preserved, roughly in the way the bud is both cancelled and preserved in the flower.
5. The Substitutional Motive. The substitutionalist aims to find in philosophy a substitute for religion. Religion, when taken seriously, makes a total claim on its adherents' higher energies. A person who, for any reason, becomes disenchanted with religion, but is not prepared to allow himself to degenerate to the level of the worldling, may look to invest his energies elsewhere in some other lofty pursuit. Some will turn to social or political activism. And of course there are other termini ad quos on the road from religion. The substitutionalist abandons religion for philosophy. In a sense, philosophy becomes his religion. It is in her precincts that he seeks his highest meaning and an outlet for his noblest impulses.
A. What is my motive? (2). Certainly not (1): I seem to be constitutionally incapable of taking the religion of my upbringing , or any religion, as simply true without examination. I can't suppress the questions that naturally arise. We have it on high authority that "The unexamined life is not worth living." That examination, of course, extends to everything, including religion, and indeed also to this very examining. Note that I am not appealing to the authority of Socrates/Plato since their authority can be validated rationally and autonomously.
Certainly not (3): I am not a debunker. Not (4) or (5) either. Hegel is right: both religion and philosophy treat of the Absolute. Hegel is wrong, however, in thinking that religion is somehow completed by or culminates in philosophy. I incline to the view that Athens and Jersualem are at odds with each other, that there is a tension between them, indeed a fruitful, productive tension, one that accounts in part for the vitality of the West as over against the inanition of the Islamic world. To put it starkly, it it is the tension between the autonomy of reason and the heteronomy of obedient faith (cf. Leo Strauss). Jerusalem is not a suburb of Athens.
Nor do I aim to substitute philosophy for religion. Philosophy, with its "bloodless ballet of categories," is not my religion. Man does not live by the discursive intellect alone.
My view is that there are four main paths to the Absolute, philosophy, religion, mysticism, and morality. They are separate and somehow all must be trod. No one of them has proprietary rights in the Absolute. How integrate them? Integration may not be possible here below. The best we can do is tack back and forth among them. So we think, we pray, we meditate and we live under the aegis of moral demands taken as absolute.
I have found that it is dangerous to assume that others are essentially like oneself.
Psychologists speak of projection. As I understand it, it involves projecting into others one's own attitudes, beliefs, motivations, fears, emotions, desires, values, and the like. It is classified as a defense mechanism. To avoid confronting an unsavory attitude or trait in oneself, one projects it into another. Suppose one is stingy, considers stinginess an undesirable trait, but doesn't want to own up to one's stinginess. As a defense against the admission of one's own stinginess, one projects it into others. "I'm not stingy; you're stingy!"
I once had a superficial colleague who published a lot. He was motivated more by a neurotic need to advance himself socially and economically, a need based in low self-esteem, rather than by a drive to get at the truth or make a contribution to his subject. He was at some level aware that his motives were less than noble. Once, when he found out that I had published an article, he told me that my motive was to see my name in print. It was a classic case of projection: he could not understand me except as being driven by the same paltry motives that drove him. By projecting his motives into me, he warded off the awareness of their presence in him, or else excused their presence in him on the spurious ground that everyone has the same paltry motivations.
Most of the definitions of projection I have read imply that it is only undesirable attitudes, beliefs and the like that are the contents of acts of projection. But it seems to me that the notion of projection could and perhaps should be widened to include desirable ones as well.
The desire for peace and social harmony, for example, is obviously good. But it too can be the content of an act of psychological projection. A pacifist, for example, may assume that others deep down are really like he is: peace-loving to such an extent as to avoid war at all costs. A pacifist might reason as follows: since everyone deep down wants peace, and abhors war, if I throw down my weapon, my adversary will do likewise. By unilaterally disarming, I show my good will, and he will reciprocate. But if you throw down your weapon before Hitler, he will take that precisely as justification for killing you: since might makes right on his neo-Thrasymachian scheme, you have shown by your pacific deed that you are unfit for the struggle for existence and therefore deserve to die, and indeed must die to keep from polluting the gene pool.
