Ideology as Platonism

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English: The School of Athens (detail). Fresco...

English: The School of Athens (detail). Fresco, Stanza della Segnatura, Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today I was responding to a Facebook post regarding same-sex marriage. As usual, I was irenic, I presented the classic natural law arguments against that practice, and since the person to whom I was responding was Christian, I presented the arguments from Holy Scripture and from Catholic tradition. Instead of engaging in a reasonable discussion over an important societal issue, my respondent (who is homosexual) proceeded to say I was demeaning her, that made her feel less than a person, that she despised people like me. In other words, she resorted to an abusive ad hominem attack instead of rationally responding to my arguments.

The homosexual rights movement is one of many ideologies that came out of the 1960s and early 1970s. Feminism is another and womanism still another. All these ideologies shared a Marxist interpretation of reality in which the group advocates represented was the oppressed and society at large was the oppressor. Recently, homosexual advocates have begun labeling those who disagree with their lifestyle “haters.” Now this is a characteristic of an ideology–no matter how much compassion I show for homosexuals who are “advocates” (note that not all homosexuals agree with their “representatives”), I am, by definition, labeled as a “hater.” It does not matter that I do not hate homosexuals–the ideology accepts the following syllogism:

All persons who believe that homosexual activity is morally wrong are haters.

This person holds that homosexual activity is morally wrong.

Therefore, this person is a hater.

Given my respondent’s ideology, she had no other way to respond.

All ideologies are Platonic in the sense that they propose overarching visions of reality and apply them from at top-down perspective. That is, like rationalism in general, they do not look to sense experience for justification. The only justification is in terms of the axioms of their system, which are taken to be self-evident. Thus if one axiom says that “Anyone who believes that homosexuality is morally wrong hates homosexuals,” then that axiom applies by definition to all people in that class and cannot be questioned. As is the case with Plato’s transcendent Forms, Descartes’ Cogito, or Leibniz’s monads, reality is forced into the mold of theory instead of the theory being checked by reality.

Some versions (not all) of feminism function the same way. If, by definition, all classic literary works reflect male dominance, then scholars needing publications for tenure can search through texts for code words and sentences that reflect such male domination. In the case of Marxist ideology concerning the economic system, those who are in the bourgeois are, by definition, exploiting the proletariat. Mr. Obama’s use of class warfare recognizes the power of such a position (even though he has been more of a Chinese-style “state capitalist” than a dogmatic Communist). Envy is a powerful emotion, and if it can be justified by definition, then government should “make the rich pay their fair share” (whatever that might be).

Platonic political philosophy supports a top-down view of government–the same government is best for all people–the rule of philosopher kings (and queens). Such a position is held by Neoconservative and social democratic ideologues who desire to “spread democracy to the entire world.” The geography, history, and culture of a particular state is ignored in a naive attempt to mold the state into the pattern preferred by the Neocons or social democratic hawks.

Ideology has a convenient way of resorting to ad hominem arguments when its basic principles are attacked. After all, if they are self-evident, the person who does not recognize them is, at the very least, ignorant–and possibly reprobate as well. This position cuts the ground from under rational discussion of important societal issues and dangerously divides people into hostile groups. Ideology is, as Nietzsche recognized, a form of the “will to power,” and in a society only filled with ideologues the fundamental ethic becomes “might makes right.” This is a prescription for societal chaos. If people feel forced into a corner because of ideological labeling, and rational discussion is out of the question, what is left but assertion of raw physical force?

Aristotle recognized, in theory at least, that understanding the world requires a bottom-up approach. While all observation is “theory laden,” this does not abrogate the fact that knowledge of reality arises from the senses. Thus, unlike Plato, Aristotle placed forms in things, and held that states should follow the system that best suits their history and culture.

As Alasdair MacIntyre recognized, the only way for communities with different values can rationally discuss issues is by having the person in one community “put himself in the shoes” of someone in another community to understand that community’s values. Once that occurs (and it must be a mutual process), then rational discussion can take place. Agreement may not be reached, but there should remain a feeling of mutual respect.

Russell Kirk famously said that conservatism is not an ideology, meaning that the form that conservatism takes in a particular state will depend on the history and culture of that state. Conserving key societal values is not a matter of imposing them, Platonic-Formlike, from above–most likely one will only come up with one’s own a priori values to apply to everyone. Rather, conservatism should have a deep respect for the way things are in the actual world. There may be need for change, but this is done slowly and with appropriate concern for the history of a people.

