Tuesday, June 17, 2014

It All Starts with Dictionary Abuse

Everyone is in favor of common sense, right?

No. In fact, I think this is another one of those questions that distinguishes left from right. You could say that conservatism is simply the conservation of common sense, of time-rested general agreement about the Way Things Are and how to order our lives around that (in other words, the world, AKA reality, comes first, not our ideas, dreams, and fantasies).

The leftist would respond, "maybe, but a great deal of oppression and stupidity also get imported along with the good, so there is no intrinsic reason to defer to the past. We can always do better."

People don't generally think too deeply about common sense, which is one reason why it can be difficult to defend when challenged, as in "who are you to say that marriage must be limited to members of the opposite sex?"

That's not an honest question; rather, it is simply the aggressive abandonment of common sense. We know this, because one might just as well ask, "why limit marriage to just two people, or to human beings, or to living things? Why do you arbitrarily exclude robots, or sheep, or inflatable partners?" Once you go down that path, you've abandoned common sense, so there's no end to it.

This book I'm working on, The Common Mind, goes to this question of common sense. It's actually a collection of essays, each devoted to a thinker who championed the common sense of Christian humanism in the face of the hostile and regressive forces that are always arrayed against it, in every age.

Yeah, it's always been this way, and always will be. There are always miserable souls such as Obama who want to fundamentally transform the world, and in so doing conduct a frontal assault on common sense. It's kind of hopeless, but no more hopeless than life itself. In the words of Samuel Johnson,

"It remains that we retard what we cannot repel, that we palliate what we cannot cure. Life may be lengthened by care, though death cannot be ultimately defeated." At best we may give "longevity to that which its own nature forbids to be eternal." Which implies that the left will ultimately succeed in destroying the United States, just as death will succeed in taking us all, but so what? It remains for us to do the right thing for its own sake, not for some secondary gain.

It's the same with language. One of the bases of the left is its relentless attack on language, which is the vehicle of common sense. It is as if there is a conserving and integrating force in language, to go along with a dis-integrating and catabolic force. In reality, both are needed -- conservation and change -- in order to progress.

But progress does not and cannot occur by destroying the mechanism of conservation, by undermining the plain meaning of words. Thus, one could say that there is nothing quite as conservative as a dictionary; likewise, on the political plane one could say that there is nothing as conservative as the Constitution (which naturally allows for constitutional change, just as language allows for new words like duhhh!).

But this simple common sense will not do for the left. For example, the Constitution plainly forbids discrimination on the basis of race, so the left (to paraphrase Justice Scalia) is in the position of arguing that the 14th amendment actually requires what it expressly forbids. In order to accept the argument, one must simply abandon common sense.

In the chapter on Chesterton, I was reminded of his comment to the effect that most all philosophy since Aquinas requires us to accept one insane premise. Once we have done so, the rest of the insanity follows with ineluctable logic. It makes it easy, because one doesn't have the burden of remembering dozens of lies. Rather, so long as one assimilates the first, the rest flows along from entailment to entailment. Which Adam learned the hard way.

"Since the modern world began in the sixteenth century, nobody's system of philosophy has really corresponded to everybody's sense of reality" (Chesterton). Which is interesting right there, because why not? If there is a common reality and a common human nature, then why can't we all agree on a common philosophy?

One reason why Aquinas' philosophy is so attractive is that it comports with common sense. It is "the philosophy of sanity since it is integrative, universal, sensible, and reiterative of the common understanding of experience rooted in the senses and refined by reason." And what is sanity? It is simply the registration of objective reality, "the universal wholeness that connects man and God, matter and mind, heart and soul."

But again, most modern philosophies begin with "a particular point of view demanding the sacrifice" of sanity. In short, a man must "believe something that no normal man would believe," if it were expressed in a simple and straightforward manner. Which is precisely why leftism must always lie about itself, and why it must so relentlessly abuse the poor dictionary.

Thus, modern philosophies reflect and assist "the breakdown of reality, the disintegration of belief and the fragmentation of society."

So yes, liberalism is liberating, but for whom? For the abnormal, the insane, the lacking in common sense, the envious, the angry, the auto-victimized, the sexually confused, the tenured. For the rest of us it is mental slavery, slavery being a symptom of the absence of the rule of natural reason, and denial of any appeal to the court of common sense.

Sticks and stones may break your bones, but abuse of words can really cause an owie to the soul.


Van Harvey said...

"... Which implies that the left will ultimately succeed in destroying the United States, just as death will succeed in taking us all, but so what? It remains for us to do the right thing for its own sake, not for some secondary gain."

Yep. Going through life demanding "What difference will it make?!" is the strategy of someone who wants to do whatever they want without having to worry about people insisting that right and wrong should make any difference.

Gagdad Bob said...

Nor does the left accept the plain meaning of the our enemy's words.

mushroom said...

I focused on the same excerpt as Van. It's pretty disturbing in one sense, even though we know it's inevitable. We would like to think that common sense would hold its high ground, but maybe there is a higher peak yet ahead.

Our new anthem may be neither Key nor Greenwood but Sedaka singing, "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do".

Gagdad Bob said...

Then again, it can be fun being a member of the Remnant. It's like a secret underground society or something. Indeed, like the legendary Raccoons of Old!

mushroom said...

Maybe the only reason France has survived as long as it has is that they once adhered to the Academy's control of la langue francais.