Projection in cases like these can be dangerous. One oftens hears the sentiment expressed that we human beings are at bottom all the same and all want the same things. Not so! You and I may want
Harmony and understanding Sympathy and trust abounding No more falsehoods or derisions Golden living dreams of visions Mystic crystal revelation And the mind's true liberation
as expressed in that characteristic '60s song, Aquarius, but others have belligerence and bellicosity hard-wired into them. They like fighting and dominating and they only come alive when they are bashing your skull in either literally or figuratively. People are not the same and it is a big mistake to think otherwise and project your decency into them.
I'll say it again: people are not the same. We are not 'equal.' Or do you consider yourself the moral equal of Chechen Muslim ingrates who come to our shores, exploit our hospitality, go on welfare, rip us off, and then detonate explosives at the finish line of a great American event that celebrates life and self-reliance?
I said that the psychologists classify projection as a defense mechanism. But how could the projection of good traits count as a defense mechanism? Well, suppose that by engaging in such projections one defends oneself against the painful realization that the people in the world are much worse than one would have liked to believe. Many of us have a strong psychological need to see good in other people, and this can give rise to illusions. There is good and evil in each person, and one must train oneself to accurately discern how much of each is present in each person one encounters.
One mistake I have made, more than once, is to assume that since I value truth above many other things, others do as well. But there are plenty of people who do not value truth at all, or else assign it a rather low priority. There are many, for example, who value human feelings over truth. Truth is nothing to them; feelings everything. That makes no sense to me; to me it is self-evident that, although both are values (to be precise: things that ought to be valued), truth is a higher value, if not the highest value. But reality forces me to accept that others hold to the opposite value-prioritization. It is folly to project one's own values into others.
There are other people for whom truth counts for nothing, but power for everything. They interpret every type of interpersonal transaction as a power struggle. Thus if you calmly try to persuade such a person of the truth of some proposition by appealing to facts and reasoning correctly from them, he will interpret that as nothing but an attempt to dominate him psychologically. Such people are utterly blind to the value of truth and to the fact that truth can sometimes be attained by dialectical means. They project their own lust for power into everyone else interpreting everything that is manifestly not a power-move as latently a power-move.
There are plenty of leftists like this. Taking their cue from Nietzsche, they assume that everything is power at bottom. Die Welt ist der Wille zur Macht und nichts anders! "The world is the will to power and nothing besides!" Supported by this assumption, they set out to unmask (deconstruct) phenomena that manifestly are not power-driven, for example, attempts to state what is the case. Power-mad themselves, these leftists project lust for power into everyone and everything. It is a curious pars pro toto fallacy: one takes a phenomenon one finds in oneself, lust for power, and then interprets everything else in terms of it. The idea might be worth exploring that Nietzsche's doctrine of the Will to Power arose by projection. He saw the lust for power within himself and excused its presence there by projecting it outward thus transforming a psychological peculiarity into a fundamental trait of beings qua beings.
You say I'm psychologizing. True enough. But false views are legitimately psychologized. It would be the genetic fallacy to dismiss as false a proposition just because it arose from a need or serves a need or results from projection. But once a proposition has been shown to be false, it is legitimate to inquire into the genesis of the belief.
Whereas the extrovert finds himself in socializing, the introvert loses himself in it: he experiences the loss of his inwardness, which is precious to him, a pearl of great price, not willingly surrendered. The clearest expression of this dismay at self-loss that I am aware of finds expression is an early (1836) journal entry of Søren Kierkegaard:
I have just returned from a party of which I was the life and soul; witty banter flowed from my lips, everyone laughed and admired me -- but I came away, indeed the dash should be as long as the radius of the earth's orbit ------------------------------------------- wanting to shoot myself. (The Diary of Søren Kierkegaard, ed. Peter P. Rohde, p. 13)
You are free to psychologize your opponent when his position is demonstrably false or incoherent. If his reasons are worthless, then you are justified in exposing the motives that drive his commitments.
Does someone want to do something for you? Buy you lunch? Give you a gift? Bring something to the dinner?
Be gracious. Don't say, "You don't have to buy me lunch," or "Let me buy you lunch," or "You didn't have to bring that." Humbly accept and grant the donor the pleasure of being a donor.
Lack of graciousness often bespeaks an excess of ego.
We were re-hydrating at a bar in Tortilla Flat, Arizona, after an ankle-busting hike up a stream bed. I offered to buy Alex a drink. Instead of graciously accepting my hospitality, he had the chutzpah to ask me to lend him money so that he could buy me a drink!
