Sydney Traditionalist Forum today published Political Correctness and the Death of Education – Requiem for a Dream which argues that we in the West are not supposed to prefer our own culture to other cultures and that the culture of repudiation that rejects our cultural heritage as patriarchal, oppressive, imperialist, etc., makes the notion of aspiring to be well-educated a politically incorrect anachronism.
The liberal cause célèbre of the month has been transgender bathrooms. Before that it was gay marriage. I imagine as a gay man one would have felt very good about that; people coming out to big rallies and the liberal media saying all sorts of nice things about homosexuals. At a college I know of, a gay man was hired by the philosophy department and appointed chief diversity officer. It would be a tremendous scandal if he turned out not to be gay after all! If he were caught embracing a woman in a sexual manner, quelle horreur.
We have seen that feminists throw women under the bus when it comes to Islam’s treatment of women. Cultural relativism trumps any despicable thing one might do to women. Pointing to Sweden’s distinction as having the second-highest number of rapes per 100,000 in the world due to Muslim immigration makes one a racist. Being a Muslim trumps being a woman for most favored status. Being a Muslim trumps our instinct to protect women, at least for liberals/feminists. It even trumps our desire to protect children. Mohammad married a six year old and had sex with her when she was nine. This has not been renounced as far as I know. Pedophilia is to be tolerated if it is practiced by Muslims or at least by Mohammad.
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, most of my students think that the greater horror they can “tolerate” the better people they are – up to and including the Holocaust. I used to tell my students that this was not the intention of their misguided teachers who taught them to be moral and cultural relativists. Now, I wonder if perhaps it was the intention of their teachers. But whether it was or not, it is now the intention of liberals to tolerate any behavior of those with most favored status.
In the nineteen fifties, Lawrence Kohlberg produced a theory of moral development. The three main levels are pre-conventional, conventional and post-conventional. In nineteen eighty-two, Carol Gilligan published In a Different Voice that claimed to add a more feminine perspective to Kohlberg’s theories. Gilligan noted that all the subjects in Kohlberg’s scientific studies were boys. Gilligan wondered what would happen if girls were included.
There are some problems with Gilligan’s research. It seems likely that she never conducted any research. She has been asked to produce the data upon which she based her conclusions but Gilligan refused on the basis of privacy. The requester replied that she would be quite happy to have all the names redacted if in fact there were any names or any details that could lead to identifying the research subjects, but Gilligan declined. So, we have no evidence that any studies were actually conducted.
That being said, Gilligan’s claims have some plausibility. Gilligan contends that little boys tend to favor abstract rules of justice and fairness and imagine that morality can best be served by having one rule that applies to all. The example given is of boys playing baseball. Three strikes and you are out. This is just and fair because the same rules apply to each participant with no favoritism. However, sometimes a participant might cry and be particularly inept. When girls were playing, they were more likely to want to make an exception. They felt sorry for the lame duck. Gilligan contends that the girls tended to favor empathy and compassion over impartial abstract rules. Girls’ moral development would tend to go from selfish, then empathetic within the group, to compassion for all in general.
Thomas Bertonneau’s last posting mentioned that René Girard states that the West is becoming simultaneously more Christian and less Christian. The liberal West has become hyper-aware of the possibility of scapegoating; of picking en masse on an innocent victim. But at the same time the anti-scapegoating message of Christ’s death – making us aware of the ways victims are killed to stop intra-group violence – is missed by the liberal if the victim seems to fall within the class of “persecutor.”
Girard notes in Violence and the Sacred that there are two traditional classes of victim. What one might call the upper and the lower. The lower include all the dispossessed; the POW, the slave, the handicapped, the foreigner; preferably, someone with no family to retaliate when the person is killed. In this manner, the West is more Christian. But the other class of victim found in probably all cultures is the upper; the king or his equivalent social position. When things go wrong, it seems logical to blame the person in charge even if in fact he is innocent. The king is already socially isolated because of his position. The king is exposed and can easily become the minus one against the unity of the mob.
The Christianized West has become aware and solicitous of the lower victims. We pass laws protecting the handicapped and “the weaker sex.” But the West is blind to its tendency to scapegoat anyone belonging to the class of supposed persecutors. It scapegoats with a clear conscience as unaware as any primitive scapegoaters of what they are doing. At times the liberal West makes the same mistake as Nietzsche. It imagines that single victims, the 1%, is the strong, the persecutor, and side with the mob against the few.
One way of describing moral development is in terms of general levels; egocentric, ethnocentric and worldcentric. One starts with an exclusive concern for oneself, then the group – whichever group one identifies with – then a concern for everyone in principle. The Green MEME liberal has a worldcentric developmental level. Their infatuation with egalitarianism can lead to moral and cultural relativism. No moral perspectives are better or worse – all are equal. The same applies to cultures. Cultures are not better or worse, just different.