God forbid that American society melt into a soup of competing ideologies. The end of the United States as we currently know it (what’s left of it, at least) will most likely result.

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The Whining of the “I’m Outraged” Crowd about North Carolina

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State seal of North Carolina

State seal of North Carolina (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

North Carolina voters passed the marriage amendment with a vote of 61% in favor and 39% against. In my own county (Cumberland) the vote was 69% for and 31% against. With the cry from the Left and from many of the “intelligentsia” (notice the quotation marks), one would think that the world is coming to an end. To the elites of society, North Carolina is full of backwoods people who are not enlightened enough to support same-sex marriage. To the majority of the people of North Carolina, the “elites” are out of touch with natural law, with Christianity, and with their fundamental values, values that would have been accepted by the majority of the “elites” only forty years ago. Calm down, ye “outraged.” What has happened in North Carolina is in the state constitutions of thirty states; this is not some new thing that makes North Carolina unique. Instinctively, the majority of people now and throughout history have recognized that marriage is only between a man and a woman. “Oh, the horror,” say the elites. “An appeal to nature is a fallacy.” Really, now. To the modern and contemporary worlds, nature is considered to be infinitely malleable by human will, so it would not make sense to modernity to appeal to a stable natural law. Beliefs do not change facts. Only a man and a woman can produce a child. Appeals to the possibility of cloning do not suffice to argue against the view that in human nature, without massive technological intervention, only a man and woman can bring a child into the world. Usually it is the biological parents that rear the child, and in order for the child to have a stable home, a permanent bond, marriage, has been established by almost all known human societies. There may be differences in the number of spouses allowed and in other details, but all such arrangements are between men and women. Even an enlightened ancient Roman who was tolerant of homosexuality would be horrified at the contemporary attempt to legitimize what cannot be legitimized. Most people recognize this unless they have had this belief educated out of them by liberal and radical elites.

The reason for the vicious anger and personal attacks by supporters of same sex marriage on decisions such as the one the voters made in North Carolina is not mere disagreement. After all, people disagree over many things, but do not post a message on a blog calling the blogger a f….g a…..e, as someone posted to me a couple of weeks ago. This is an issue involving world views: one world view affirms natural law, the other denies it. There may also be a sense among some people that their actions are wrong, and it infuriates them when someone challenges their lifestyle. If they were secure in their beliefs, why would they become so angry? Who knows–judging motivations is risky, but I do know that I am proud of my adopted state of North Carolina for doing the right thing and adding the provision in the state constitution affirming that marriage is only between a man and a woman. If whiners, the outraged, and those who are the real haters wish to attack this vote (and those who supported it) with viciousness, so be it.

Traditional Moral Positions and the Public Square

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Freedom of Speech (painting)

Freedom of Speech (painting) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Canada, it is a crime to publicly assert that practicing homosexuality is a sin. In my ethics class, students regularly write on their essays that being a virgin until marriage is “prudish,” and they do not take seriously the traditional view that couples should refrain from sexual intercourse until marriage. In many academic settings, those who believe abortion to be morally wrong are silenced, to the point that the University Faculty for Life presents an option to its members to hide their membership in the organization so that their colleagues do not find out. The notion that there is objective right and wrong is excluded from most public schools, and moral relativism is taught as the gospel truth (and teaching it as such is, of course a contradiction).

It is true that freedom of speech does not, as the old saw goes, give anyone the right to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Surely being morally opposed to abortion or to practicing homosexuality or to premarital sex is not the equivalent to shouting “Fire!” Yet such opinions are being increasingly excluded from the public square, in academic institutions first, and then in the wider society.