Another type of ungraciousness is replying 'Thank you' to 'Thank you.' If I thank you for something, say 'You're welcome,' not 'Thank You.' Graciously acquiesce in the fact that I have done you a favor. Don't try to get the upper hand by thanking me.
I grant that there are situations in which mutual thanking is appropriate.
Some people feel that they must 'reciprocate.' Why exactly? I gave you a little Christmas present because I felt like it. And now you feel you must give me one in return? Is this a tit for tat game?
Suppose I compliment you sincerely. Will you throw the compliment back in my face by denigrating that which I complimented you for, thereby impugning my judgment?
To what extent is it a sign of self-importance that one regularly draws attention to one's own insignificance? I am thinking of Simone Weil. In self-effacement the ego may find a way to assert itself. "Do you see how pure and penetrating is my love of truth that I am able to realize and admit my own personal nothingness face to face with Truth?"
The ego, wily 'structure' that it is, usually (always?) finds a way to affirm itself.
When a working-class person votes conservative, isn't he voting against his economic interests? That's what many lefties think and it puzzles them. Why would the workers do such a thing? This gives rise to the duping hypothesis: "the Republican party dupes people into voting against their economic interests by triggering outrage on cultural issues."
According to Haidt, conservatives have a broader "moral palate" than liberals. Liberals have only three concerns to the conservative's six (emphasis added):
. . . we have identified six moral concerns as the best candidates for being the innate "taste buds" of the moral sense: care/harm, fairness/cheating, liberty/oppression, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and sanctity/degradation. Across many kinds of surveys, in the UK as well as in the USA, we find that people who self-identify as being on the left score higher on questions about care/harm. [. . .]
But on matters relating to group loyalty, respect for authority and sanctity (treating things as sacred and untouchable, not only in the context of religion), it sometimes seems that liberals lack the moral taste buds, or at least, their moral "cuisine" makes less use of them. [. . .]
In America, it is these three moral foundations that underlie most of the "cultural" issues that, according to duping theorists, are used to distract voters from their self-interest. But are voters really voting against their self-interest when they vote for candidates who share their values? Loyalty, respect for authority and some degree of sanctification create a more binding social order that places some limits on individualism and egoism. [. . .]
Despite being in the wake of a financial crisis that – if the duping theorists were correct – should have buried the cultural issues and pulled most voters to the left, we are finding in America and many European nations a stronger shift to the right. When people fear the collapse of their society, they want order and national greatness, not a more nurturing government.
Even on the two moral taste buds that both sides claim – fairness and liberty – the right can often outcook the left. The left typically thinks of equality as being central to fairness, and leftists are extremely sensitive about gross inequalities of outcome – particularly when they correspond along racial or ethnic lines. But the broader meaning of fairness is really proportionality – are people getting rewarded in proportion to the work they put into a common project? Equality of outcomes is only seen as fair by most people in the special case in which everyone has made equal contributions. [. . .]
Similarly for liberty. Americans and Britons all love liberty, yet when liberty and care conflict, the left is more likely to choose care. This is the crux of the US's monumental battle over Obama's healthcare plan. Can the federal government compel some people to buy a product (health insurance) in order to make a plan work that extends care to 30 million other people? The derogatory term "nanny state" is rarely used against the right (pastygate being perhaps an exception). Conservatives are more cautious about infringing on individual liberties (eg of gun owners in the US and small businessmen) in order to protect vulnerable populations (such as children, animals and immigrants).
In sum, the left has a tendency to place caring for the weak, sick and vulnerable above all other moral concerns. It is admirable and necessary that some political party stands up for victims of injustice, racism or bad luck. But in focusing so much on the needy, the left often fails to address – and sometimes violates – other moral needs, hopes and concerns. When working-class people vote conservative, as most do in the US, they are not voting against their self-interest; they are voting for their moral interest. They are voting for the party that serves to them a more satisfying moral cuisine. The left in the UK and USA should think hard about their recipe for success in the 21st century.
He has a lot of body surface. His 'exposure' is greater than that of the other body types. So he is more sensitive. His skin is also literally thinner, which is connected with his being psychologically 'thin-skinned.'
