Tuesday, 10/24/17

    1. Introduction to Unreality
    2. We’re (mostly) all relativists now
    3. Deadly political stasis
    4. Non sequitur of the day

1

Brendan O’Neill, in The Spectator, says that the word “woman” is being erased from British life. Excerpt:

… [I]n its submission on proposed amendments to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the [British] Foreign Office suggested the term ‘pregnant women’ might be offensive to ‘transgender people who have given birth’. The covenant, a UN treaty, says society must protect ‘pregnant women’ and never subject them to the death penalty. The Foreign Office wondered if ‘pregnant people’ might be a preferable term ….

This is the insane world media, academic, and governmental elites are bringing to bear on us. This world of lies, where words don’t mean anything, and our rulers will punish you severely for insisting that reality is real. The great Jordan Peterson, who fights for truth from behind the Maple Leaf Curtain of Canadian academia, writes about why Americans should care about the Canadian government’s attempt to police language. Excerpt:

People often defend freedom of speech on the grounds that citizens must retain the right to criticize their leaders. That’s true, but it’s not the fundamental truth.

Freedom of speech protects our societies from shipwreck on the Scylla of tyranny and the Charybdis of nihilism and despair. Freedom of speech allows us to identify the problems that beset us. Freedom of speech allows us to formulate solutions to those problems, and to reach consensus on the solutions.

There is nothing in the absence of freedom of speech but tyranny and slavery.

I’ve said this before in this space, but it’s worth saying again. Two years ago, a reader whose now-elderly mother once served prison time in a communist country for political dissent, told me that she feels that the West is taking a turn that reminds her of her youth spent under communism. I found that hard to understand, and asked friends of mine who defected to the UK from an East bloc nation in the 1960s if they agreed. My friends said absolutely, yes, it feels that way to them. I asked them to explain, and they replied that the way people will now try to destroy you professionally and personally for disagreeing with whatever the party line is — this reminds them of their youth.

(Rod Dreher)

After my 50th High School reunion, my Senior English Teacher (who attended the reunion) acquainted me with Luigi Giusanni’s book The Risk of Education, which he called the best book on education he’d ever read.

I’m still reading it, but something jumped out at me in Chapter 1 (after two long introductions, one to the original, a second to the 1995 edition):

First Premise

According to the Jesuit theologian Josef Jungmann, education is eine Einführung in die Wirklichkeit, an introduction to reality. The word “reality” is to the word “education” like destination is to a journey.

I lingered on that for a while, reflecting that, if so, then there are extant at least two deep “educational” violations of the true educational mission.

First, all the deconstructionism and post-modernism and other isms that eschew reality and manufacture and manipulate phantasms instead. This is a source of idiocies like “pregnant men” or even “pregnant people.”

But not to be overlooked is the more widespread view that education is, abstractions like “reality” aside, merely a ticket to big money.

I don’t think the second is entirely distinct from the first. Fluency in the shibboleths of deconstructionism may serve to distinguish the meritocracy from community and land grant college vulgarians, be they ever so rich. Many a striver will be disappointed, looking at his 8-figure net worth decades from now, to find himself still numbered among the vulgar because he says things like “deconstructionism and post-modernism and other isms.”

See how that works? A true meritocrat would savor the ineffable distinctions that a vulgarian like me elides.

These educational violations are where I sense a kinship between Giusanni and C.S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man, who spoke of “men without chests.” I don’t know how well Giusanni was acquainted with that Lewis masterpiece, of which Giusanni’s book is no mere echo, but they are kin if only because both had been introduced to reality.

You’ll probably hear more from me about Giusanni as I progress.

2

Thirty years ago, University of Chicago professor Allan Bloom’s “The Closing of the American Mind” began with the words: “There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: Almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.” Bloom found this deeply problematic, because the ability to determine truth from falsehood, right from wrong, is essential to personal flourishing and civic health. I wonder what Bloom would make of a political philosophy in which truth is determined by 25,000 screaming partisans and reality is a function of fabulism. Conservatives were supposed to be the protectors of objective truth from various forms of postmodernism. Now they generally defend our thoroughly post-truth president. Evidently we are all relativists now.

Not quite all. Some of us still think this attack on truth is a dangerous form of political corruption. The problem is not just the constant lies. It is the dismissal of reason and objectivity as inherently elitist and partisan. It is the invitation to supporters to live entirely within Trump’s dark, divisive, dystopian version of reality. It is the attempt to destroy or subvert any source of informed judgment other than Trump himself. This is the construction of a pernicious form of tyranny: a tyranny over the mind.

“Sycophancy toward those who hold power,” said Bloom, “is a fact in every regime, and especially in a democracy, where, unlike tyranny, there is an accepted principle of legitimacy that breaks the inner will to resist. . . . Flattery of the people and incapacity to resist public opinion are the democratic vices, particularly among writers, artists, journalists and anyone else who is dependent on an audience.”

