Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Life Amidst the Postmodern Ruins

Another post or two about Orthodoxy before we move on. This was another "speed post," so forgive any typos or other infelicities of language....

I was very impressed with how Chesterton, although writing in 1907, had already diagnosed the pathologies of the left. In fact, his ideas mirror exactly what Polanyi wrote some 50 years later about the "moral inversion" of the left, i.e., the dangerous combination of radical skepticism and an unhinged, ruthless moral perfectionism unbound from tradition.

Chesteron writes of the socialist that although he may have a "large and generous heart," it is "not a heart in the right place." And only a human being can have a heart dangerously set in the wrong location. It generally occurs "when a religious scheme is shattered" as a result of their intense skepticism. When this happens, "it is not merely the vices that are let loose." Rather, "the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage." Just because someone has a moral code, it hardly means that they are moral.

I have written a number of posts on the dynamics of this pathological process, which I thought that Polanyi had been the first to recognize. But Chesterton also writes of how "the modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone." Most every destructive policy put into place by the left can be traced to some Christian virtue gone mad -- i.e., feed the hungry, so steal from "the rich" and call it "giving," or defending abortion on the basis of the sanctity of "liberty," or encouraging every manner of deviancy under the guise of "tolerance." They have the bizarre idea that it is "easier to forgive sins" if "there are no sins to forgive" -- except for the sin of believing they exist.

Or the leftist might extract and focus upon a single virtue to the exclusion of others, which creates a dangerous imbalance, for example, "a merely mystical and almost irrational virtue of charity." John Edwards' campaign is based almost solely upon this idea, but again, what he calls "charity," the rest of us call coercion. And boundless charity in the absence of any obligation on the part of the recipient is a recipe for anthropological disaster.

Schuon would agree with Chesterton that the leftist is "really the enemy of the human race -- because he is so human." Of all the animals, only a human being can sink beneath himself -- and even beneath the animals. And he does so primarily by imagining that an animal is all he is, for when human intelligence is in the service of animal instinct, the result is hell on earth -- and bear in mind that Chesterton was writing before the great atheistic movements of the 20th century -- the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, Communist China, et al, so he clearly grasped the principle before it actually played out in history.

And Chesterton could prophecize in this manner because he could see directly into the "principial" world of timeless truth embodied in revelation. Again, revelation instantiates metaphysical truths with which it is possible to "think beyond the surface," both in space and in time, interior and exterior. Thus, unlike postmodernists who believe that "perception is reality," he writes that "man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert -- himself." This leads to the erosion of universality and the elevation of particularity to the ultimate -- which quickly devolves into nihilism.

Conversely, the part that a man doubts "is exactly the part he ought not doubt -- the Divine Reason." But this inversion obviously persists -- indeed, it is practically the fault line that runs between left and right -- and is responsible for a range of pathological ideas, from multiculturalism, to moral relativism, to the belief in "self esteem," to reducing standards in general to achieve some preconceived end.

The left also practices a "false humility." After all, it can sound like a plea for humility when the postmodern multiculturalist asks, "who am I to say that I can possess the truth, or that one culture is better than another?" But this attitude is a "more poisonous humility than the wildest prostrations of the ascetic." That is -- and this is apparently a subtle point, so listen closely -- "The old humility was a spur that prevented man from stopping; not a nail in his boot that prevented him from going on. For the old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether."

This is one of the reasons that the left habitually attacks motives instead of substance, for they first undermine the idea that you can know anything objectively, and then insist that the purpose of knowledge is domination and oppression anyway. For the last several years, "job one" of of the left has been to make us doubtful of our aims in Iraq, in the hope that we will simply become demoralized and surrender.

But they do this so selectively that it is mind-boggling. For example, surely there was more credible evidence that Saddam had WMD than that the earth is undergoing catastrophic manmade warming. But in both cases, their main argument is that people who disagree with them have venal motives. In the case of President Bush, he really wanted to invade Iraq because he thought it would somehow enrich his already wealthy "friends." And in the case of global warming, those who reject the theory are simply on the payroll of Bush's wealthy friends. So for all practical purposes, humility is not possible on the left, since their conspiratorial form of thought means that they always have the answer. And it sounds humble to the stupid, since they are always opposed to the intrinsically racist-sexist-homophobic America.