The bolded material below is taken verbatim from Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking (Crown 2012), p. 13. I then give my responses. The more affirmative responses, the more of an introvert you are.
1. I prefer one-on-one conversations to group activities. Absolutely! Especially in philosophical discussions. As Roderick Chisholm once said, "In philosophy, three's a crowd."
2. I often prefer to express myself in writing. Yes.
3. I enjoy solitude. Is the Pope Catholic? Beata solitudo, sola beatitudo. Happy solitude, the sole beatitude.
4. I seem to care less than my peers about wealth, fame, and status. Seem? Do! Money is a mere means. To pursue it as an end in itself is perverse. And once you have enough, you stop acquiring more and turn to higher pursuits. Obscurity is delicious. To be able to walk down the street and pass as an ordinary schmuck is wonderful. The value of fame and celebrity is directly proportional to the value of the fools and know-nothings who confer it. And doesn't Aristotle say that to be famous you need other people, which fact renders you dependent on them? Similarly with social status. Who confers it? And what is their judgment worth?
5. I dislike small talk, but I enjoy talking in depth about topics that matter to me. More than once in these pages have I ranted about the endless yap, yap, yap, about noth, noth, nothing.
6. People tell me I'm a good listener. Yes. My mind drifts back to a girl I knew when I was fifteen. She called me her 'analyst' when she wasn't calling me 'Dr. Freud.'
7. I'm not a big risk-taker. That's right. I recently took a three-day motorcycle course, passed it, and got my license. I had been eyeing the Harley-Davidson 883 Iron. But then I asked myself how riding a motorcycle would further my life tasks and whether it makes sense, having come this far, to risk my life and physical integrity in pursuit of cheap thrills.
8. I enjoy work that allows me to "dive in" with few interruptions. Right. No instant messaging. Only recently acquired a cell phone. I keep it turned off. Call me the uncalled caller. My wife is presently in a faraway land on a Fulbright. That allows me to unplug the land-line. I love e-mail; fast but unintrusive. I'll answer when I feel like it and get around to it. I don't allow mself to be rushed or interrupted.
9. I like to celebrate birthdays on a small scale, with only one or two close friends or family members. I don't see the point of celebrating birthdays at all. What's to celebrate? First, birth is not unequivocally good. Second, it is not something you brought about. It befell you. Better to celebrate some good thing that you made happen.
10. People describe me as "soft-spoken" or "mellow." I'm too intense to be called 'mellow,' but sotto voce applies.
11. I prefer not to show or discuss my work with others until it is finished. Pretty much, with the exception of these blog scribblings.
12. I dislike conflict. Can't stand it. Hate onesidedness. I look at a problem from all angles and try to mediate oppositions when possible. I thoroughly hate, reject, and abjure the blood sport approach to philosophy. Polemic has no place in philosophy. This is not to say that it does not have a place elsewhere, in politics for example.
13. I do my best work on my own. Yes. A former colleague, a superficial extrovert, once described me as 'lone wolf.'
14. I tend to think before I speak. Yes.
15. I feel drained after being out and about, even if I've enjoyed myself. Yes. This is a common complaint of introverts. They can take only so much social interaction. It depletes their energy and they need to go off by themselves to 'recharge their batteries.' In my case, it is not just an energy depletion but a draining away of my 'spiritual substance.' It is as if one's interiority has been compromised and one has entered into inauthenticity, Heidegger's Uneigentlichkeit. The best expression of this sense of spiritual depletion is probably Kierkegaard's remark in one of his early journal entries about a party he attended:
I have just returned from a party of which I was the life and soul; witty banter flowed from my lips, everyone laughed and admired me -- but I came away, indeed that dash should be as along as the radii of the earth's orbit ---------------------------------------------------------- wanting to shoot myself. (1836)
16. I often let calls go through to e-mail. Yes. See comment to #8 above.
17. If I had to choose, I'd prefer a weekend with absolutely nothing to do to one with too many things scheduled. I love huge blocks of time, days at a stretch, with no commitments whatsoever. Dolce far niente. Sweet to do nothing.
18. I don't enjoy multitasking. Right. One thing at a time.
19. I can concentrate easily. Obviously, and for long stretches of time.
20. In classroom sitations, I prefer lecture to seminars. Especially if I'm doing the lecturing.
Here is a description of the Myers-Briggs INTP. And here is another.