Exactly how the conservative movement was broken.

(Michael Gerson, How Trump broke conservatism)

3

In Philadelphia to receive the 2017 Liberty Medal from the National Constitution Center on Oct. 16, McCain took several jabs at President Trump (without naming him) and defended the highly idealistic vision of the country that’s largely rejected by the forces in the GOP that supported and enabled Trump’s hostile takeover of the party in 2016.

At an event in New York three days later, Bush defended the same idealized construal of the country, its history, and its role in the world, while adding more specifics. For Bush, the United States stands for freedom and democracy, which are the “inborn hope of our humanity,” and is called upon to defend them against their enemies abroad. Doing so involves supporting the liberal international order against tyrannical and totalitarian threats, as well as favoring free trade, the dynamism that results from relatively open immigration, and policies that empower the job-creating juggernaut of the private sector.

If it weren’t for the Trump administration’s promotion of a far more culturally populist and nationalist ideology, there would be nothing at all noteworthy about McCain and Bush’s statements. On the contrary, they would be seen as expressions of the purest political boilerplate — a recitation of chapters and verses from the hymnal of American civil religion that one might have expected to hear from any president or presidential candidate from either party at any point since Ronald Reagan was elected (and maybe earlier). They stand out today, and move many of us a bit more than they once did, only because President Trump and many of his senior advisers don’t speak this language and don’t entirely share the moral and political vision it expresses.

It’s precisely the familiarity of the language and political vision that should strike us as strange. McCain and Bush recited the same civic poetry we’ve heard for decades, the same poetry that lost out to Donald Trump in the 2016 GOP primaries. Yet here we are, nearly a year into the Trump administration, and two of the most prominent figures in the Republican establishment have decided to respond by saying … precisely the same thing yet again.

If insanity can be defined as doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results, America’s center-right has arguably gone a little mad.

(Damon Linker)

I don’t mean this as a “gotcha,” but Linker here also is speaking a new boilerplate: “Trump is a wake-up call; the old ways won’t work any more, and since Trump is terrible somebody other than him or retreads like McCain and Dubya needs to come up with new ways that will appeal to Trump voters.”

Other than reminding us of an unfinished task, it advances the task not one lousy centimeter. But it’s a reminder that’s worth reading in full.

Tim Kreider expresses the same core idea more colorfully, but his focus is on the failure of the Democrats to map out anything better for 2020:

We’re just lucky that President Trump turns out to be such a bad fascist.

He certainly has the right temperament and inclinations. But he altogether lacks the commitment, the discipline and focus, the gumption to be a Stalin or a Pinochet. He never understood the mechanisms of democratic government well enough to successfully undermine them: He was outraged to learn that a lowly judge could countermand his fiats, that he doesn’t automatically command the fealty of major departments and institutions, that he can’t just fire anyone he wants. More importantly, he appears genuinely not to care about anything other than cashing in on this presidency gig for as much as he can while it lasts and having everyone pay attention to him all the time.

This should come as a relief to those of us who feared that Trump might actually mean all that crazy stuff he said about rounding up all the brown people and crushing the free press. But it must be something of a disappointment to his supporters, who hoped he might actually mean some of the crazy stuff he said about fighting Wall Street and bringing their manufacturing jobs back. The ominous fact is that, since Trump isn’t going to build his wall or drain the swamp or fly around the world backward very fast and make the factories reassemble themselves from the rust, the frustrations and grievances that led to his election will remain unchanged, ready for the next demagogue to exploit.

The vague tacit hope among the saner two-thirds of the country is that this administration will be a brief, embarrassing historical aberration, we’ll somehow get through it without this imbecile nuking Zurich in a fit of pique, and, once he’s defeated or impeached, everything will go back to normal …

But this is the one thing we know is not going to happen. Things are not going back to normal — not now, not in 2020, not ever. The world has changed …

(America’s Bad Fascist)

I have my pet issues, and on them the Democrats have not moved one inch. I predict, but won’t wager anything on it, that the manifestly unfit Roy Moore will defeat well-credentialed-and-sane-on-most-things Democrat Doug Jones in Alabama’s Great Monosyllabic Candidate-Name Showdown because Jones hews to Democrat orthodoxy on abortion (how ironic iconic that Breitbart was the top hit for “Alabama Doug Jones abortion position”).

4

Non sequitur of the day:

The number of children known to be fathered by Catholic priests isn’t known, but there are about 450,000 Catholic priests in the world and the Catholic Church forbids artificial contraception and abortion.

* * *

I will be traveling for several days starting tomorrow afternoon, so this might be my last blog for a bit.

* * * * *

“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)

There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

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