Liberty is an inherently offensive lifestyle. Living in a free society guarantees that each one of us will see our most cherished principles and beliefs questioned and in some cases mocked. That psychic discomfort is the price we pay for basic civic peace. It's worth it. It's a pragmatic principle. Defend everyone else's rights, because if you don't there is no one to defend yours. -- MaxedOutMama

I don't just want gun rights... I want individual liberty, a culture of self-reliance....I want the whole bloody thing. -- Kim du Toit

The most glaring example of the cognitive dissonance on the left is the concept that human beings are inherently good, yet at the same time cannot be trusted with any kind of weapon, unless the magic fairy dust of government authority gets sprinkled upon them.-- Moshe Ben-David

The cult of the left believes that it is engaged in a great apocalyptic battle with corporations and industrialists for the ownership of the unthinking masses. Its acolytes see themselves as the individuals who have been "liberated" to think for themselves. They make choices. You however are just a member of the unthinking masses. You are not really a person, but only respond to the agendas of your corporate overlords. If you eat too much, it's because corporations make you eat. If you kill, it's because corporations encourage you to buy guns. You are not an individual. You are a social problem. -- Sultan Knish

All politics in this country now is just dress rehearsal for civil war. -- Billy Beck

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Fight Evil. Speak Up.

While I was working on the California project I didn't have a lot of spare time, but as I've said before I tend to read a great deal. I took three books with me; a pulp sci-fi novel, Ayn Rand's Philosophy: Who Needs It, and Theodore Dalrymple's Life at the Bottom - the book James Lileks characterized:
“Bracing” does not describe it, anymore than “Brisk” describes the sensation of a bucket of lemon juice poured on a sucking chest wound.
You could say much the same about Rand's collection of essays.

No wonder so much of the population of the world avoids thinking about this stuff. It's remarkably unpleasant to immerse yourself in much of it. Sucking chest wound, indeed.

Dalrymple describes the life of the British underclass vividly, and in great detail. He describes the self-destructive behavior he observes on a daily basis, and attributes it to one, specific source: the leftist intelligentsia.
Human behavior cannot be explained without reference to the meaning and intentions people give to their acts and omissions; and everyone has a Weltanshauung, a worldview, whether he knows it or not. It is the ideas my patients have that fascinate - and, to be honest, appall - me: for they are the source of their misery.

Their ideas make themselves manifest even in the language they use. The frequency of locutions of passivity is a striking example. An alcoholic, explaining his misconduct while drunk, will say, "The beer went mad." A heroin addict, explaining his resort to the needle, will say, "Heroin's everywhere." It is as if the beer drank the alcoholic, or the heroin injected the addict.

Other locutions plainly serve an exculpatory function and represent a denial of agency and therefore of personal responsibility. The murderer claims the knife went in or the gun went off. The man who attacks his sexual consort claims that he "went into one" or "lost it," as if he were the victim of a kind of epilepsy of which it is the doctor's duty to cure him. Until the cure, of course, he can continue to abuse his consort - for such abuse has certain advantages for him - safe in the knowledge that he, not his consort, is the true victim.

I have come to see the uncovering of this dishonesty and self-deception as an essential part of my work. When a man tells me, in explanation of his anti-social behavior, that he is easily led, I ask him if he was ever easily led to study mathematics or the subjunctives of French verbs. Invariably the man begins to laugh: the absurdity of what he has said is immediately apparent to him. Indeed, he will acknowledge that he knew how absurd it was all along, but that certain advantages, both psychological and social, accrued by keeping the pretense up.

The idea that one is not an agent but the helpless victim of circumstances, or of large occult sociological or economic forces, does not come naturally, as an inevitable concomitant of experience. On the contrary, only in extreme circumstances is helplessness directly experienced in the way the blueness of the sky is experienced. Agency, by contrast, is the common experience of us all. We know our will's free, and there's an end on't.

The contrary idea, however, has been endlessly propagated by intellectuals and academics who do not believe it of themselves, of course, but only of others less fortunately placed than themselves. In this there is a considerable element of condescension: that some people do not measure up fully to the status of human. The extension of the term "addiction," for example, to cover any undesirable but nonetheless gratifying behavior that is repeated, is one example of denial of personal agency that has swiftly percolated downward from academe. Not long after academic criminologists propounded the theory that recidivists were addicted to crime (bolstering their theories with impressive diagrams of neural circuits in the brain to prove it), a car thief of limited intelligence and less education asked me for treatment of his addiction to stealing cars - failing receipt of which, of course, he felt morally justified in continuing to relieve car owners of their property.