I believe in academic freedom. If a student or faculty member wishes to defend the moral rightness of premarital sex, of practicing homosexuality, or of abortion, that student or faculty member should be allowed to have a say in the university square. But academic freedom also implies that those with the opposite views on these issues should be allowed to make their case. I am a conservative, but if a liberal student makes a strong case for his position, he will get a good grade on his test and will not be punished for his views. The situation should be the same for a conservative student who makes a good defense of his position in a class with a liberal professor. To give them credit, some liberal professors do give their students such academic freedom and believe in such for their colleagues. There is a subset of professors, however, who want to silence conservative voices, especially on controversial moral issues. Such violation of freedom of speech has taken place in some institutions of higher education, to the point that a professor in one school who presented a natural law argument against homosexual practice (and did not even claim to agree with the argument) was fired–until a court awarded him his job back. The problem is that he should not have lost his job in the first place. What is going on is that hostile rhetoric against moral conservatives is repeated so much that people begin to believe it (“they are haters,” “these people are filled with anger,” etc.). I have never understood why holding moral action A to be wrong implies hating the person who performs moral action A. I wish I could say that such an ignorant position prevails only in academia, but it is present in broader society. More and more the elites in academia, the media, and in Hollywood, are attempting to exclude traditional moral discourse from legitimate discussion and to push their views onto society as a whole. It may be just a matter of time before the United States goes the direction that Canada has gone (depending on election results, court appointees, etc.) and makes illegal conservative moral discourse on abortion and on sexual ethics. I wonder who the real narrow minded people are, the real bigots, the real haters. I would venture a guess that most of them are not moral conservatives.

Defending Marriage: The North Carolina Marriage Protection Amendment

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Topographic map of North Carolina

Just because the suicide of Western Culture has weakened the institution of marriage does not mean that Americans can do nothing to stop its decline. Advocates of same sex marriage have been aggressive in promoting their goal of the legal acceptance of same sex marriage by all states. Such a view of marriage is a radical break from all previous human cultures–for good reason. Although the ideal is not often reached in real life, a marriage between a man and a woman is the best way to bring children into the world and rear them. Multiple studies by sociologists and psychologists, no friends of traditional institutions, have shown this to be the case. Only a man and a woman can make a baby through the act of sexual intercourse. Attempts by same sex couples to rear children occur either by adoption or by a woman offering an egg as a surrogate for one of the partner’s sperm (in the case of male same-sex couples; in the case of female same sex couples, one of the partners would offer her egg and donated sperm would fertilize it). Such practices go against the fundamental ends of human families and human societies to bring the next generation into the world in a way consistent with human biology. Supporters of same sex marriage ignore biology, as if human beings could be separated from their bodies, or as if maleness and femaleness is somehow not part of one’s personal identity. Even apart from same-sex marriage, homosexuality is unnatural in orientation and morally wrong in practice. To fully embrace homosexual practice in the context of marriage is a violation of natural law so severe that it can only bring irreparable harm to society. The decline of marriage in Western Culture, its separation, in the public mind, from bearing children, and later from permission for sexual intercourse, has produced a society that is promiscuous (why be married when you can enjoy sex before marriage without worrying about having children) and one in which marriage is considered to be only a legal contract instead of a sacred vow. Same sex marriage would put the nail in the coffin’s head of marriage in any meaningful sense–and with activist judges threatening state laws, defining marriage as between a man and a woman via state law alone is inadequate. Moves to pass state constitutional amendments defining marriage as between a man and a woman are welcome, giving the people as a whole the chance to save what is left of traditional marriage.

As part of the North Carolina Primary on May 8, the voters of North Carolina will decide whether to pass the “Marriage Protection Amendment” to the state constitution that would define marriage as between a man and a woman. I strongly support this amendment and encourage the citizens of North Carolina to vote in its favor. If it passes and opponents go judge shopping to find a liberal federal judge to try to throw out the amendment, this would make it clear that the judge is attempting to thwart the will of the people, . It would also allow appeals up the federal court system so that eventually the sovereign right of the people of a state to define marriage might, hopefully, be affirmed. At the very least, this amendment grants the voters of North Carolina the opportunity to do their small but vital part in defending a sacred institution and in slowing America’s attempt at cultural and moral suicide.

A Victory for Freedom of Speech in Academia

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Seal of the United States Court of Appeals for...

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Julea Ward, a graduate student in the counseling program at Eastern Michigan University, was expelled from the program. She had referred a homosexual client to another counselor since she would have been in the position of affirming the client’s sexual orientation as being morally acceptable, something that Ms. Ward did not accept due to her religious beliefs. Although the counseling program has a non-discriminatory policy on “sexual orientation,” there were procedures in place for a student to refer a client in case of values conflicts. Instead the university’s counseling program showed its intolerance for traditional Christian belief on the moral unacceptability of practicing homosexuality.

