The Epidemonology of Men Without Ombilical Chords of Mystic Memory
Dr. Sanity and I are both huge admirers of Steven Hicks, whose book Explaining Postmodernism is the clearest exposition I have ever read on the cognitive and spiritual pathologies of leftist thought. (I have previously reviewed it in a post entitled From the Lofty Kant to Lefty Cant.) The book so clearly describes the disease that incoming college students are about to expose themselves to, that all freshmen in elite universities should be required to read it. Certainly doing so would be more important than teaching them about condoms, because a venereal disease only affects the body, whereas postmodernism destroys the mind and soul. (No, I am not engaging in hyperbole.)
In my review, I concluded by stating that “The only problem with Hicks’ book is that he stops short of explaining how to overcome what I call the logopathologies of the left.... In reality, there is no defense against these destructive ideas within the bounds of common reason--as soon as you descend into mere reason, you have already given the game away, for there is almost nothing the rationalist mind can prove that it cannot equally disprove.” (By the way, this should not be seen as a criticism, just an acknowledgement of the boundaries of Hicks' project.)
Let’s examine some of the behavior and rhetoric described in Dr. Sanity’s piece. At Columbia University, left wing extremists took over the stage and shut down a talk by the founder of the Minuteman Project, Jim Gilchrist, overturning tables and chairs and attacking him and his colleagues. “Having taken control of the stage, the students, led by the student chapter of the International Socialist Organization, unfurled a banner that read, in both Arabic and English, ‘Nobody is Illegal.’” The vandals “jumped from the stage, chanting in Spanish and pumping their fists triumphantly [and yelling] ‘These are racist individuals heading a project that terrorizes immigrants on the U.S.-Mexican border... They have no right to be able to speak here.’"
Dr. Sanity does an outstanding job of diagnosing these sick individuals, who, in the final analysis, are steeped in a perverse ideology that is antithetical to everything America stands for, but simply co-opting American ideals as a way to undermine America and advance their revolutionary socialist agenda.
So that is the illness. But I would like to get into the etiology and the cure. As it so happens, I am reading a new book on the philosopher whom I believe to have identified the nature of this disease both earlier and more accurately than any other thinker before or since: Michael Polanyi. If I get into a full biography of this great man, this post will go on too long. But suffice it to say that his philosophical thinking--which especially developed between 1947 and 1975--was largely ignored by mainstream academic philosophers. In hindsight it is obvious why, because he represents intellectual Lysol to their cognitive pathogens.
More than any other strictly secular philosopher, I regard Polanyi as the cure for what fails us in the form of postmodernism. Although not in any way overtly religious, his thinking is entirely compatible with the Judeo-Christian metaphysics that fruitfully underpinned western civilization for hundreds of years before the voracious tenurmites began eating away at the foundation. Most importantly, Polanyi manages to correct the deficiencies not just in the excesses of postmodernism, but in the equally problematic results of the enlightenment rationalism that Eliot describes thus:
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to ignorance,
All our ignorance brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Bring us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.
In his body of work, Polanyi covered a broad range of subjects in an exceptionally lucid way, including economics, political theory, philosophy of science, epistemology (how we know what we know), meaning, morality, religion, and the nature of art. Today I will restrict myself to his political theory, while perhaps tomorrow I will get into his philosophy of science, for it has some very relevant applications to the differences between the dead and dying liberal MSM and the vibrant and living blogosphere.
One of the problems with our enlightenment science is that it served to make progress appear so inevitable that “the stage was set for utopian aspirations to run their course unhindered by the very forces that in an earlier age would have moderated them--and perhaps even strangled them in their infancy. Indeed, one might well describe the twentieth century as the bloodiest period of utopian political experimentation the world has ever witnessed” (MItchell).
Why? What exactly happened? First there was the attack on tradition. While there is no question that this was a vitally important development in the initial progress of science, the problem is, it went too far in trying to rid the mind of all preconceptions or “transcendentals”--as if it were actually possible to grasp reality barehanded in a wholly unmediated and objective manner.
Ultimately this approach to knowledge failed us “by exalting what we can know and prove, while covering up with ambiguous utterances all we can know and cannot prove, even though the latter knowledge underlies, and must ultimately set its seal to, all we can prove.” It necessarily leads to “skepticism about the very things we once held most dear.” In this regard, Polanyi’s conclusion is identical to that of one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century, Kurt Goedel, who proved the same thing with ironclad logic: that we know infinitely more truth than we can ever specify in an objective, linear, mechanistic way.
However, the demand for explicit proof reduces the much wider realm of what can be known to the comparatively puny realm of what can be proven, thus shrinking the magnificent cosmos down to the proportions of our senses. Ironically, this does indeed place man at the center of the cosmos--not vertical Man who has access to primordial truth, but horizontal man who is restricted to his sensory ape-eratus. The result , as described by Arthur Koestler, is a new species of “men born without umbilical cords.”
Now see what happens next, and you will have the magic formula that explains everything from the thugs at Columbia, to communist totalitarianism, to nazism, to dailykos, to our present culture war (being that I am Godwin, I am exempt from his Law). This post is starting to run long, so I will be brief.
Although the postmodernists have done their best to undermine the principles underlying western civilization, nevertheless, the memory of Christianity remains, since it is in our very blood and bones. This memory produces a “passionate urge to pursue righteousness,” even though the assumptions of postmodernism deny the very reality of objective moral truth. Once traditional morality has been shattered, in the words of Polanyi,
“moral passions are diverted into the only channels which a strictly mechanistic conception of man and society left open to them. We may describe this as a process of moral inversion. The morally inverted person has not merely performed a philosophical substitution of material purposes for moral aims; he is acting with the whole of his homeless moral passions within a purely materialistic framework of purposes.”
Thus, at the foundation of postmodern moral inversion is always the same thing: “the combination of skeptical rationalism and moral perfectionism, which is nothing more than the 'secularized fervor of Christianity.’” But whereas “moral perfectionism within a Christian context is moderated by the doctrine of original sin and deferral of perfection to the end of history, the perfectionism of a post-Christian world provides no such moderating counterbalances.”
Therefore, the dynamic of this moral inversion allows both societies and individuals “to commit appallingly immoral acts--acts which, according to the skeptic, are not really immoral, since morality is an empty category.” Leftists are therefore sanctioned to “bring about a purely immanent perfection without the hindrance of moral limitations on the means to the end.” This utopian fantasy demands the immediate and total transformation of society, which may be pursued without limit.
Now you know why the socialist thugs at Columbia may say with a straight farce, “Nobody is Illegal": because they themselves are beyond law and morality. And you also know why they can say that traditional Americans who believe in the rule of law are “racist individuals” who have “no right to be able to speak here."
A reminder: moral passion in the absence of traditional morality has murdered more people than all other unnatural causes combined.
Related: The God that Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West, and
The End of Commitment: Intellectuals, Revolutionaries, and Political Morality in the Twentieth Century