Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Psychophysics of Falling and the Dialectic of Nihilism (9.30.08)

(late for work!--not spiel-checked)

One’s political philosophy, whether one acknowledges it or not, is going to depend upon one’s conception of human nature. And if your conception of human nature is wrong, then your philosophy is going to be warped and your system of governance is going to be dysfunctional. I believe leftism is rooted in a naive and faulty conception of human nature, which is why it does not work.

I haven’t read it yet, but yesterday Dennis Prager was talking about an article in the new Vanity Fair--of all places--that discusses this in reference to European socialism. These socialist countries are dying precisely because, within a couple of generations, they produce a new kind of man: indolent, dependent upon the government, spiritually empty, essentially nihilistic. Eventually a tipping point will be reached in which there will not be enough productive people to support the unproductive ones, and that will be the end of Europe as we know it.

Thus, not only is your political philosophy dependent upon your conception of human nature, but once in place, your philosophy will produce radically different kinds of human beings. We don’t have to look very far to see how this has played out in the United States, for example, with respect to all of the Oh, Great! Society programs that had the cumulative effect of taking a wrecking ball to the black family, leaving it much worse off than before government got involved. One of the last great liberals, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, saw this coming in the 1960s, writing about the “tangle of pathology” that afflicted urban culture. If I am not mistaken, the liberal meme “blaming the victim” was first applied to Moynihan.

One of the central divides in the culture war is the question of whether or not mankind is “fallen.” Actually that’s not quite right, because for at least half the country, the whole idea of mankind being “fallen” is precisely nonsense. To the extent that they give a moment’s thought to the question, it is only to mock and dismiss it. Modern secularists are way too sophisticated to ever believe in such crude mythology.

As I have had occasion to mention many times, revelation contains timeless wisdom and objective metaphysics that must be “unpacked.” This can only be done through a combination of preparation and grace. No amount of study or of intelligence alone will help you finally “get” religion in the absence of grace. In fact, “getting it” is a fine example of the operation of grace. In this sense, the uncreated intellect--that part of our being that may know divine truth--is itself a supernaturally natural revelation of God (as Schuon has expressed it).

There are so many different ways to consider the question of our fallenness. Before he became Father Seraphim Rose (1934-1981), Eugene Rose began work on a book that he never finished, entitled The Kingdom of Man and the Kingdom of God. He completed only one chapter, on what he called “stages of the nihilist dialectic,” tracing modern man’s fall into the abyss of liberal nihilism. Because in the end, that is what the culture war is really about: objective truth vs. nihilism.

Rose saw our descent as happening in four stages that he called 1) liberalism, 2) realism, 3) vitalism, and 4) destruction. The first of these, liberalism, is already a sort of “passive nihilism,” because it opens the door to everything that follows--it is a “breeding ground of the more advanced stages of nihilism.” Why is that? Partly because, under the guise of “tolerance,” liberalism slowly begins to distance itself from, and no longer take seriously, the very ideas and traditions that made liberalism possible.

You see this for example, in the vast rhetorical gulf that exists between the great classical liberal thinkers who founded America and the petty, small-minded leftist liberals who rule today.

“We hold these truth to be self-evident.” That phrase alone would be evidence enough to deny tenure to an aspiring political scientist or philosopher. It gets worse. In the Declaration of Independence, God is explicitly named four times: he is the One who has endowed human beings with unalienable rights that no government may trespass; he is the author of the laws of nature (meaning that our founders took “intelligent design” for granted); he is the “Supreme Judge of the World” and therefore the source of our objective morality (i.e., the founders were not modern liberal moral relativists); and he is “Divine Providence," the source and end of all our worldly activities.

This kind of intemperate language would never be tolerated by today’s liberals. God? Judgment? Absolute truth? Intelligent design? Objective morality? Reliance upon God? These white European males who founded America were theofascists, just like President Bush!

In recent weeks a couple of readers have suggested that I believe I am always right, and that I never acknowledge any errors. First of all, I acknowledge errors all the time, except that I simply call it “growth.” I don’t necessarily stop to chronicle how my thinking differs today from last week, last year, or five years go. But from my end, it feels as if I continue to get a deeper grasp of things as I go along, so that previously held “partial truths” may well be discarded. Furthermore, perhaps you may not have noticed that my Minister of Doctrinal Enforcement often makes subtle corrections in my tendency to make extreme statements to illuminate a point. I will be the first to concede that I do not possess “judicial temperament.”

One issue that I was very wrong about was that of “liberty.” This is such a transcendent value for me, that I mistakenly believed that it was implanted into the bosom of man, and that it was only for us to remove the obstacles--say, in Iraq--and watch liberty blossom.

But I was wrong about that. Most human beings do not actually crave liberty. As a matter of fact, history will demonstrate the opposite--that human beings by and large find liberty to be repellant, and much prefer security. This is the difference between classical liberals and modern liberals, and it is also the difference between Europe and America. 2 Corinthians 3:17 says that the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. True enough. But what about all those places where the Spirit isn’t? There you will neither find liberty nor the desire for it. I now better understand that liberty is a spiritual value that half the country and most of the world does not necessarily share--certainly not the Islamic world. After all, the Islamists would rather kill every last Iraqi man, woman and child than allow them to live in freedom.

The modern liberal, in his descent into nihilism, values security over liberty, equality over freedom, “truths” over Truth. FDR, that patron saint of modern liberalism, unveiled a host of new “self-evident truths” that had somehow eluded our founders in a famous speech: “Now that the war was in the process of being won, the main objective for the future could be ‘captured in one word: Security.’”