My opinion of Maureen Dodd went up a notch when I read this NYT column in which she quotes a Catholic priest. He proffers good advice about marriage one piece of which is:
Don't marry a problem character thinking you will change him. Excellent advice, Schopenhauerian advice. You will remember his riff on the unalterability of character. It is true as a general rule: people do not change. What you are characterologically at twenty you are for life. If you catch your inamorata lying to you or engaging in any sort of duplicity, know that you have been vouchsafed an insight into an underlying mendacity that will manifest itself time and time again. If one time she racks up a credit card bill that she cannot pay in full at the end of the month, she will do it a thousand times. And so on down the line. Enter into matrimony with such a person if you must, but do it with eyes open and thoughts clear.
My wife has a wide range of virtues and no vices to speak of. But in point of punctuality, she falls down. I am by contrast punctual to a fault. So 29 years ago I tried to change her, to make her punctual like me, but soon realized my folly and changed myself instead. I simply gave up making precise dates with her, rather than courting vexation at her nonshowing at appointed exact times. Instead of: Meet me at the corner of Fifth and Vermouth at the stroke of high noon, this: I'll be at the Sufficient Grounds coffee house from 2 PM on writing and playing chess; fall by when you get a chance.
I also realized that part of her being such a sweet and agreeable person is her not being hung up on precision. And I furthermore bore in mind Plato's point in the Symposium, namely, and to put it in my own way, that a partner should be a complement, not a copy.
As a rule of thumb: You can't change others, but you can change yourself. And you should. A bit more precisely: character is largely invariant but attitude admits of adjustment.
Zelda lived and died for fashion, collapsing at age 95 in the front row of a fashion show. Dolores, though starting off in the vain precincts of glitz and glamour, gave it up for God and the soul. This life is vain whether or not God and the soul are illusions. Should we conclude that to live for fashion is to throw one's life away for the trinkets of phenomenality, the bagatelles of transience? That to die while worshipping idols at the altar of fashion is a frightful way to die? These mere suggestions will elicit vociferous objection from some, for whom it is self-evident that to retreat to a nunnery is to throw one's life away for an escapist fantasy. But that is but another indication of the wild diversity of human types. The case for the vanity of human existence is well made in Ecclesiastes. See A Philosopher's Notes on Ecclesiastes, Chapters 1-2.
Some have the religious sensibility (inclination, predisposition, call it what you will) and some don't. Here is one of several possible tests to see if you have it. Get hold of Augustine's Confessions and Pascal's Pensées. If you read these books and they do not speak to you at all, if they do not move you, if they leave you cold, if they do not in any measure inspire you to reform your life, then it is a good bet that you don't have a religious bone in your body. It is not matter of intelligence but of sensibility.
"He didn't have a religious bone in his body." I recall that line from Stephanie Lewis' obituary for her husband David, one of the most brilliant American philosophers of the postwar period. He was highly intelligent and irreligious. Others are highly intelligent and religious. Among contemporary philosophers one could mention Alvin Plantinga, Peter van Inwagen, and Richard Swinburne.
The belief that being intelligent rules out being religious casts doubt on the intelligence of those who hold it.
The Internet is, for loners, an absolute and total miracle. It is, for us, the best invention of the last millennium. It educates. It entertains. It transforms. It facilitates a kind of dialogue in which we need not be seen, so it suits us perfectly. It validates. It makes being alone seem normal. It makes being alone fun for everyone.
And so it has its critics. They claim it keeps kids from playing healthy games outdoors. They say it is a procurer for perverts, a weapon in hate crimes. Underlying all of this, of course, is the real reason for their dismay: the Internet legitimizes solitude. The real problem is not that kids don’t play outdoors, but that they do not play with other kids.
I’ve read the whole of this book, and I recommend it. It's not a great book, but it is worth reading. Click on the title above to read some positive and negative reviews.
Before one is a conservative or a liberal ideologically, one is a conservative or a liberal temperamentally, or by disposition. Or at least this is a thesis with which I am seriously toying, to put it oxymoronically. The idea is that temperament is a major if not the main determinant of political commitments. First comes the disposition, then come the theoretical articulation, the arguments, and the examination and refutation of the arguments of adversaries. Conservatism and liberalism are bred in the bone before they are born in the brain.
