Abstractions, Nightmares, and the Frustrated Gods of the Left
Yesterday we figured out that Descartes has been ruining everybody's lives and eating all our steak. But it's a free country and he can do whatever he wants. Or is it? Free, I mean?
That's one of the themes of Heart of the World, in that it is an inquiry into modern liberalism and its ugly twin, "liberation." (And he includes conservative liberalism in his critique, even though it is merely inadequate where left liberalism is frankly diabolical.)
For example, contemporary liberalism posits human freedom, but it is a radically disconnected freedom that isn't grounded in anything prior, nor is it rendered meaningful by having any telos. In short, it is utterly pointless, just another name for nihilism. Besides, on what basis can we say that freedom is even a good?
In the Christian view, we are first given our freedom; which means that we receive it before we act on it. Conversely, in the secular view, we just take it and act on it. But where did it come from? How did it get here?
This goes to yesterday's penultimate paragraph about how liberalism is founded upon a divided reality, with the false objectivity of bonehead scientism on one side, and the radical subjectivism and relativism of postmodernity on the other. For the former, freedom must be an illusion (since science by definition cannot account for it), while for the latter it reduces to either power or desire (or both in the case of leftist politics).
So, here's the heteroparadox -- or cosmic heresy -- at the heart of contemporary liberalism: "on the one hand, Descartes turns to the subject, making the human subject dominant in determining what is to count truly as an object, or as objective." Again, sounds harmless enough. Man is the measure of all things, and all that.
However, "in making the human subject dominant, he simultaneously eliminates what is distinctly subjective about the human subject." In other words, he turns the human subject itself into a kind of object, being that it corresponds with a reality conceived of as mechanical and mathematical. Or in other words, the subject is liberated only to be pulled right back down into the object; or, quality reduces to quantity, semantics to syntax, reality to appearances.
Remember Marshall McLuhan's famous crack about the medium being the message? Well, in this case the method is the message. That's right, the scientific method, which seems so free of content, is the message if it is detached from the real world of the human subject.
Come to think of it, Al Whitehead warned of the same thing in Science and the Modern World, and probably in Adventures of Ideas and Modes of Thought as well if I remember correctly. And in fact, the whole thrust of Schindler's argument leads in a process direction which for some reason he seems to find a bit uncomfortable, but we'll fix that. No worries.
Back to the Cartesian Split: it "involves at once a mechanizing of the meaning of objectivity and a setting aside of subjectivity as irrelevant, indeed as intrusive..."
So, what does this orphaned and unwanted subjectivity do? It obviously still exists, only now untethered to any comprehensive view of reality. I'll tell you what it does: it runs wild all over the place while flattering itself with the name "liberation." It ruins everybody's lives and eats all our steak.
I don't know about you, but back in college I learned such idiocies as "perception is reality" so you can't judge other lifestyles and people and cultures and stuff! This liberal lunacy is an inevitable consequence of a metaphysic that renders subjectivity completely unhinged from any objective reality.
People talk about the division between red and blue, or liberal and conservative, but think of the more primordial divide between the engineering or business departments and the gender studies or queer theory departments. That is an unbridgeable cosmic abyss, and it all goes back to the idea that the human subject is anything we want it to be, because it is not first received as gift, but rather, just this inexplicable thing we act on.
This goes to the deepest of depths, in that for the Christian, essence precedes existence, while for the modern liberal existence precedes essence. In other words, for the Christian, since we receive our being from elsewhere, we are who we damn well are before we act on our freedom. But contemporary liberals make themselves into what that are. In short, they become their own gods, since they give the form to their own existence.
But even here they are never consistent, since they never run out of excuses as to why they can't be who they want to be. They are gods, to be sure, but very frustrated gods. There is structural racism, or campus rape, or gender oppression, or birth control that isn't free, or "marriage inequality," or the "wage gap," or oppressive "religious freedom," etc. It's always something!
Some god. Some freedom. It is why the so-called freedom of the left always results in less freedom. It is why the denial of sexual reality leads directly to the Cake Police and the Pizza Thugs. The little gods need a big machine-god to force reality into a shape that pleases them.
I'm a little lazy this morning, so we'll just leave off with a summary quote by Schindler:
"Thus Descartes' vaunted claim of a method essentially neutral toward any content already and in principle favors an ontology which primitively separates subject and object and dichotomizes objectivity and subjectivity."
An airy abstraction at one end, an all too concrete nightmare at the other.