Roosevelt argued that this actually meant something new and entirely unprecedented, that is, "economic security, social security, moral security." Classical liberalism, which had always been associated with negative liberties--i.e., the right to be left alone by the government--was to be replaced by a new vision of positive liberty that now forms the essence of modern liberalism. The government's job was now to even keep us free of fear, and “Freedom from fear is eternally linked with freedom from want." But since “want” is literally infinite, this sets up the need for a government that is infinite in its powers. For as the adage goes, any time the government does something for you, it does something to you. Since it now proposes to do everything for you...

In effectuating this new promise of security to all American citizens, Roosevelt argued for a new tax policy "which will tax all unreasonable profits, both individual and corporate." Unreasonable profits. Obviously we are still having that debate today, aren't we? What is an unreasonable profit, and why is it unreasonable? Here you see how the anti-libertarian, pseudo-religious language of Marxism insinuated itself into our discourse, further accelerating the Fall of liberal man: we "cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people--whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth--is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.”

Sunstein continues: “At that point, the speech became spectacularly ambitious. Roosevelt looked back, not entirely approvingly, to the framing of the Constitution. At its inception, the nation had protected ‘certain inalienable political rights--among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures,’ he noted. But over time, those rights had proved inadequate, as ‘we have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence.’”

Comes now fully fallen Leftist Man with a new revelation and a new Bill of Rights:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation.

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation.

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living.

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad.

The right of every family to a decent home.

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health.

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment.

The right to a good education.


Sounds good doesn’t it? No, better than good. It sounds positively utopian! Because now, with my new Bill of Rights in hand, my absence of responsibility and my victimhood are complete. The Government owes me a meaningful, well-paying job, fairness, a house, free medical care, an absence of fear, and full protection from my own bad decisions throughout life!

Obviously, many people want that new deal. But it is the quintessence of a Faustian bargain, in which you have traded God for government. You are now Horizontal Man. You have fallen all the way down.

Wait, that’s not quite right. We still have three more stages to go before man’s degeneracy is complete. To be continued.

43 Comments:

Blogger snowonpine said...

Many years ago I ran across a formulation someone made giving the key difference between liberals and conservatives that ran something like this:

Liberals believe that human beings are inherently good and it is only unfortunate social or economic circumstances that make some humans do bad things; change the circumstances and their innate goodness will predominate. Thus, man is perfectable.

Conservatives believe that, left to their own devices, human beings will misbehave and so it is government's role to minimize the chances for such misbehavior and to protect the sheep from the wolves. Human nature is not perfectable.

I believe that such radically different views of fundamental human nature are formed early in life and depend on whether your experiences teach you that the world is a safe place or not.

10/12/2006 09:00:00 AM  
Blogger Sigmund, Carl and Alfred said...

Can a toilet be unflushed?

That is to say, can the descent be reversed, or at leat halted?

As you note, there is very little resemblence between the real Liberals of yesterday and the leftists of today. Once can only hope these things are cyclical. If they aren't, another kind of apocolypse might be in store for us.

10/12/2006 09:03:00 AM  
Blogger Alan said...

The paragraph about God in the Constitution is pure gold - I've never seen the implications of the Constitution so well defined.

Here is a link to Seraphim's document Nihilism

I don't agree with his view of Monarchy being the proper form of christian government but his analysis is quite penetrating.

10/12/2006 09:29:00 AM  
Anonymous Will said...

>>One’s political philosophy, whether one acknowledges it or not, is going to depend upon one’s conception of human nature<<

And, I think, one's conception of human nature depends on one's mode of consciousness. The tragedy is we are constantly bombarded with the semiotics of lower modes of consciousness, educated that way, in fact. These days, it would seem to require a trauma and a herculean effort to wake up to the higher mode of consciousness. Speaking of which . . .

>> . . . human beings by and large find liberty to be repellant, and much prefer security.<<

Yes, and I think that, in general psychological terms, sense of security often = "sameness" = ossification. Spiritual growth depends on new experiences, that is, willingness to experience new psychological/spiritual frames of reference. For this to occur, one has to be willing to suspend one's self over the abyss. Taking the risk, so to speak. Once the risk is removed and "security" achieved, there is no growth, just the death of growth and the spirit.

However - higher nature (bless Her Heart) decrees that perpetual stagnation shall not be. If we, individually or collectively are scared to walk into the dark and do everything we can to sweep the very idea of the dark away, then . . . the dark is going to be forced on us. Can run, can't hide, the Shadow's going to find us. Transfiguration always comes, and we can do it the relatively easy way or the hard way. Europe is already dealing with her Shadow (the unassimilated jihadists) the hard way.

Higher nature is writ into lower, material nature, as well. Tsunamis, floods, quakes - I think that's a manifestation of the shunted-aside dark side, as well. We'll wake up voluntarily or be shaken awake.

10/12/2006 09:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Will said...

Sig, Carl, und Al -

>>That is to say, can the descent be reversed, or at leat halted?<<

Yeah, that's what apocalypses are for.

Even the best changes can be rather rough. I sometimes wonder if trauma/apocalypse really isn't the only way to progress. After all, the Great Oneness/Nothing must have undergone a trauma of sorts to manifest Itself as the Multiplicity, and we're all just following the Divine Blueprint.