So, just as the left engages in the moral inversion of detaching virtue from tradition, they engage in a weird "cognitive inversion" that combines "intellectual helplessness" with a kind of monstrously arrogant omniscience. This is how you can spend some $100,000 plus on an elite university education, only to learn that truth doesn't exist and we possess it.

Once again, Chesterton was a prophet with regard to the problem of the "tenured radicals" who have hijacked our higher educational system: "The peril is that the human intellect is free to destroy itself. Just as one generation could prevent the very existence of the next generation, by all entering a monastery or jumping into the sea, so one set of thinkers can in some degree prevent further thinking by teaching the next generation that there is no validity in any human thought." How did he know about the narcissistic boomers 40 years before the first one was born?

Chesterton writes that "there is a thought that stops thought. That is the only thought that ought to be stopped." It is the thoroughly irrational thought that our thoughts have no relationship to reality and that truth is therefore inaccessible to human beings. This radical skepticism was "the ultimate evil against which religious authority was aimed," which is why, "in so far as religion is gone, reason is going. For they are both of the same primary and authoritative kind. They are both methods of proof that cannot themselves be proved. And in the act of destroying the idea of Divine authority we have largely destroyed the idea of that human authority by which we do a long-division sum. With a long and sustained tug we have attempted to pull the mitre off pontifical man; and his head has come off with it."

For if the converse were true -- i.e., the blind materialism of natural selection -- "it does not destroy religion but rationalism," for it nullifies the mind that can know truth. It is the equivalent of "I am not; therefore I cannot think."

Thus, "it is vain for eloquent atheists to talk of the great truths that will be revealed if once we see free thought begin." For we have already seen the effects of this gloriously unbound, "free" thought, since the results are strewn all around us. Indeed, we must try to get through the day -- and our lives -- by making our way through its ruins.

36 Comments:

Anonymous dloye said...

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/worldnews.html?in_article_id=495538&in_page_id=1811 Ok, completely off topic, but what to make of this? What sort of seeking/insanity leads to this sort of building? I'll get back and read the post, I promise.. Now have a munchkin on the loose, so time is ... whoops..

11/27/2007 08:49:00 AM  
Anonymous dloye said...

Munchkin in crib.. now let me try to make a link that will work. Eighth Wonder or virtue run amok?

11/27/2007 09:43:00 AM  
Blogger James said...

The old humility was a spur that prevented man from stopping; not a nail in his boot that prevented him from going on. For the old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether

I think my humility is wrong. It sure does take a long time to get rid of this garbage.

11/27/2007 09:46:00 AM  
Anonymous will said...

>>Chesteron writes of the socialist that although he may have a "large and generous heart," it is "not a heart in the right place<<

I would think misplaced hearts brewed up this ridiculous and dangerous Palestinian/Israeli "peace summit" in Annapolis.

A misplaced heart relies on sensory sentiment and feelings, obviating the heart's highest capacity - insight and genuine compassion, which lead to appropriate action. Without the insight, a misplaced heart glosses over, or does not acknowledge at all, the existence of evil. Consequently, evil is given a seat at the table. And once you allow evil an entrance . . .

11/27/2007 09:48:00 AM  
Blogger Robin Starfish said...

Entranced
solitary man
solitary confinement
behind the green door

11/27/2007 10:57:00 AM  
Blogger Amber Lee said...

Wow, I was just looking for Thanksgiving limericks, and I found your blog. It's frightening.

11/27/2007 10:58:00 AM  
Blogger vogz said...

The only thing I'd add is an elaboration on the Single Virtue Overfocus; that the combination of skepticism and wild virtues becomes especially dangerous when wedded to a Theory, with the potential for depravity being directly proportional to how scientific the Theory sounds.

Walker Percy alludes to this in a conversation from The Thanatos Syndrome:

"If you are a lover of mankind in the abstract like Walt Whitman, who wished the best for Mankind, you will probably do no harm and might even write good poetry and give pleasure. If you are a theorist of Mankind like Rousseau or Skinner, who believes he understands man's brain and in the solitariness of his study or laboratory writes books on the subject, you are also probably harmless and might even contribute to human knowledge. But if you put the two together, a lover of Mankind and a theorist of Mankind, what you've got now is Robespierre or Stalin or Hitler and the Terror, and millions dead for the good of Mankind."