If this is so, it helps explain the bitter and intractable nature of political disagreement, the hatreds that politics excites, the visceral oppositions thinly veiled under a mask of mock civility, the mutual repugnance that goes so deep as to be unlikely to be ascribable to mere differences in thinking. For how does one argue against another's temperament or disposition or sensibility? I can't argue you out of an innate disposition any more than I can argue you out of being yourself; and if your theoretical framework is little more than a reflection at the level of ideas of an ineradicable temperamental bias, then my arguments cannot be expected to have much influence. A certain skepticism about the role and reach of reason in human affairs may well be the Oakeshottian upshot.
In Seder Masochism, James Wolcott speaks of Dennis Prager's "usual oozing piety," thereby betraying the leftist temperament with its scorn for piety and such cognate virtues as reverence and gratitude. This is a bit of evidence that political alignments are a matter of sensibility first of all. Or do you think you could 'reach' a fellow like Wolcott with arguments? Do you think you could convince him that piety, within limits, is good and not something that oozes like pus? I would have thought that if anything oozes like pus it would be the dreck that emanates from Wolcott and his ilk.
An article by Martin P. Seligman. Now there's an aptronym for you. Selig is German for happy, blessed, blissful, although it can also mean late (verstorben) and tipsy (betrunken). So Seligman is the happy man. Nomen est omen?
Money, power, sex, and recognition form the Mighty Tetrad of human motivators, the chief goads to action here below. But none of the four is evil or the root of all evil. People thoughtlessly and falsely repeat, time and again, that money is the root of all evil. Why not say that about power, sex, and recognition? The sober truth is that no member of the Mighty Tetrad is evil or the root of all evil. Each is ambiguous: a good liable to perversion.
One might wonder about recognition especially as it shades off into fame, and beyond that, into empty celebrity. Is it really good? Surely a modicum of recognition by certain of one's fellows is necessary for human happiness. To that extent, recognition is good. But a little suffices, and more is not better. To be famous would be horrible, after the initial rush wore off. And it might even get you killed by some crazy, as witness the case of John Lennon.
Consider this quartet of claims:
1. Money is the root of all evil. 2. Love of money is the root of all evil. 3. Inordinate love of money is the root of all evil. 4. Inordinate love of money is the root of some evil.
It is easy to see that each of (1)-(3) is false, and that (4) alone is true. Money is an abstract form of wealth and wealth is obviously good. How can something good be the root of all evil? It is not even the root of some evil. It makes more sense to say that the love of money is the root of all evil. But this too is plainly mistaken. Since money is good, a certain ‘love’ or desire of it is both wise and morally legitimate. It is the inordinate love of money that bears some connection to evil. But to all evil? Surely some of the evil in the world derives from such other sources as the inordinate love of power, sex, and fame. Therefore, the most we can say with a show of plausibility is that the inordinate love of money is at the root of some evil.
An inordinate love is an excessive love, a love unhinged and unbalanced. One form of excess consists in taking for an end in itself what can only be viewed as a means. Thus the miser’s mistake is in taking money to be an end in itself when it can only be a means.
Generalizing the opening quartet yields:
A. X is the root of all evil. B. Love of X is the root of all evil. C. Inordinate love of X is the root of all evil. D. Inordinate love of X is the root of some evil.
I claim that whatever one plugs in for ‘X’ — whether it be money, property, progeny, power, influence, sex, fame, knowledge, alcohol, tobacco, firearms — results in a pattern of three falsehoods and one truth. You may verify this for yourself. Or else present me with a counterexample.
One conclusion I draw is that evil has no one root. So one should not speak of the root of evil. Evil has many roots corresponding to our many inordinate loves. Since there is no one root of all evil, the eradication of evil is no simple matter. Or if there is a single root, it lies not in things desired, but in the disordered human heart. Only metanoia, a change of heart/mind, could eradicate evil, assuming evil can be uprooted.
Here. Excerpts, with emphases and a couple of comments by MavPhil.
Let's look at the 3 very liberal social sciences: anthropology, sociology, and psychology. These 3 fields have always leaned left, but things really changed in the 1960s. The civil rights struggle, the brutality inflicted upon peaceful marchers, the Viet Nam war, the assassinations of black leaders... Racial injustice in America was overwhelming, highly visible, and for many people, revolting. The generation that came of age in the 1960s and 1970s was profoundly shaped by these experiences.