10/12/2006 09:38:00 AM  
Anonymous tsebring said...

snowonpine,
nice encapsulation, if somewhat simplified, of Bob's central thesis. However, I believe that more than just one's perceptions of whether the world is safe or not are involved in forming one's worldviews. How to explain how leftists remain leftists despite evidence which any child could see that the world is not safe, and getting unsafer? As Bob has said, the role of a proper connection to Divine Revelation cannot be ignored. Leftists, in denying the existence of a Supreme Being, are left unable to process recent world events in a way that makes any sense; they can't assimilate the threats to our very existence that are happening now into their utopianism. Thus they are left to rant and rave in incoherent sentences about Bush being a Nazi or the need to cut and run from Iraq.

10/12/2006 09:38:00 AM  
Anonymous tsebring said...

Will said: "Even the best changes can be rather rough. I sometimes wonder if trauma/apocalypse really isn't the only way to progress".
I don't wonder; I believe it. The bible is full of writings about the role of suffering in the believer's life, as well as the lives of many who exemplify the concept (Job, David, Elijah, Hosea, Jesus, Stephen, Paul). Our own American history seems to confirm it as well; some of the most positive changes in American life (and yes, a few dingbat ones too) have come following terrible events: the Civil War, WWI, the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, the Depression, WWII, the Iran Hostage crisis, and, of course, 9/11. Conversely, some of our stupidist moments have come during times of prosperity (The Great move West, the Roaring Twenties, the prosperity of the 60's and 70's, the Tech Bubble of the 90's). Will, perhaps you could write a new book: "It Takes a Catastrophe".

10/12/2006 09:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Jacob C. said...

Snowonpine:

I believe that such radically different views of fundamental human nature are formed early in life and depend on whether your experiences teach you that the world is a safe place or not.

No wonder I wound up turning Republican. Ever since I moved out of my family home, I've had the increasing suspicion that the world is big and mean and evil and will f__k me every chance it gets.

10/12/2006 10:12:00 AM  
Blogger Duchess Of Austin said...

For what it's worth, I believe that liberalism is a luxury. In other words, most liberals that you meet are insulated from the real world in one way or another...i.e., they are financially comfortable, they are academics, or they are really young, and don't have enough experience in how messed up the world is.

There is a saying that goes like this: What is a conservative? It's a liberal who got mugged.

Getting mugged forces them into the real world, IMO, a world they thoroughly dislike, so it's easier to insulate yourself from the real world by being a liberal.

10/12/2006 10:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Joan of Argghh! said...

"Can a toilet be unflushed?"

Now, even my word-picture skills couldn't come up with such an apt phrase!

"Yeah, that's what apocalypses are for."

I'll relate a different word picture here: Ever had your car stuck in a deep rut in clay soil? It's almost that your only choice is to keep going, hoping for firmer ground to show up soon. If you stop, and try to start again, your wheels will spin helplessly. So, after too many miles, you have to choose, and really, the only way out of a deep rut is a violent motion, a yanking of the wheel and a heckuva jolt to all the passengers. (Who will whine and complain about the driving skills of their conductor.)

Sure, it was easier to follow the groovy groove of the 60's as long as the ride was smooth. But 9/11 convinced us that a grown-up had better grab the wheel...

I'm not wishing for an apocolypse, but we may be moored in the muck too deeply for a simple rescue or change of course. Yeah, I'd love to be wrong on that point.

10/12/2006 10:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Will said...

>>Will, perhaps you could write a new book: "It Takes a Catastrophe"<<

How about a poem? -

It takes a catastrophe
like a very large colonoscopy
To appropriately pillage
A vapid-eyed village,
The resulting spillage
To wake 'em up thoroughly.

10/12/2006 10:33:00 AM  
Anonymous Joan of Argghh! said...

The Duchess is correct in calling leftist liberalism a luxury.

However, the un-mugged will remain unconvinced by the foxhole conversion of the muggee and merely say that, "he wasn't really one of us, anyway. He can't see that his provocative behavior, i.e., being born into an oppressive status of privilege, means that he should understand and forgive the mugger. Indeed, he should have just been walking around giving away his (uh...everyone else's -ed) money to avoid such a scene."

Will: toilet flushings and now colonoscopies? This thread is really going down the tubes.

10/12/2006 10:37:00 AM  
Anonymous Will said...

Maybe, Ms. Argghh, but it's not for shite.

BTW, I've only flown over Argghh but I have been to Bleah and Gak.

10/12/2006 11:08:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bob said, in reference to his "Leftist Bill of Rights"

"Obviously, many people want that new deal. But it is the quintessence of a Faustian bargain, in which you have traded God for government. You are now Horizontal Man. You have fallen all the way down."

I question whether the classic American liberalism of the founding fathers was also not a "fallen" ideology, too.

After all, underneath the God talk of the founders is just government as usual for the most part. Lefties and conservatives then and now disagree about how much government to apply but the difference between the two amounts to squat-piss. You've got property and taxes either way.

No, the real fall happened in Sumeria circa 6000 BC when we first started harvesting surplus grain and locking it up.

The original deal between God and man was that you take those clever opposable thumbs and get out there and harvest game and plants freely where you find them.

If I tried to forage like a proper human today, I'd be locked up or shot. All of the game and plants are fenced up and belong to someone else.

Yeah, I'm fallen. Agriculture and population have denied me my animal freedom. Damn right I want someting in return, so give me the liberal bill of rights. Or give me 40 square miles of decent habitat and leave me the hell alone.

What I don't want is to be placed in the midst of sprawling hive of humanity and told to "fend for myself." Yeah, like I would know how to live in this artificial hell. We made it, so now we had better damn well make it secure for everyone. There's no liberty here anyway; we should just forget that word.

10/12/2006 11:14:00 AM  
Blogger Alan said...

Anonymous said "There's no liberty here anyway; we should just forget that word."