Battling reality is psychically painful. Sin hurts. The wise keep telling us, and we keep refusing to listen.

Gagdad Bob said...

Maybe we should form a nonlocal chapter of the Village Green Preservation Society.

mushroom said...

I agree. I don't think it will be all bad. After all, the thing about interesting times is that they are interesting.

julie said...

Yes, that same quote was going to be my starting point today, too.

I've been reminding myself lately that whatever happens, all we can do is go about our lives as best we can.

Van Harvey said...

... but then of course 'interesting' is open to a wide number of associations. The roads of Iraq for instance: having numerous heads rolling about or adorning pikes. Interesting, yes, but... those are the sorts of interesting times, or at least places, I'd much prefer boredom to.

julie said...

Indeed. Though perhaps Mushroom's point was that they are interesting precisely because they are not normal, and that at some point a semblance of "ordinary" life will take over once more. Which isn't to say ordinary as we've ever known it, since in truth our lives are the very definition of extraordinary, but rather ordinary as life has been known throughout most of human history.


Is it beer o'clock yet?

Van Harvey said...

Julie said "Is it beer o'clock yet? "

It is! Somewhere. And if someone objects, saying that it isn't technically Beer O'Clock in your location, accuse them of being a localist!!!.

That oughta shutemup. #NewDirectionsInLeftism


julie said...


mushroom said...

The curse of interesting times refers to exactly the kind of chaos and senseless slaughter that's going on in Iraq. But, like Julie said, interesting times also mark a pivotal time in history that can produce, ultimately, positive outcomes.

The Founders lived in interesting times. So did Louis XVI. There was a lot of suffering, but even in the case of the French Revolution, some good eventually developed from it.

Van Harvey said...

Mushroom said "...The curse of interesting times refers to ..."


(I know)

(This particular time around, however, I'm opting for boredom.)

(Not that my 'opts' are likely to hold any weight, or keep me from getting involved in the interesting times a'brewing.)

(It's just that all in all, I'd prefer boring times so that I can pursue perusing other people's interesting times.)

(Unfortunately God enjoys good comedy.)

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

After they abuse the dictionary they murder the words.
Until they eventually annihilate the language.
Of course, the liberation than lefties imagine as a result of this are actually the chains of slavery.

Is it just me or is the lies from the Obama admin. More idiotic than usual?

Magister said...

More years ago than I care to remember, I had a conversation with a street Marxist after class. It was a kind of debate, and I just tried to point out the contradictions and absurdities of what she was saying. To her credit, she acknowledged the absurdities and lies. When I asked her why, then, did she continue to support the movement, she said, with impatience and irritability, as if I just did not "get" it, that "it's POLITICAL." That is, "I know this is a lie, but I'm going to continue to push it in order to wrench reality in its direction." In the direction of a lie, you understand!

It was a time in my life when I didn't want to go for the ideological jugular. I just looked bemused and skeptical and bought her a beer.

Magister said...

Ben, it's not you. They are more idiotic than usual. I think they think they can get away with anything now. As they see November 14 looming, they're going for broke. We should expect even more brazen and idiotic things from them in the next four months.

Magister said...

This post reminds me of Burke:

A spirit of innovation is generally the result of a selfish temper and confined views. People will not look forward to posterity, who never look backward to their ancestors.

Note that he doesn't say futurity, which is neutral. He says "posterity," i.e. the future laid down in conscious relation to the past and present.

Van Harvey said...

Magister said "When I asked her why, then, did she continue to support the movement, she said, with impatience and irritability, as if I just did not "get" it, that "it's POLITICAL." "

I had an exchange like that last week, where this fellow, who was in total leftist righteous superiority mode, demanding that I produce statistics to prove that the Free Market would benefit kids and seniors more than Soc Sec & Medicaid, was infuriated with I told him I might bother making some calculations if he could first explain how the Constitution, let alone Justice and Decency, ok'd stealing for good intentions.

Still in full superiority mode, he said "The constitution also once claimed that African Americans were 3/5 of a person". I replied that he was Wrong again, that it referred only to "three fifths of all other Persons", which infuriated the pro-slavery members by refusing to introduce either race or slavery into the law of the land, and gave him a link to what Frederick Douglass had to say on the matter.

He followed that with how my 'precious constitution' denied woman the right to vote. I told him, no, it leaves voting up to the states. He followed that up, still in full leftie mocking mode, with an "So the original Constitution allowed women and people of African descent to vote? Can you link me to something that will make me unlearn all the history that I have known to this point?"

Which I of course did (here and here) and then he replied about how my 'your social darwinist views' would end life as we know it. When I explained that Herbert Spencer's Social Darwinism was not only opposed to everything I'd been explaining to him, but actually underlay nearly every view he'd been prattling on about, the irony was lost on him. He actually came back and said that it doesn't matter what happened a century ago (except for slavery and women suffrage?), or what Social Darwinism Actually meant (except to accuse me of it?), only with what people like him 'knew' it meant today.


The reply I gave to that unfortunately got no response. I suppose that Facts are only fun to play with when they don't blow up in your face.

Coleridge's 'motive-hunting of motiveless Malignity' rarely fails to come to mind when 'debating' the Pro-Regressive, Left or Right.

Magister said...

Feelin' you on that one, Van.

Given the whole "de-industrialization" meme, I think the term "pro-regressive" could get traction.

Truth will out.