In fact most of the social pathology exhibited by the underclass has its origin in ideas that have filtered down from the intelligentsia. Of nothing is this more true than the system of sexual relations that now prevails in the underclass, with the result that 70 percent of the births in my hospital are now illegitimate (a figure that would approach 100 percent if it were not for the presence in the area of a large number of immigrants from the Indian subcontinent.)

Literature and common sense attest that sexual relations between men and women have been fraught with difficulty down the ages precisely because man is a conscious social being who bears a culture, and is not merely a biological being. But intellectuals in the twentieth century sought to free our sexual relations of all social, contractual, or moral obligations and meaning whatsoever, so that henceforth only raw sexual desire itself would count in our decision making.

The intellectuals were about as sincere as Marie Antoinette when she played the shepardess. While their own sexual mores no doubt became more relaxed and liberal, they nonetheless continued to recognize inescapable obligations with regard to children, for example. Whatever they said, they didn't want a complete breakdown of family relations any more that Marie Antoinette really wanted to earn her living by looking after sheep.

But their ideas were adopted both literally and wholesale in the lowest and most vulnerable social class. If anyone wants to see what sexual relations are like, freed of contractual and social obligations, let him look at the chaos of the personal lives of members of the underclass.

Here the whole gamut of human folly, wickedness, and misery may be perused at leisure - in conditions, be it remembered, of unprecedented prosperity. Here are abortions procured by abdominal kung fu; children who have children, in numbers unknown before the advent of chemical contraception and sex education; women abandoned by the father of their child a month before or a month after delivery; insensate jealousy, the reverse of the coin of general promiscuity, that results in the most hideous oppression and violence; serial stepfatherhood that leads to sexual and physical abuse of children on a mass scale; and every kind of loosening of the distinction beween sexually permissable and the impermissable.

The connection between this loosening and the misery of my patients is so obvious that it requires considerable intellectual sophistication (and dishonesty) to be able to deny it.
But deny it they do, and seemingly without effort.

What Dalrymple describes as Weltanshauung, or worldview, is at its base philosophy. It is, in the cases he describes, flawed philosophy, but it is philosophy nonetheless. Rand writes in her title essay:
The men who are not interested in philosophy absorb its principles from the cultural atmosphere around them - from schools, colleges, books, magazines, newspapers, movies, television, etc. Who sets the tone of a culture? A small handfull of men: the philosophers. Others follow their lead, either by conviction or by default. For some two hundred years, under the influence of Immanual Kant, the dominant trend of philosophy has been directed to a single goal: the destruction of man's mind, of his confidence in the power of reason. Today, we are seeing the climax of that trend.
She wrote that in 1974. Dalrymple's book was published in 2001. Both Rand and Dalrymple point out that a relatively small group of people control the culture - that the ideas of these people radiate outward, affecting some more than others. Dalrymple illustrates that this effect has a pernicious tendency to migrate upwards from the bottom, generally through the cultures of youth. Ignorance, it seems, is not necessarily bliss. In her essay Don't Let it Go, Rand writes about the influence of the minority:
A nation, like an individual, has a sense of life, which is expressed not in its formal culture, but in its "life style" - in the kinds of actions and attitudes which people take for granted and believe to be self-evident, but which are produced by complex evaluations involving a fundamental view of man's nature.

A "nation" is not a mystic or supernatural entity: it is a large number of individuals who live in the same geographic locality under the same political system. A nation's culture is the sum of the intellectual achievements of individual men, which their fellow-citizens have accepted in whole or in part, and which have influenced the nation's way of life. Since a culture is a complex battleground of different ideas and influences, to speak of a "culture" is to speak only of the dominant ideas, always allowing for the existence of dissenters and exceptions.

(The dominance of certain ideas is not necessarily determined by the number of their adherents: it may be determined by majority acceptance, or by the greater activity and persistence of a given faction, or by default, i.e., the failure of the opposition, or - when a country is free - by a combination of persistence and truth. In any case, ideas and the resultant culture are the product and active concern of a minority. Who constitutes this minority? Whoever chooses to be concerned.)
Remember this, because it's the key point of this rather long piece of mine.

Rand continues in her discussion of culture:
A nation's political trends are the equivalent of a man's course of action and are determined by its culture. A nation's culture is the equivalent of a man's conscious convictions. Just as an individual's sense of life can clash with his conscious convictions, hampering or defeating his actions, so a nation's sense of life can clash with its culture, hampering or defeating its political course. Just as an individual's sense of life can be better or worse than his conscious convictions, so can a nation's. And just as an individual who has never translated his sense of life into conscious convictions is in terrible danger - no matter how good his subconscious values - so can a nation.

This is the position of America today.

If America is to be saved from destruction - specifically, from dictatorship - she will be saved by her sense of life.