Differentiation and integration of cells are necessary to build a higher organism.

We are here to "embody" the body of Christ.

By going vertical, we change our being and naturally decide to assume our place in that body - out of joy and love.

The founding principles of the US comprehended (consciously or unconsciously) that this could occur only in a unique set of circumstances. How well they embodied those circumstances in the Constitution is worthy of discussion. That their original ideas have been subverted for views which are antithetical to reaching the goal is definite.

10/12/2006 12:30:00 PM  
Blogger dicentra63 said...

No, the real fall happened in Sumeria circa 6000 BC when we first started harvesting surplus grain and locking it up.

The original deal between God and man was that you take those clever opposable thumbs and get out there and harvest game and plants freely where you find them.


And yet we have Cain tilling the fields and Abel tending flocks. You can have your hunter-gatherer culture if you want, but stone age lifestyles aren't particularly conducive to High Art such as theatre, symphonies, art museums, and novels.

Not to mention the fact that you live on the verge of starvation 24/7. Go ahead and idealize the primitive lifestyle: I want my grain silos to tide us over in case of famine.

10/12/2006 12:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Joan of Argghh! said...

Anony-mouse, you’ve out-Muslim-ed even the most ardent jihadists. You don’t want to drag us back to the 14th century, you want to drag us back to Genesis. Well, actually, you want the Garden of Eden, but you want someone else to maintain it and take care of it and make it fruitful for you, so all you have to do is contemplate the Cosmos. I guess you want some sort of Mom, not even a god, really.

Your post exemplifies the idea of security over liberty and growth and life itself; for to merely exist and absorb is the lowest form of life. Any amoeba can do that.

10/12/2006 12:56:00 PM  
Blogger Fausta said...

But it is the quintessence of a Faustian bargain, in which you have traded God for government. You are now Horizontal Man
Or, you have the French mentality.

10/12/2006 01:09:00 PM  
Anonymous looptloop said...

Today’s blog relates to my question yesterday, especially “The Government owes me…an absence of fear, and full protection from my own bad decisions throughout life!

I commented to Eeevil Right Wing Nut yesterday about what I think is the fundamental bad decision:

“I've wondered if the leftist doesn't feel acute guilt and shame deep in their subconscious for having chosen to go it alone in the material world i.e., having lost their Divine heritage so to speak. The result is the frantic, emotional ranting and dire forms of activism to placate the "hole" in their severed being. They would never admit it, their egos are far too energized to even begin to get in touch with that level of stillness, the memories of the fall, and the responsibility that it all entails. Oh well, I trust the truth will reveal itself to all at some point.”

It now makes more sense to me why the liberals want such an elaborate and controlling government – they must errantly think that it will really make them "whole" again…

10/12/2006 01:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Jenny said...

This post goes along with a realization I had at some point that suffering is another one of life's paradoxes and is not necessarily bad (although I sure hate it when I'm going through it personally). Sometimes when we think we're suffering we're not really - we just may not like whatever is causing our discomfort. Growing pains, like labor pains produce something.

And also blaming God for suffering is a crock, since most of the world's suffering is due to the actions of man. We cause our own suffering and then blame God.

WE say, if God is a loving and just God, how can he let all those people starve in Africa? But if you look at the truth of it - you have despots who are in it for the money and power who don't give a crap about the general population and more often than not getting their jollies by torturing them, and then rich liberals in the US and European politicians who back these kind of people and send them gobs of money which never make it to the people who really need it - and a lot of "charity" money going to fund genocide and jihad (altho that may be redundant) and even more suffering. And then consider it cool and "intellectual" to blame the US. But when the US does get involved, they turn around and accuse the US of interfering in sovereign nations. Disgusting.

Who can NOT believe in God. If there was no God with his hand on everything - we'd seriously implode with all our stupidity.

10/12/2006 01:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Cosanostradamus said...

Today's excellent blog regarding human nature and radically different human beings ties right into what I've been listening to on my daily commute: G.K. Chesterton's wonderful "St. Francis of Assisi". Here was a convivial man who had everything a modern liberal could ask for - unearned social status and a likely future of ease and wealth. But unfortunate circumstance challenged him to fully confront and embrace his true fallenness, dismantling his personhood to the point of denying himself all rights and thereby gaining true liberty and brotherhood with all. His apparent paradoxical vertical behavior was so extreme that it did not frighten the hoi polloi as it discounted him as harmlessly eccentric, but it attracted enough visionary followers to subsequently cause the greatest earthquake the Catholic church had seen to date. His impact is still sending waves downstream today.

Although I believe that a fresh St. Francis would not be allowed even a small voice in today's global environment, there is yet one arena of hope - blogdom. So count me among the profoundly thankful that you exist and pen such riveting blogs with such clarity. I am so glad I stumbled across your beacon of light. Shine on Gagdad Bob!

"Don't change the world; change worlds." -St. Francis of Assisi

10/12/2006 01:55:00 PM  
Anonymous tsebring said...

Anonymous,
your post looks like a combination of classic Rousseauist primitivism and blue collar throw-out-the-bums cynicism. Whether you like it or not, you are in the middle of this "sprawling hive of humanity" like the rest of us, and neither escaping to some National Forest to live off the land or just giving up and saying "they're all bums, throw em out" will change that. The reason we have been given the right to vote in this nation is so that we can turn our discontent into action, rather than just sit at home and complain or wish we were in Shangri-La. You don't like things out there; work to change them (just don't force your vision down our throats).

As for primitivism, I kind of like the fact that I can have surgery with anaesthesia, drive a car if I have to get somewhere 300 miles away, and express my thoughts on a computer screen. Technology rules!