Clearly he foresaw the postmodern environmentalist movement.

11/27/2007 11:00:00 AM  
Blogger Bob said...

I like Will's point. I read somewhere that Yasser Arafat dined at the White House more than any other guest during Bill and Hill's days there.

11/27/2007 11:09:00 AM  
Anonymous will said...

"Tenderness leads to the gas jets" - the allegedly "insane" priest Father Smith in W. Percy's The Thanatos Syndrome.

11/27/2007 11:17:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

"Wow, I was just looking for Thanksgiving limericks, and I found your blog. It's frightening."

Wha...??? I'd love to see the search term she used to end up here.

"There once was a turkey from Enis..."

As to it being frightening, well, Truth is catastrophic (as Bob so aptly put it recently).

11/27/2007 11:31:00 AM  
Blogger vogz said...

Will,

You got it.

Father Smith's line was actually "Tenderness leads to the gas chamber" and the phrase is woven throughout the story. Percy actually gleaned the phrase from a Flannery O'Connor essay.

11/27/2007 11:35:00 AM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

That's a bizarre temple, dloye. It is beautiful, but it does not feel original.

I think my humility is wrong. It sure does take a long time to get rid of this garbage.

Yeah, thats the truth, man. The enemy loves layin' caltrops. Guess that's what the shoes of the Gospel of peace are about?

The more I read (of both books, Everlasting Man and Orthodoxy) the more I'm convinced the man (Chesterton) WAS a prophet. Both he and Lewis.

Wow, I was just looking for Thanksgiving limericks, and I found your blog. It's frightening.

Dante, thy Virgil awaits...

11/27/2007 11:42:00 AM  
Anonymous Late Convert said...

Wow, I was just looking for Thanksgiving limericks, and I found your blog. It's frightening.

Man, I can relate! I mean, like, who among us doesn't look for Thanksgiving limericks, you know, five days after Thanksgiving?

11/27/2007 02:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Cousin Dupree said...

Amber's annual gimmick
Was to recite a Thanksgiving limerick
But she stumbled on One Cosmos
And got frightened by what Bob knows
'Cause in Knoxville there's hardly a dimmer chick

11/27/2007 03:47:00 PM  
Anonymous tapuwasi loves to kiss said...

Bob--

We are intelligent animals and of course reproduction is in many ways the main event for us, just as among the beasts.

That doesn't preclude our spirituality (or that of the beasts). We are smart mammals but mammals we are. Not so great a divide between dog and man.

It is all on a spectrum, all of the same cloth.

11/27/2007 04:52:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I'm sure your dog agrees.

11/27/2007 05:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Late Convert said...

It is all on a spectrum, all of the same cloth.

Woof!

11/27/2007 05:14:00 PM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

I leave my comment in an asterisk*

11/27/2007 05:47:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"When this happens, "it is not merely the vices that are let loose." Rather, "the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage." "

Indeed - virtues without Virtue, can lead nowhere else but towards,

"Of all the animals, only a human being can sink beneath himself -- and even beneath the animals. And he does so primarily by imagining that an animal is all he is, for when human intelligence is in the service of animal instinct, the result is hell on earth... "

and such people will eagerly "...spend some $100,000 plus on an elite university education, only to learn that truth doesn't exist and we possess it."

and not only admit to the purchase, but boast about it.

Ugh... quick, pass the Tums....

11/27/2007 08:19:00 PM  
Anonymous ximeze said...

Nice job Cuz, now THAT's talent!

11/27/2007 08:35:00 PM  
Anonymous tsebring said...

Yes, the road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions. Marx just wanted everyone to be equal...what's wrong with that? Oh, yeah, 50 million dead, forgot about that...I guess that when people don't want to be forced to be equal, you have to....kill them. And if people don't want to buy into global warming or multiculturalism, you...silence them. And if people don't want to follow Sharia law, you...kill all of them. Well, I don't want to do any of those things...so...try and catch me :D

11/27/2007 08:38:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Will said "I would think misplaced hearts brewed up this ridiculous and dangerous Palestinian/Israeli "peace summit" in Annapolis."

Oh, you gno it. A farce indeed - just what do they think even a successful summit will bring? Can't you just picture Hamass's press release? "Ah! They shook hands! On TV! We have no recourse, but to say, we're sorry, and will start being good! Peace be upon the infidels, and don't forget...Death to America!"

