The Deep Structure of Political Deep Structure
Of course I've thought about it before, and probably posted on it as well, but reading Sowell's A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles has got me thinking about it all over again. Many on the left especially object to "labels," but what is it that makes it so easy to divide the majority of people into two ideological camps, with so many seemingly unrelated issues falling into line?
What is the relationship, say, between global warming hysteria, belief in government imposed racial discrimination, and support of the judicial redefinition of marriage? What do these things have in common, if anything?
Or, on the other hand, what is the common thread between limited government, a strong military defense, and freedom of school choice? Why are people who want vouchers also less likely to favor state imposition of "homosexual marriage," while the same folks who believe in catastrophic global warming don't see global jihad as a big problem? Why is Obama much harder on Fox News than Iran? And what's his real problem with the First Amendment?
By the way, this is definitely a thinking-out-loud, Bob's-Unconscious-behind-the-wheel kind of post, in which we try to work out the answers in real time. Therefore, this post may be unusually desultory, since its point will only emerge -- if at all -- gradually. We won't know if we are being guided by an attractor until we get there.
I might add that I really want to be fair to the left. Of course we like to kid, but it really is a curiosity. Why do so many issues hang together in the way they do? For most liberals, the answer is easy: it's because conservatives are evil, greedy, racist-sexist-homophobes. And for most conservatives, it's because liberals are wrong and misguided. But why are we evil or they wrong in such systematic ways? Why does one person imagine that Rush Limbaugh is a "hatemonger," but not see that Keith Olbermann is the real deal? And why are right wing televangelists and left wing tenurevangelists both so tediously predictable?
As I've mentioned before, I don't actually like to get into psychologizing about the motives of my ideological adversaries, except as a last resort or a festive occasion for insultainment. The other day Spengler wrote a piece on Obama's supposed narcissism, which I thought was off the mark for a number of reasons. For one thing, I would guess that most politicians of whatever ideological stripe have issues of narcissism. And narcissism itself is neither here nor there. My endocrinologist strikes me as a narcissist, but he's still a good doctor -- just as someone who is perfectly well adjusted emotionally can have good intentions that result in horribly bad outcomes. Truth is truth, even if a crazy person believes it. Gödel was off his umlaut, but so what? It doesn't render his principles any less timelessly true.
Furthermore, I think it's sufficient to attribute Obama's beliefs to the fact that he's just not that bright or curious. I'm not one of those people who has ever been impressed by his intellect. Without the TOTUS, he appears to be a pompous airhead who says nothing with great authority -- or who makes equivocation and weak-mindedness simulate thoughtfulness. If anything, he seems unusually callow and intellectually immature, arrested at the bong-fueled college bull session stage. He strikes me as profoundly unworldly, a fact that is apparently obscured merely because of his biracial and multicultural background.
But the idea that "travel broadens" must be one of the hoariest cliches imaginable. I have relatives who have traveled much more than I ever want to, but who are morons. In contrast, Jesus never left Israel and Aurobindo never left his room. Yes, it's an obvious point, but it has a deeper dimension as well, for as Schuon was at pains to emphasize, every man at all times has potential access to total truth in the form of the metaphysical principles embodied in orthodox tradition. To say that this truth can be improved upon by going from here to there is to not know what truth or religion are. It is for us to adequate ourselves to truth, not to imagine that it's sitting over there in Kenya or Indonesia.
The problem is, wherever you go, you go there too and spoil everything. As Bertrand Russell -- of all people! -- said, "Every man, wherever he goes, is encompassed by a cloud of comforting convictions, which move with him like flies on a summer day" (quoted in CoV). It is this swarm of flies that we want to try to understand. And "flies" is an apt metaphor, since the real problem, as we shall see, is the gaggle of mind parasites that have lives of their own, and which determine both what we perceive and what we conclude based upon that.
In other words, concept is anterior to percept, so we had better be careful about the organizing principles that rule our psyche. Some of these can be articulated, while others -- often the most important ones -- cannot (see especially Polanyi). One of the problems with the garden-variety intellectual -- and Sowell touches on this -- is that he imagines that all of his preconceptions are susceptible to articulation, when this is naive in the extreme. Thus, he will ridicule the mote in the theist's brain while being clueless about the beam in his own.
Churles Fasberger Queeg is a fine example of this kind of pseudo-thinking, as he is relentless in his simple-minded ridicule of religious believers, while having no insight whatsoever into his own preposterous scientism, nor his ironically un-Darwinian attractions. Since he is plainly not motivated by truth, what is his motivation? To suggest that one may arrive at truth through logic alone is a conviction so childlike that it hardly bears refuting. If that were the case, the progress of science would not require great leaps of creative imagination and synthesis -- of genius and vision. Rather, a computer -- or computer programmer -- could do it. Or, in Churles' case, cut, paste, repeat for nine years. (Images courtesy BabbaZee.)
Back to mind parasites. Sowell uses the analogy of ideas as "chips" one uses to play a sort of game. We may think that we are using the chips, but more often than not, it is the chips that are using us. Individuals may be "carriers of ideas, much as bees inadvertently carry pollen." The bee imagines -- if it could imagine -- that it is consciously doing one thing, when it is really unconsciously doing something far more profound.
We are all carrying around sacks of pollen -- or crocks of other substances -- with which we fertilize our world. We do it in raising our children, in relationships, in various cultural transactions. And one of the critical points is how much pollen we start out with because of our specific cultural heritage.
Again, secular extremists tend to be exceedingly naive about this, hence their attacks on the Judeo-Christian principles that undergird our civilization. They may imagine that they would prefer a culture of pure articulated logic, but this would not only be dangerous, but monstrous. We have thousands of years of cultural capital stored in our psyches, including things that were settled long ago. To reopen everything for negotiation is truly to open a pandora's box. You will never get what is released from the unconscious depths back into any kind of container. You just have no idea what is down there, nor the fine line that exists between civilization and barbarism.
This relates to Sowell's main thesis of the "unconstrained vision" of the left and the "constrained vision" of the right. The French revolution is the quintessential example of the unconstrained vision in action -- the idea that we can eliminate all of man's tacit cultural assumptions and "superstitions," and replace them with the cold light of logic.
As I have mentioned before, traditional religion for the typical believer involves metaphysics without knowledge. In other words, the metaphysics are embedded in the symbolic forms of the religion, which resonate on a deep unconscious (actually, supraconscious) level. In contrast, secularism involves articulated rationality with no wisdom. Again, this is what makes it so very dangerous, as it is not only devoid of wisdom, but systematically attacks the very wisdom tradition that resulted in our uniquely wonderful civilization.
To be continued....