10/12/2006 03:04:00 PM  
Anonymous stu said...

"No, the real fall happened in Sumeria circa 6000 BC when we first started harvesting surplus grain and locking it up."

Actually I think it was more like 10,000 B.C.

"Yeah, I'm fallen. Agriculture and population have denied me my animal freedom."

Animals, by they their nature, are not and cannot be free. Only man can be free.

"no liberty here anyway; we should just forget that word."

Go tell a cop to fuck off and when you don't get your head kicked in, tell me there's no liberty.

10/12/2006 03:14:00 PM  
Anonymous tsebring said...

Bob,
Your observations about liberalism being based on a view of man that denies fallen nature, and of the preference of security over liberty are so right on! The liberal refuses to believe that man is a spiritually flawed being in need of Repair From Above, ignoring the fact that we have had 4000 years to "get it right" and have gotten no closer than we were then. Without God, our ability to live a just and loving existence is no better than that of a Cro-Magnon (which may explain the behavior at Columbia University).

As for security vs liberty, why in hell would someone prefer the former over the latter? I believe it is for these reasons:

1. Liberty is COSTLY. If you could ask any soldier from the Revolution, Civil War, or WWII, or any of the Russian Refuseniks, they would tell you this in no uncertain terms. Just as some of the Israelites were not wanting to give up their Egyptian slavery because of the pots of meat they got in between beatings, so some people are not willing to make the sacrifices neccesary to move from Security to Liberty due to the little perks of Security.

2. Liberty demands responsibility and self-reliance. To people that have been raised with a government IV tube in their arm, this is an alien concept. The idea of unplugging that tube frightens them. But ask any welfare mother who has gotten a job, graduated Community College, and now works for a decent living, and they will tell you that facing that fear and leaving the IV tube behind was the greatest thing that ever happened to them.

3. Liberty requires vigilance. Like the struggle to create it, the struggle to maintain it is costly. There are always, always, enemies from without and within wanting to take that liberty away, either by invasion or by legislation (or judicial fiat, the preferred liberal method).Again, some are just not willing to put forth the effort to defend it, or like Vidkun Quisling or Marshal Petain, find it easier to join the enemy.

10/12/2006 03:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Joan of Argghh! said...

"I've only flown over Argghh but I have been to Bleah and Gak."

Ah! A well-traveled and travailed gentleman. I've lived in the States of Fear, Boredom, and Awareness, and have been to Eastbourne, England.

Well, I've never been to Spain...but I've been to Oklahoma.

10/12/2006 03:34:00 PM  
Anonymous tsebring said...

Here's an old song by Kansas that sums it up pretty well:

Can I tell you something
Got to tell you one thing
If you expect the freedom
That you says is yours
Show us you deserve it
Help us to preserve it
Or being free will just be
Words and nothing more.

10/12/2006 03:38:00 PM  
Blogger snowonpine said...

I happen to think that the conservative view of human nature mentioned in my earlier post is the accurate one and that ignoring this fact can lead to, well, look around.

As a collateral issue, I'm alway startled when I hear somebody-- usually a young person--say in response to a situation in their life that is not to their liking or has not gone as they wished it to, "that's not fair." I have never viewed life as being rigged in our favor so that it is fair. Teilhard de Chardin not to the contrary, Nature is indifferent to us. In human society, we can hold to certain beliefs, conduct ourselves in a certain way and still, there are no guarantees of success in our endeavors, especially given the workings of fate, random chance, luck or whatever you want to call it.

As I see it we can, however, maximize our chances of success by accepting reality as it is and making plans to deal with that reality.

As an example of what happens when you ignore reality, particularly the reality of Nature, I give you the story of Timothy Treadwell, the self-styled "Grizzly Man."

Timothy had failed as an actor, had drug problems, and, to listen to his ramblings on his self-made films, had some major sexual identity problems. So, what better thing to do that to hie off to the Alaskan wilderness to be an advocate for Grizzly bears.

Treadwell was untaught and thought that unpredictable, wild and notably grumpy Grizzlies were really "party animals" who he gave cutsey names to; he apparently saw these Grizzlies as just big people in shaggy clothes. His trademark, over several years of time with the bears, was to camp in their territory and get so close to them that he could touch them. This approach got both he and his girlfriend eaten by a grumpy "party animal." Looks like he didn't tread too well.

10/12/2006 04:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Will said...

Snowonpine -

It seems to me that Treadwell, like Michael Jackson, sought innocence via retreat into childhood - Treadwell was and Jackson is ridiculously, outlandishly childlike. This is a false innocence, of course. Is actually a form of neo-paganism, I think, in the same way the Islamofascists retreat into what they think of as a state of innocence that existed in pre-modern times. Innocence has to be won but only by plunging onward, forward.

10/12/2006 07:51:00 PM  
Anonymous tsebring said...

snowonpine,
Agreed; I believe as well that man's ability to do good in and for himself or others simply does not exist, and never will,despite all the naive and do-good experimentation that would-be social engineers such as educators and psychologists (not you, Bob) have attempted, and all the utopian philosophies that those like Rousseau and L. Ron Hubbard have tried to drill into our brains. In allowing post-modernism and Marxism to convince us that there is nothing worth believing in, and that there is no supreme being, that we are our own gods, we have unleashed a process of de-evolution that will either turn us into androgynous androids like Commander Data, or Cro-Magnons who believe in "if it feels good, do it", depending on whether lifeless intellect or uncontrolled emotionalism rule the day. Either future is appallingly abysmal.