As to the two other elements that determine a nation's future, one (our political trend) is speeding straight to disaster, the other (culture) is virtually nonexistent. The political trend is pure statism and is moving toward a totalitarian dictatorship at a speed which, in any other country, would have reached that goal long ago. The culture is worse than nonexistent: it is operating below zero, i.e., performing the opposite of its function. A culture provides a nation's intellectual leadership, its ideas, its education, its moral code. Today, the concerted effort of our cultural "Establishment" is directed at the obliteration of man's rational faculty.
She wrote that in 1971.

Christopher Hitchens wrote a column in yesterday's Slate entitled Losing the Iraq War: Can the left really want us to? The simple answer is "Yes." And the reason it can is because the Left's sense of life clashes violently with its conscious convictions. The Left very easily, as Dalrymple put it, has the necessary intellectual sophistication (and dishonesty) to do so. Hitchens writes:
How can so many people watch this as if they were spectators, handicapping and rating the successes and failures from some imagined position of neutrality? Do they suppose that a defeat in Iraq would be a defeat only for the Bush administration? The United States is awash in human rights groups, feminist organizations, ecological foundations, and committees for the rights of minorities. How come there is not a huge voluntary effort to help and to publicize the efforts to find the hundreds of thousands of "missing" Iraqis, to support Iraqi women's battle against fundamentalists, to assist in the recuperation of the marsh Arab wetlands, and to underwrite the struggle of the Kurds, the largest stateless people in the Middle East? Is Abu Ghraib really the only subject that interests our humanitarians?
From my perspective it's fairly obvious: the small elite that has controlled the culture is seeing its sense of life conflict with its conscious convictions, and its sense of life is losing, badly. Yet there is hope. More and more of those on the Left are awakening to this internal clash - and reconciling it. Hitchens is a good example himself, and ever-more-blatant examples of the dichotomy such as Dick "The most dishonest, ungodly, unspiritual nation that has ever existed in the history of the planet" Gregory and Harry "Colin Powell is a house slave" Belafonte are making the contradictions more obvious and the transition easier. Writer Nick Cohen wrote a particularly good piece printed in The Guardian on Sunday about his "excommunication" from the orthodox Left because of his recognition of that clash:
I'm sure that any halfway competent political philosopher could rip the assumptions of modern middle-class left-wingery apart. Why is it right to support a free market in sexual relationships but oppose free-market economics, for instance? But his criticisms would have little impact. It's like a religion: the contradictions are obvious to outsiders but don't disturb the faithful. You believe when you're in its warm embrace. Alas, I'm out. Last week, after 44 years of regular church-going, the bell tolled, the book was closed and the candle was extinguished. I was excommunicated.

The officiating bishop was Peter Wilby, a former editor of the New Statesman and a friend of long-standing, who delivered his anathema in the Guardian. The immediate heresy was a piece I'd written about how difficult the courts made it to deport suspected Islamist terrorists. As I'd campaigned to protect asylum seekers in the past, Wilby used the article as damning evidence of 'a rightwards lurch'. The old bat didn't understand that genuine asylum seekers are the victims of the world's greatest criminals - four million fled Saddam Hussein - not criminals themselves.

Even if he'd grasped that the Mail was wrong and real refugees weren't villains, I doubt it would have made a difference. My mortal sin had been to question 'harshly the motives of the anti-war movement', and to that I had to plead guilty.
Who needs philosophy? Everyone does. Everyone has one, be it as simple as his or her Weltanshauung, or as rigorously strict as Rand's Objectivism. For the majority of people in any culture, however, their philosophy is absorbed through osmosis, and the source of that philosophy is from a relatively small number of people in that culture; those, as Rand says, who choose to be concerned.

In her essay What Can One Do? Rand considers the question "What can one person do?" if they want to affect cultural change. She answers:
"The immense changes which must be made in every walk of American life" cannot be made singly, piecemeal or "retail," so to speak; an army of crusaders would not be enough to do it. But the factor that underlies and determines every aspect of human life is philosophy; teach men the right philosophy - and their own minds will do the rest. Philosophy is the wholesaler in human affairs.

Man cannot exist without some form of philosophy, i.e., some comprehensive view of life. Most men are not intellectual innovators, but they are receptive to ideas, are able to judge them critically and to choose the right course, when and if it is offered. There are also a great many men who are indifferent to ideas and anything beyond the concrete-bound range of the immediate moment; such men accept subconsciously whatever is offered by the culture of their time, and swing blindly with any chance current. They are merely social ballast - be they day laborers or company presidents - and by their own choice, irrelevant to the fate of the world.
I think Dalrymple illustrates that the "social ballast" has more impact of the fate of a society than Rand allows, but continuing:
Today, most people are acutely aware of our cultural-ideological vacuum; they are anxious, confused, and groping for answers. Are you able to enlighten them?