If the bigot unreasonably and uncritically rejects what is different just because it is different, the anti-bigot unreasonably and uncritically accepts the different just because it is different. No doubt some conservatives are bigots. But some liberals are too: they unreasonably and uncritically reject conservatism. What's more, there are plenty of liberal anti-bigots whose knee-jerk inclusivity makes them useful idiots in the hands of our Islamist enemies.
It is bad to be a bigot, but it is also bad to be an anti-bigot. Some liberals are bigots and some are anti-bigots. Some conservatives are bigots but almost none are anti-bigots. It looks as if conservatives gain the edge in this little comparison.
I found the discussion in the thread appended to Is There a 'No God' Delusion? very stimulating and useful. My man Peter is the 'rock' upon which good discussions are built. (I shall expatiate later on the sense in which Lupu is also a 'wolf.') The thread got me thinking about what exactly a delusion is. It is important that I have an explicit theory of this inasmuch as I routinely tag leftist beliefs as delusional.
If belief is our genus, the task is to demarcate the delusional from the illusory species and both species from beliefs in general. In this context, and as a matter of terminology, a delusion is a delusional belief, and an illusion is an illusory belief. (I won't consider the questions whether there are illusions or delusions that do not belong to the genus belief.) Let us push forward by way of commentary on some claims in Sigmund Freud's The Future of an Illusion (tr. Strachey, Norton, 1961).
1. Freud distinguishes between illusions and errors. (p.30) Eine Illusion ist nicht dasselbe wie ein Irrtum . . . . There are errors that are not illusions and there are illusions that are not errors. Given that our genus is belief, an error is an erroneous or mistaken belief. So now we have three species of belief to contend with: the erroneous, the illusory, and the delusional. "Aristotle's belief that vermin are developed out of dung . . . was an error." (30) But "it was an illusion of Columbus's that he had discovered a new sea-route to the Indies." (30) What's the difference? The difference is that illusions are wish-driven while errors are not. "What is characteristic of illusions is that they are derived from human wishes." (31) Für die Illusion bleibt charakteristisch die Ableitung aus menschlichen Wünschen . . .
2. Every erroneous belief is false, but no erroneous belief is derived from human wishes. Every illusory belief is derived from human wishes, and may be either true or false. So if a belief is illusory one cannot infer that it is false. It may be false or it may be true. By 'false' Freud means "in contradiction to reality." (31) Suppose that a middle-class girl cherishes the belief that a prince will come and marry her. And suppose the unlikely occurs: a prince does come and marry her. The belief is an illusion despite the fact that it is true, i.e., in agreement with reality. The belief is illusory because its formation and maintenance have their origin in her intense wish. The example is Freud's.
3. The difference between an illusory belief and a delusional belief is that, while both are wish-driven, every delusional belief is false whereas some illusory beliefs are true and others false. "In the case of delusions we emphasize as essential their being in contradiction with reality." (31) An der Wahnidee heben wir als wesentlich den Widerspruch gegen die Wirklichkeit hervor, die Illusion muß nicht notwendig falsch, d. h. unrealisierbar oder im Widerspruch mit der Realität sein. To sum up:
Errors: All of them false, none of them wish-driven.
Delusions: All of them false, all of them wish-driven.
Illusions: Some of them false, some of them true, all of them wish-driven.
4. Now that we understand what an illusion is, we are in a position to understand Freud's central claim about religious ideas and doctrines: "they are illusions, fulfillments of the oldest, strongest, and most urgent wishes of mankind." (30) ". . . all of them are illusions and insusceptible of proof." (31) Sie sind sämtlich Illusionen, unbeweisbar, . . ..
To say of a belief that it is an illusion is to say something about its psychological genesis or origin: it arises as the fulfillment of a wish. It is not to say anything about the belief's truth-value (Wahrheitswert). So even if some religious doctrines were susceptible of proof, they would still be illusions. For again, what makes a belief an illusion is its stemming from a wish. Since Freud admits that there are true illusions, he must also admit at least the possibility of there being some provably true illusions. It could therefore turn out that the belief that God exists is both demonstrably true and an illusion.