10/12/2006 08:18:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

tsebring said...
" Liberty demands responsibility and self-reliance."

Imagine Liberty without responsibility and self-reliance... what would that look like? Behaving irresponsibly, and relying on others or a trust fund to support you... would that be liberty? I don't think so, it'd be self indulgence and license.

Liberty not only demands responsibility and self-reliance, it is the state of living responsibly and with self-reliance, that we call Liberty.

As an illustration of it's opposite consider our annonymouse friend:

"What I don't want is to be placed in the midst of sprawling hive of humanity and told to "fend for myself." Yeah, like I would know how to live in this artificial hell. We made it, so now we had better damn well make it secure for everyone. There's no liberty here anyway; we should just forget that word. "

He's typical of those look for what they'll never find. Even given his incredibly stupid ideal of effortlessly living off the land and "Damn right I want something in return, so give me the liberal bill of rights" he'd find himself having wished for precisely the life that liberty will never inhabit.

And that is the flip side of what Gagdad posted about today, "But since “want” is literally infinite, this sets up the need for a government that is infinite in its powers. For as the adage goes, any time the government does something for you, it does something to you. Since it now proposes to do everything for you..." that not only will government do everything for you and to you, even given all you will get, by dint of getting it all, you will be completely lacking in liberty, and the ability to enjoy (in the manner of enjoyment that is consistent with Happiness) any of it at all.

To have it all and be incapable of having anything of value - that is the truly fallen state of nature.

10/12/2006 08:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Jimmy J. said...

Gagdad said:
"As a matter of fact, history will demonstrate the opposite--that human beings by and large find liberty to be repellant, and much prefer security."

Yes, one rather wise man once told me that what most people are seeking is a "womb with a view." I've always thought that was true and a very apt way to put it.

Anonymous said:
"There's no liberty here anyway; we should just forget that word."

I just returned from a visit to Russia. I was told that in the Soviet days you had to be careful where you stood and where you walked. You could be shot for just standing in the wrong place. Or sent to Siberia for saying anything critical about the government. But they had security......a menial job and a tiny apartment for life. Only the elderly are longing for the old days now.

Unless we understand how precious the freedom and opportunities we have are, we might actually believe the myth that there is no liberty here.

10/12/2006 09:11:00 PM  
Anonymous ben usn (ret) said...

Great post, and the comments, by Jenny, Jimmy, Will, Joan, Snowon, and just about all of the commenters with a name.
"Objective truth vs nihlism", sums it up nicely, Bob.
Liberty requires blood, sweat and tears, responsibility, and God Himself.
The only good fight is the constant fight for truth to prevail
Jimmy- "A womb with a view" is brilliant!
We are all offered that womb everyday, and just like yesterday, I turn down that temptation.
The womb isn't right, and it's a lie, an illusion.
That womb also requires a pagan sacrifice.
The womb is like a drug, and the only result is death.
Who would sell their own souls for the world (womb)?
The leftist regressives would,
and the would force everyone else to do the same, or die in the reeducation camp, or gulag.
The left are a cross between the Borg and the Reavers when they have power.
Apocalypse indeed.
No one truthully said that it would be easy...but we can restassured that what we fight for, is more than worth it!

10/12/2006 10:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Michael Andreyakovich said...

BTW, I've only flown over Argghh but I have been to Bleah and Gak.

Well, whadaya know? I too have been to San Francisco and Washington, DC.

10/12/2006 11:34:00 PM  
Blogger jw said...

It seems probable that most people value security over liberty. If we were to divide the species into ten groups based on socio-economic standing, only the 6, 7 & 8 groups would value liberty over security: This because liberty offers to these people a greater chance of a better life. For the lower and top groups, security offers the better odds.

This is interesting as the people most likely to change a society are the young men from the 6 to 8 socio-economic group. That said, these same young men are the most easily mislead into radical political concepts, including violent versions of security!

Our species is really quite interesting in that way.

Personally, I think the centrist path is the best: There are rightist concepts which are very good, the same goes for the left. To me, it is the mix which is crucial to a happy & healthy society.

Today, we do not see a mix: We see what the psychologists call "splitting." That is, a habit of defining the "other" as evil incarnate.

Thus, as I see it, the problem is not liberty vs security or right vs left, but one of almost all people seeing the other people as evil.

These things have happened before and, to the best of my knowledge, precede a societal crash and rebuilding.

10/13/2006 03:13:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

JW said...
"Personally, I think the centrist path is the best: There are rightist concepts which are very good, the same goes for the left. To me, it is the mix which is crucial to a happy & healthy society."

Hopefully you're speaking more of an economic mix rather than an political/ethical mix, you know... a little savings & a little speculating vs. a little charity and a little beheading.

I think looking at people by socio-economic divisions is shaky at best, and only really tells their understanding about their understanding of higher concepts of financial investments are concerned. Someone who earns $100,000 a year and someone who earns $25,000 are essentially no different in any economic way other than the particulars of the trade they chose, or didn't choose.

There is just as wide a gulf between someone who earns $100,000 or less and someone who manages their money to earn $x00,000,000's a year.

But in either case, that tells you very little about what is truly valuable about them, their philosophical, ethical and spiritual understanding and values. I've met numerous Dirt bags and Gems fairly equally distributed across the socio-economic spectrum. Cunning and Wisdom a very different understandings, and I would prefer to slice my scale of humanity by that factor over any other.

10/13/2006 05:52:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

snowonpine said...
"Many years ago I ran across a formulation someone made giving the key difference between liberals and conservatives that ran something like this:"

Your summary sounds like Thomas Sowell's. If you haven't read it, his "A Conflict of Visions" is an excellent analysis of the mindset of liberals and conservatives, or as he prefers, the Unconstrained and the Constrained Visions of Human Nature.