11/27/2007 08:41:00 PM  
Anonymous tsebring said...

There once was a wise man named Bob
who considered it his righteous job
to enlighten mankind
with his vertical mind
and hit leftism right in the gob.

11/27/2007 08:46:00 PM  
Anonymous tsebring said...

tap,
I don't sniff my friends' butts, pee on hydrants, and bite people. I think the divide is a bit larger than you might imagine.

11/27/2007 08:51:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Vogz said "...If you are a theorist of Mankind like Rousseau or Skinner, who believes he understands man's brain and in the solitariness of his study or laboratory writes books on the subject, you are also probably harmless and might even contribute to human knowledge..."

I don't doubt your intent, and I do get the point... and sure, Rousseau was a danger to no one, but his wife... and his children... but among the men of modernity, you'd be hard pressed to find a more root cause for the destruction of modern education and philosophy than Rousseau. The inspiration behind Kant, Hegel and Marx and the torrents of destruction from their time to ours, have a main tributary source in Rueso.

Harmless? Nothing could be further from the truth. Contribute to human knowledge? Only to its destruction.

11/27/2007 08:52:00 PM  
Anonymous tsebring said...

Of course someone like Ahmadinijad or bin Laden may indeed do those things...you may have a point after all, tapuwasi.

11/27/2007 08:54:00 PM  
Anonymous tsebring said...

Rousseau...the Ignoble Savage.

11/27/2007 08:56:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

tsebring said...
"tap, I don't sniff my friends' butts, pee on hydrants, and bite people..."

One senses tapiwoohoo's reaction to readin...(perhaps a bit optimistic) decoding that, as being something along the lines of "What? You don't? Why on earth not?"

wv:oxdthcup - probably true, but a bit rude, veri.

11/27/2007 08:59:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Tee-hee... come for the Thanksgiving, stay for the Limericks.

11/27/2007 09:11:00 PM  
Blogger walt said...

Just for fun:

There was a young man who said, "Though
It seems that I know that I know,
What I would like to see
Is the I that knows me
When I know that I know that I know."

11/28/2007 04:28:00 AM  
Blogger walt said...

Oooops! Alan Watts wrote that.

(Hey: it's early, out here!)

11/28/2007 04:30:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Chesterton writes that "there is a thought that stops thought. That is the only thought that ought to be stopped." It is the thoroughly irrational thought that our thoughts have no relationship to reality and that truth is therefore inaccessible to human beings. This radical skepticism was "the ultimate evil against which religious authority was aimed," which is why, "in so far as religion is gone, reason is going.

That small statement says pretty much everything that's wrong with any ideology that would take away, or limit liberty.

Then again, most leftists no longer understand what liberty is, mistaking it for their own sub-type of freedom, or freedom that fits their particular M.O.
Anything that falls outside of their pervrameters they seek to stifle.

Only the thought that stops thought can bring about such utter depravity, because one must stop thought to accept evil as "good."

Great series of posts, Bob!

11/28/2007 06:03:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Nice photo, Van. I always wondered what you looked like.
You look like a rock star! :^)

A healthy rock star that is (I thought I should clarify).

11/28/2007 06:12:00 AM  
Blogger vogz said...

Van,

Regarding Rousseau you are correct (I am guessing you've read Paul Johnson's Intellectuals too). For the purposes of the story, I have to wonder if Percy inserted his name (and Skinner too) as an ironic point on the word "harmless".

11/28/2007 07:00:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Vogz, No, I haven't read Johnson's book - looks interesting though. I just found that at the end of trail of nearly every rotten thoughts that I tracked down, Rousseau was there looking bloated and smug.

You can take the trail one direct step further back to Descartes, but I have difficulty seeing him as making anything other than honest errors; Rousseau on the other hand, I think knew exactly what he was doing, why, and had a good idea that only bad things would come of his words.

11/28/2007 11:39:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Ben said "A healthy rock star that is (I thought I should clarify)."

;0)

I tried to put a profile pic up when I first moved to blogger, but couldn't get it to work. My 8 yr old came down the other day with her Mom's camera phone & told me she was going to take my portrait... and then wanted to see it somewhere... soooo ... viola!

11/28/2007 11:45:00 AM  

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