Moral relativism implies moral nihilism. If one moral perspective is not better than another and you can’t be wrong, then morality is null and void. Cultural relativism says one can’t compare morally the practices of different cultures. Again, there is no question of moral realism or the notion of objective values transcending cultures.
The goal of cultural relativism is tolerance. It is also intended to avoid ethnocentrism and the claim that my culture is better than your culture simply because it is my culture. The liberal in this instance conflates ethnocentrism with bigotry. This is obviously a mistake. One can have a preference for one’s own culture without simply denigrating out of hand other cultures, just as one can have a special love and preference for one’s own parents or children, without making a moral mistake.
The morally worldcentric liberal and cultural relativist seeks to get rid of bigotry by removing ethnocentrism. Thus they make identification with a group a sin. They want to go straight to the transcendent, bypassing the immanent. This is a form of Gnostic world-hatred. It is the situation of the misanthropist who hates and despises all particular human beings while professing love for “humanity” in the abstract. Here is the moral and metaphysical error.
Below is a link to an article by Richard Cocks in People of Shambhala on the topic of emotions and modernity.
My latest at The Brussels Journal is an essay entitled “René Girard on the ‘Ontological Sickness.’” I taught Girard’s I See Satan Fall like Lightning to the students in my “Introduction to Literary Criticism” this semester and found myself re-reading him with a good deal of renewed interest. Girard’s notion of “ontological sickness” explains a good deal about modernity, especially about what is sometimes called “entitlement mentality.” In the essay, I try to show how this is so. The essay includes an interpretation of what I regard as one of the major modern parables about the “ontological sickness,” the HAL subplot of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The link is http://www.brusselsjournal.com/node/5178
I offer a sample below.
In Things Hidden, Girard writes: “Modern people still fondly imagine that their discomfort and unease is a product of the strait-jacket that religious taboos, cultural prohibitions and, in our day, even the legal forms of protection guaranteed by the judiciary place upon desire. They think that once this confinement is over, desire will be able to blossom forth [and that] its wonderful innocence will finally be able to bear fruit.” The modern subject, wanting liberté, inveterately seeks liberation and just as inveterately experiences the belaboring frustration of its every liberating triumph. The “Declaration of Sentiments” (1848) of the Seneca Falls Convention of early feminists employs the essential “liberationist” vocabulary: “Disenfranchisement,” “social and religious degradation,” a mass of the “oppressed,” whose constituents “feel… aggrieved” and who want “rights and privileges” wickedly withheld by malefactors. The male oppressor, as the document asserts, “Has usurped the prerogative of Jehovah himself, claiming it as his right to assign for [the generic woman] a sphere of action, when that belongs to her conscience and her God.” In her much-celebrated speech on the same occasion, Elizabeth Cady Stanton invoked the image of the sovereign self in its absoluteness: “There is a solitude… more inaccessible than the ice-cold mountains, more profound than the midnight sea,” which neither “eye nor touch of man or angel has ever pierced.”
The themes of the usurpation of being and of the radical autonomy of the individual, Girard’s self-inflating quasi-divine ego, come into their necessary conjunction at the inception of what would later take the name of women’s liberation.
The feminist “Declaration” and its adjunct texts were already hackneyed. Jean-Jacques Rousseau had set the tone brilliantly nearly a century before, in his Discourse upon the Origin and the Foundation of the Inequality among Mankind (1754). The second part of Rousseau’s essay begins with the speculative scenario that must have inspired Karl Marx to write The Communist Manifesto (1848 – the same year as the Seneca Falls Convention): “The first man, who, after enclosing a piece of ground, took it into his head to say, ‘This is mine,’ and found people simple enough to believe him, was the true founder of civil society.” Not merely property, but society itself, for Rousseau, is theft or usurpation. Under tutelage of Girard, one might reduce the formula even further: Usurpation is the Other, by the mere fact of his existence. In the sequel, Rousseau, speaking on behalf of the usurped, rouses the mob against the usurper: “How many crimes, how many wars, how many murders, how many misfortunes and horrors, would that man have saved the human species, who pulling up the stakes or filling up the ditches should have cried to his fellows: Be sure not to listen to this imposter; you are lost, if you forget that, the fruits of the earth belong equally to us all, and the earth itself to nobody!”