10/13/2006 05:57:00 AM  
Anonymous Rob said...

One’s political philosophy, whether one acknowledges it or not, is going to depend upon one’s conception of human nature.

I think this is an important observation. After that, however, I disagree a good deal. If I read you correctly (and there's a good chance I don't), it would seem that an atheist would almost by definition be a Liberal in the US political spectrum. Yet many, many atheists are Libertarians, and hard-core ones at that.

Part of this may lie in a somewhat more complex conception of human nature. I don't think much of the average human being I meet on the street. I tend to agree with Philip Wylie who in Generation of Vipers commented that, on average, men were dirty, ignorant, crude, slovenly, drunk and generally unpleasant and "a meat inspector would not pass him". On the other hand, I think the human race as a whole is quite inspirational. So, while I may think individual men are "fallen" in some sense, I don't think humanity is fallen in any way.

There is a simple truth about freedom and liberty that has nothing to do with religion or even spirituality. Our founding fathers knew this thing, but I think it was so deep down in their thinking that it didn't surface often (a bit later on, John Stuart Mill hit the nail on the head in On Liberty). Regardless of whether you think men fine and noble or flawed and ridiculous, there is no way for them ever to get any better unless they have the freedom and liberty to pursue betterment for themselves. Without freedom, there can be no improvement in either individual humans or human nature. Only free and open societies have the possibility to move our thinking forward. While liberty cannot be infinite if we are all to share the same planet, the more we can do to maximize it, the more opportunity we have for improvement.

I'm an atheist, but I would think this argument would hold even stronger for religious people. If you believe in God, you must assume that He had a reason for creating us. Surely, He expected us to make the most of ourselves, anything less would be a waste of His creative energy. We can only make the most of ourselves if we live in societies that allow us the freedom to do so. If our every thought and action is prescribed, we can never grow.

So, Atheist or Believer, all of this casts a strong doubt on nanny-state liberalism. To me, every persnickety limitation on my liberty (which includes a spectrum from restaurants being told how much transfat they can serve to the income tax) is a limitation on the aspirations of humanity. Some of these limitations may be necessary trade-offs, but it is a flaw to think of them only in light of their positive returns and not also in light of their limitations on our liberty. It seems to me that the only sane choice is to want the best for humanity and that can't be modern, petty, nanny-state liberalism.

10/13/2006 08:16:00 AM  
Anonymous Joseph said...

jw,
fareed zakaria has a book out, "The Future of Democracy" (I think), that speaks to the subject of economic issues and liberty. There is a kind of minimum average income level required in a population in order for democracy to begin to thrive. What is needed, as a fundament, before that minimum can be met, is some level of security and stability. We tend to take that part for granted, but in countries where life is much more hand to mouth, security and stability are far more of a concern. Liberty as we understand it, is only a value for those who can afford it. Spiritual liberty has always been available to any and all humans, as it is an inside value, completely undetermined by outward circumstances. One can be in prison, as St. Paul, for example, and possess absolute spiritual liberty. "The Truth will make you free".

10/13/2006 02:35:00 PM  
Anonymous tsebring said...

Rob,
Interesting points that you make; I certainly agree that the true purpose of liberty is to be enabled to maximize our potential as humans, both for ourselves and for our fellow man. As for the elements that form one's political outlook, I think that they consist primarily of the following:

1. Religious belief. While there are many conservative atheists and liberal Christians, the role of religion in determining one's outlook can't be ignored. This is particularly true of those who are converted as adults, rather than raised religious. The converted believer has the advantage of having discovered the Higher Truth for himself, not from Sunday School; therefore, that Truth works it way deeper into both his conscious and uncounscious being, eventually factoring into his worldview and his decisions. Such a person, concerned with the Big Picture, as Bob has stated, tends toward conservatism. The atheist, if he does not work very hard at forming some kind of unifying truth to live by, will do either of two things: he will latch on to whatever truth seems to fit his circumstances or his state of mind at the time, so truth to him will pretty much change like the tides, or he will slide into the nihilism that Bob is talking about, where he believes in nothing and everything, and anything goes. Either way, that kind of relationship to truth would tend to make one a liberal. I have been on both sides, and this pretty much was the paradigm for my own journey.

2. Early Life Experiences. Snowonpine spoke of the role of early life experience as a determining factor for one's politics. That can't be ignored, either. If you grow up in a comfortable, affuent home with both parents (nothing wrong with that), and you pretty much don't lack for most of your life, you may tend towards conservatism, while if you grow up in a poor, dysfunctional home in a crime-ridden neighborhood, or a war-torn, poverty-ridden Third World country, you may tend towards liberalism. Of course many poor folks become conservatives (Will Rogers,Walter Williams), and many affluent people become liberals (John Kerry), so I would say that early life experience as a factor is limited.

3. Later Life Experiences. By this I mean adult experiences like work, marriage, and raising kids, as well as negative life experiences that bring the suffering that I spoke of earlier. I tend to think that, in later life, this is the most powerful of the factors. Work and family, being experiences that produce maturity, tend to gravitate one towards conservatism, while being single, divorced, unemployed, chronically ill, or subject to other destabilizing events that for some produce resentment and bitterness can pull one towards liberalism (not everyone becomes bitter in these circumstances, which gets into personality; see below).