But although this follows from what Freud says, he does not explicitly say it. Indeed, he says something that seems inconsistent with it. After telling us that "the truth-value of religious doctrines does not lie within the scope of the present inquiry," he goes on to say that "It is enough for us that we have recognized them as being, in their psychological nature, illusions. But we do not have to conceal the fact that this discovery also strongly influences our attitude to the question which must appear to many to be the most important of all." (33) That question, of course, is the question of truth or falsity.
So the good Doktor appears to be waffling and perhaps teetering on the brink of the genetic fallacy. On the one hand he tells us that a belief's being an illusion does not entail that it is false. He himself gives an example of a true illusion. On the other hand, from what I have just quoted him as saying it follows that showing that a belief arose in a certain way, in satisfaction of certain psychological needs or wishes, can be used to cast doubt on its truth. But the latter is the genetic fallacy. If a third-grader comes to believe the truths of the multiplication table solely on the strength of her teacher's say-so, this fact has no tendency to show that the beliefs formed in this way are false.
An inflated ego may manifest itself in ostentation, self-promotion, and domination of others. But it is no less manifested by oversensitivity to the slights, real or imagined, of the ostentatious, the self-promoting, and the domineering.
You will find it difficult to undo the damage of a bad first impression. One must realize that too many people base lasting judgments on them. This is folly of course, but it may be even worse folly to attempt to disembarrass them of their folly. The world runs on appearances, a fact made worse by the pseudo-authority of first appearances. One eventually learns that this world of seeming not only really is a world of seeming but is necessarily one. One learns to deal with it and abandons the attempt to find plenary reality where it can exist only fitfully and in fragments.
There is temporary insanity as when a middle-aged man buys a Harley on which to ride though his midlife crisis, wisely selling the bike after the crisis subsides. But my theme is topical insanity, that species of temporary insanity that can occur when certain topics are brought to one’s attention. Someone so afflicted loses the ability to think clearly about the topic in question for the period of time that the topic is before his mind.
Try this. The next time you are at a liberal gathering, a faculty party, say, calmly state that you agree with the National Rifle Association’s position on gun control. Now observe the idiocies to flow freely from liberal mouths. Enjoy as they splutter and fulminate unto apoplexy.
Some will say that the NRA is opposed to gun control. False, everyone is for gun control, i.e., gun control legislation; the only question being its nature and scope. Nobody worth mentioning wants no laws relating to the acquisition and use of firearms. Everyone worth mentioning wants reasonable laws that are enforceable and enforced.
Others will say that guns have only one purpose, to kill people. A liberal favorite, but spectacularly false for all that, and quickly counterexampled: (i) Guns can be used to save lives both by police and by ordinary citizens; (ii) Guns can be used to hunt and defend against nonhuman critters; (iii) Guns can be used for sporting purposes to shoot at nonsentient targets; (iv) Guns can be collected without ever being fired; (v) Guns can be used to deter crime without being fired; merely ‘showing steel’ is a marvellous deterrent. Indeed, display of a weapon is not even necessary: a miscreant who merely suspects that his target is armed, or that others in the vicinity are, may be deterred. Despite liberal mythology, criminals are not for the most part irrational and their crimes are not for the most part senseless. In terms of short-term means-ends rationality, it is quite reasonable and sensible to rob places where money is to be found -- Willy Sutton recommends banks -- and kill witnesses to the crime.
Still others will maintain that gun ownership has no effect on crime rates. False, see the work of John Lott.
Here then we have an example of topical insanity, an example of a topic that completely unhinges otherwise sane people. There are plenty of other examples. Capital punishment is one, religion is another. A. C. "Gasbag" Grayling, for example, sometimes comes across as extremely intelligent and judicious. But when it comes to religion he degenerates into the worst form of barroom bullshitter. See my earlier post.
I have found that it is dangerous to assume that others are essentially like oneself.
Psychologists speak of projection. As I understand it, it involves projecting into others one's own attitudes, beliefs, motivations, fears, emotions, desires, values, and the like. It is classified as a defense mechanism. Suppose one is stingy, considers stinginess an undesirable trait, but doesn't want to own up to one's stinginess. As a defense against the admission of one's own stinginess, one projects it into others.