The world’s myths do not reveal a way to interpret the Gospels, but exactly the reverse: the Gospels reveal to us the way to interpret myth. – René Girard, 1996
Like so many other religions, Christianity worships a perfect man who died a sacrifice for his people and the world, and rose again to life. It’s a scandalous thought, perilous to Christian faith – until one remembers that the fact that so many other religions have shared important aspects of the form of Christianity does not mean that Christianity is false. For, that would be like thinking that the great diversity of animals means that there is no King of Beasts, no archetype of animality, or even no such thing as animation at all (this being analogous to the conclusion – or, rather, more often the unthinking presupposition – of those scholars of religion who are atheist).
The unicorn is mythical. The rhinoceros is not.
I highly recommend the linked essay by Girard. It’s chock full of nourishing nuts.
Introduction. Paul Johnson, usually acute, prejudices the case against Henrik Ibsen (1828 – 1906) in the chapter that he devotes to the instigator of modern drama in his Intellectuals (1993), where the author of Emperor and Galilean (1873) keeps company with the likes of Karl Marx, Berthold Brecht, Jean-Paul Sartre, Ernest Hemingway, and Lillian Hellman. Johnson can classify Ibsen under the pejorative label of an “intellectual” only by ignoring Ibsen’s text and concentrating on the biographical details, which indeed make their subject look like a contemptible piece of work. This criticism of Johnson by no means invalidates Johnson’s definition of an “intellectual.” On the contrary, Johnson has defined the “intellectual” brilliantly and his treatment of the phenomenon must bear instructively on any analysis of Ibsen’s play about Julian the Apostate. According to Johnson, the “intellectual,” who appears first in the person of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, is a politically committed character for whom “a utopian, socialist future [is] plainly a substitute for a religious idealism in which he [cannot] believe.” An intellectual is often the master of a narrow slice of specialized knowledge who, however, feels “no incongruity in moving from [his] own discipline… to public affairs.” Yet when examined closely, even the specialized knowledge of the intellectual, his peculiar theory, tends to be unconvincing and perverse – a type of pleading by the person to himself to protect his theory from inconvenient facts and to preserve his vision of himself as someone qualified to “counsel humanity.” Writing specifically of Rousseau, Johnson remarks that intellectuals see themselves, not as “servants or interpreters of the gods but [as] substitutes” – that is, of both the gods or God and the sacerdotal clerisy. Johnson writes of that “most marked [of the] characteristics of the new secular intellectuals,” namely “the relish with which they subjected religion and its protagonists to critical scrutiny.”
Introduction. A correspondent who has made a notable success in the financial world recently sent me two essays – of which he was the author – that revealed a keen sense of history, anthropology, and literature, as applied to the analysis large-scale economic trends. Whereas my own extremely limited economic knowledge inclined me at first to trepidation, I soon found the writer’s insistence on the human character of markets and money refreshing. I had recently taken over my department’s “Business in Literature” course, in the context of which, at the beginning of the semester, I asked the students to read The Gift (1925) by Marcel Mauss. The Gift proposes, among other theses, that the modern market remains human only insofar as it preserves certain archaic customs related to gift giving. Why does a restaurateur put bread on the table as soon as the guest sits down? When the guest takes the bread, he has accepted a gift, and he must reciprocate the gift-giver somehow – say, by buying a meal. No doubt in a “planned economy,” the planners would reject le pain à volonté as an inefficient allocation of resources, whereupon the transaction would become purely transactional and less-than-fully human. The restaurateur’s gesture contributes, in its gentle way, to civilization. The planner’s rational objection de-civilizes. Indeed, the planner is likely a plunderer also, with a covetous redistributive interest in the guest’s domestic larder.
Like Mauss’s idea of archaic exchange, my correspondent’s idea of finance refused to isolate economics from other institutions including religion. The human element will appear to efficiency experts as exiguous to the economic paradigm when in fact it is essential. By a coincidence, I was also teaching my “Science Fiction” course during the same semester, where a number of the texts dealt with history on a large scale, using the actual historical knowledge as the basis of speculating about the future, near and far. The same texts insisted that civilization tends to be a transient affair – canceled fairly regularly by catastrophes of various kinds, human and natural. My correspondent in his writings indicated a similar intuition. His vision of economic promise found its balance in his wisdom about political miscalculation, ideological perversity, and the unforeseen. I wanted to respond to the writer’s two rich texts. What follows, protecting the correspondent’s anonymity, is that response. I tried to place my appreciation of the essay-writer’s vision in context of my own recent reading, with the emphasis on one or two new titles by the literary anthropologist René Girard, Emmet Scott’s re-consideration of Henri Pirenne’s claim that Classical civilization survived until about 650 AD, in Mohammed and Charlemagne Revisited (2012), and the works of two Edwardian futurists whom I particularly cherish, H. G. Wells and W. Olaf Stapledon. I ask my readers to trust me. The mixture is not as arbitrary as it sounds.