Can you answer their questions? Can you offer them a consistent case? Do you know how to correct their errors? Are you immune from the fallout of the constant barrage aimed at the destruction of reason - and can you provide others with antimissile missiles? A political battle is merely a skirmish fought with muskets; a philosophical battle is a nuclear war.


If you like condensations (provided you bear in mind their full meaning), I will say: when you ask "What can one do?" - the answer is "SPEAK" (provided you know what you are saying).

A few suggestions: do not wait for a national audience. Speak on any scale open to you, large or small - to your friends, your associates, your professional organizations, or any legitimate public forum. You can never tell when your words will reach the right mind at the right time. You will see no immediate results - but it is of such activities that public opinion is made.

Do not pass up a chance to express your views on important issues. Write letters to the editors of newspapers and magazines, to TV and radio commentators, and above all, to your Congressman (who depend on their constituents). If your letters are brief and rational (rather than incoherently emotional), they will have more influence than you suspect.
(As the Geek with a .45 puts it, "Democracy works for those who show up." Continuing:)
The opportunities to speak are all around you. I suggest that you make the following experiment: Take an ideological "inventory" one week, i.e., note how many times people utter the wrong political, social, and moral notions as if these were self-evident truths, with your silent sanction. Then make it a habit to object to such remarks - not to make lengthy speeches, which are seldom appropriate, but merely to say: "I don't agree." (And be prepared to explain why, if the speaker wants to know.) This is one of the best ways to stop the spread of vicious bromides. (If the speaker is innocent, it will help him; if he is not, it will undercut his confidence the next time.) Most particularly, do not keep silent when your own ideas and values are being attacked.

Do not "proselytize" indiscriminately, i.e., do not force discussions or arguments on those who are not interested or willing to argue. It is not your job to save everyone's soul. If you do the things that are in your power, you will not feel guilty about not doing - "somehow" - the things that are not.
Now, at the end of all of this, we reach the point of this rather long essay: Why I blog. This is it. I'm one of those who chooses to be concerned. I'm one of the tiny, but not silent voices in this culture who is willing to stand up and say "I don't agree," and why. I recognize the clash between our sense of life and our culture, and I'm willing to try to help expose it and reconcile it in those who are putting us in such danger because of it, and I hope that in some small way my efforts will result in individual conscious convictions - and eventually a culture - that I am happy and proud to call American again.

Something's apparently doing some good (no, I'm not taking credit). Crime has declined remarkably over the last decade, and according to this David Brooks NYT editorial (I know, I know...)
The number of drunken driving fatalities has declined by 38 percent since 1982, according to the Department of Transportation, even though the number of vehicle miles traveled is up 81 percent. The total consumption of hard liquor by Americans over that time has declined by over 30 percent.

Teenage pregnancy has declined by 28 percent since its peak in 1990. Teenage births are down significantly and, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, the number of abortions performed in the country has also been declining since the early 1990's.

Fewer children are living in poverty, even allowing for an uptick during the last recession. There's even evidence that divorce rates are declining, albeit at a much more gradual pace. People with college degrees are seeing a sharp decline in divorce, especially if they were born after 1955.

I could go on. Teenage suicide is down. Elementary school test scores are rising (a sign than more kids are living in homes conducive to learning). Teenagers are losing their virginity later in life and having fewer sex partners. In short, many of the indicators of social breakdown, which shot upward in the late 1960's and 1970's, and which plateaued at high levels in the 1980's, have been declining since the early 1990's.
Something good is going on, and I'd like to see it continue - because we've still got a long, long way to go. Brooks acknowledges the source, though:
I always thought it would be dramatic to live through a moral revival. Great leaders would emerge. There would be important books, speeches, marches and crusades. We're in the middle of a moral revival now, and there has been very little of that. This revival has been a bottom-up, prosaic, un-self-conscious one, led by normal parents, normal neighbors and normal community activists.

The first thing that has happened is that people have stopped believing in stupid ideas: that the traditional family is obsolete, that drugs are liberating, that it is every adolescent's social duty to be a rebel.
In short, we're rejecting the Left Intelligentsia's bad philosophy. "I don't agree, and here's why...."

The blogosphere, I hope, will be a bigger part of that - exposing bad ideas immediately and mercilessly, and accessible to all who choose to be concerned. A free market of ideas is critical, and the Left has had a stranglehold on that market for far too long. What has resulted, as Dalrymple has repeatedly illustrated, is The Frivolity of Evil, and we cannot survive if we do not pull back from that abyss. Rand, Dalrymple, Hitchens, Cohen see the dangers of not speaking out. So do I.

I hope you do too. Make your voice heard.

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