4. Personality. Though this factor is very shaky as a real political litmus test, it can't be ignored either. I believe that the Type A personality, being more authoritative and simplistic, tends toward the conservative, while the type B, being more laid-back and complexity-loving, tends toward the liberal. However, just to show you how limited that is, I'm a Type B, and I'm conservative (though I was liberal). Also, being happy vs being unhappy can play a role. For instance, a person consumed with bitterness and resentment, who does not deal well with life's stresses, can tend to be liberal, while a person who is fairly content with their life and fairly resilient can tend to be more conservative (with exceptions, of course).

5. Formative influences (Parents, teachers, peers, professors). I think this is the biggest one of all for most people, as least in their younger years. I have come to believe that the average person does not learn to fully think for themselves until their late 20's, hence the variability and the gullibility of most college-age folks in terms of politics. For most people, the Later Life Experiences tend to erase the influences of the significant others, but there are some that just can't break free of the parents' beliefs, for whatever reason.

10/13/2006 02:59:00 PM  
Anonymous tsebring said...

..."In countries where life is much more hand to mouth, security and stability are far more of a concern. Liberty as we understand it, is only a value for those who can afford it"

Very true, when you are speaking of outward liberty vs inward, and I believe you do make that distinction. However, when a corrupt or Marxist government hoards all of the foreign aid and institutes crushing Marxist land reforms that force people off their lands (like Mugabe), or when liberals in the developed world enact protectionist laws, the people will never have a chance to reach that point where they can go beyond hand to mouth security and strive for true liberty. Security is often a suffocating blanket by which people are kept dependent on the government or foreign aid, and never allowed to reach their potential as humans. Only free enterprise can lead to true liberty. The UN has to get some balls and put pressure on tyrannies that crush liberty, but not much chance of that, I guess.

And yes, inner liberty, such as Paul had, can be had even when outward liberty is lacking. Read Angus Kinnear's "Against the Tide", the biography of Chinese preacher Watchman Nee, for a good example.

10/13/2006 03:24:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Joseph said..."There is a kind of minimum average income level required in a population in order for democracy to begin to thrive.What is needed, as a fundament, before that minimum can be met, is some level of security and stability. We tend to take that part for granted, but in countries where life is much more hand to mouth, security and stability are far more of a concern. Liberty as we understand it, is only a value for those who can afford it."

To put it politely, Bollocks. Check your North American History, the colonies (with the brief exception of the Pilgrims, who quickly corrected themselves) had liberty and democracy from the first settlement on, and they had neither a minimum income, nor security. Same with the Pioneers. Doesn't hold water, never has - but as fine folks such as FDR realized, it's a great tool of a line for Demagoging with.

10/14/2006 05:35:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Rob said...

"Yet many, many atheists are Libertarians, and hard-core ones at that." and the smarter ones are Objectivists ;-).

" So, while I may think individual men are "fallen" in some sense, I don't think humanity is fallen in any way." curious about what you'd think of my comments on Gagdads Post for tomorrow (Time Travel!)

"Without freedom, there can be no improvement in either individual humans or human nature. Only free and open societies have the possibility to move our thinking forward. " With you all the way on that, however J.S. Mill I've got a number of reservations about. There are many statements of his, that taken out of context are very telling, insightful and seeming wise, but within the context of his overall Utilitarian philosophy, I think he is very corrosive to the foundations of Liberty.


tsebring said...
"While there are many conservative atheists and liberal Christians, the role of religion in determining one's outlook can't be ignored. " But if there can be liberal and conservative Atheists and Christians, it doesn't seem that their religious belief have THAT much impact on their conceptions of liberty, political or spiritual.

"The converted believer has the advantage of having discovered the Higher Truth for himself, not from Sunday School" Here I think that you're getting closer to the mark, since the conscious choice of a religion or philosophy is going to necessarily be a more thoroughly considered decision, it's ramifications more taking into consideration.

" Personality. Though this factor is very shaky as a real political litmus test, it can't be ignored either. I believe that the Type A personality, being more authoritative and simplistic, tends toward the conservative, while the type B, being more laid-back and complexity-loving, tends toward the liberal." This is where I think that Thomas Sowell's "A Conflict of Visions" is so apt. He uses the evaluation of the Constrained and Unconstrained Vision as determining which side a person is going to lean towards. When I first read it, I was annoyed that he used the term Vision instead of Philosophy, but what he's talking about is a pre-philosophical cast of thought that is primarily focused on either outcomes (leans left) or processes (leans right) in that the constrained believe that Human Nature (not actions but the framework for them) is fixed and not to be monkeyed around with. They believe that people have a natural ability for greatness and depravity, and Virtues must be taught and developed and Laws defined to maintain the ability to achieve liberty both within and without.

Those with the Unconstrained Vision, don't feel constrained by any belief in Human Nature as something that is fixed, but believe instead that it is malleable and indeed if put in the right circumstances and environment the people will automatically and naturally improve (Joseph?) - not surprisingly, they tend towards determinism. But a thief who hasn't the opportunity or present inclination to steal is still intellectually and spiritually a thief.

Being blown into an acceptable course of behavior by prevailing winds of events is NOT equivalent to choosing, plotting and steering your course because you see it to be the Right course to take. And that is why without the liberty to evaluate and choose your beliefs and actions, while you may be set in pleasant circumstances, you will not understand liberty, or be in any meaningful way, Free.

10/14/2006 09:10:00 AM  
Anonymous joseph said...

Van,
America is an unusual exception to this fact which Zakaria writes about, one which he accounts for. So I actually wasn't speaking of America, but of most other countries that have made a transition from various forms of dictatorships to democratic forms of government. The American experience is unique in this regard.

10/14/2006 02:56:00 PM  

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