Ms. Ward sued, and the initial court ruling was in favor of the university. However, today a ruling from the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed the lower court’s ruling. In his opinion, Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton made it clear that tolerance is not a one-way street, and that the university was punishing Ms. Ward for her religious beliefs.

This marks a significant victory for freedom of speech and freedom of religion in academia. Many academics are products of the mindset of the 1960s, with its transvaluation of values and its support of positions inimical to those of traditional Christianity. It is far to say that many academics hate traditional Christianity and traditional morality concerning sexual ethics. Such vitriolic hated expresses itself in intimidation and sometimes dismissal of students and faculty who disagree with the “New Puritanism” (as my late friend Marion Montgomery called it) in academia. Often, when people like Ms. Ward fight back, they win in court (though with the radicalism of Mr. Obama’s appointees this may change in the future). Traditionalists in academia, both among faculty and students, should, of course, pick their battles, but when it becomes time to fight, they should fight aggressively. There are organizations such as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and the National Association of Scholars (NAS) who lend support for academics unfairly treated due to dogmatic ideology in academia. These organizations give hope to faculty and students who face discrimination, and the Sixth Circuit Court ruling today is a breath of fresh air.

http://www.ca6.uscourts.gov/opinions.pdf/12a0024p-06.pdf?utm_source=January+27%2C+2012+-+Press+Release%3A+Ward+v.+Polite+Decision&utm_campaign=NAS+E-Newsletter&utm_medium=email

 

Marriage between Cousins and Same-Sex Marriage: A False Analogy Fallacy

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US Map of Same Sex Marriage Laws

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Consanguineous marriage (marriage between people who are second cousins or closer) is common in some traditional societies. It used to be common in small farming communities in the United States when the number of men and women available for marriage was small. My grandparents on my mother’s side of the family were second cousins. There is a slight increase of risk for recessive gene disorders, but the goods of social cohesion are considered worth the risk in traditional societies. First cousin marriages are legal in twenty states.

Today I saw a poster on a colleague’s door with two maps of the United States. One map colored in the states allowing marriage between cousins. The other map colored in the states allowing homosexual marriage (five states). The import of the poster is that homosexual marriage between people in love is no more problematic, and most likely less problematic, than marriage between cousins–and that this is unfair.

However, this commits the fallacy of false analogy. Marriage, even in ancient Paganism that accepted homosexuality in general, was only between a man and a woman. Marriage between cousins is only thought to be problematic because of the slight risk for recessive gene disorders, and these can be serious. However, traditional societies prefer stronger social bonds in tight communities. There is nothing “unnatural” about cousins marrying–the number of “degrees of affinity” is great enough that even Catholic and Anglican canon law do not forbid first cousin marriages. It does forbid marriage between siblings, between a parent and his or her child, and between uncles and aunts and their nephews and nieces. Opposition to marriage between first cousins is primarily an American phenomenon resulting from the greater mobility of American society. Such marriages fulfill the proper ends of marriage for conjugal love and the procreation of children. Homosexual marriage is by nature barren, and one cannot change that by adoption or by cloning (that is, manufacturing) a child for a homosexual couple. It is not that love itself is bad–not even the love between homosexuals. What makes that love inordinate is that it is directed toward the wrong goal and does not fulfill the proper ends of a sexual relationship between man and woman. The fact that some couples are past childbearing age or some cannot produce children due to physical problems beyond their control does not change the usual order of nature.

The poster is more like a slogan, something to move people emotionally in a certain direction. It has no logical force, for the analogy it purports to find is false, making any “argument” implied by the poster a weak inductive argument. This is consistent with debate in the United States on both sides of controversial issues such as abortion or euthanasia–or homosexual marriage. There is an abundance of emotion but precious little reasoning about these issues. I realize that many people do not agree with the natural law perspective I espouse (in agreement with the Roman Catholic Church and with my own church, the Anglican Catholic Church). Opponents of natural law should put forth their best arguments from reason and experience rather than resorting to emotional screeds like the implied screed in that poster.

The “Good Ole’ Days” Really Were the Good Ole’ Days

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Rural Scene. Looking almost due west. One of t...

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This side of eternity, change is a constant in life. Some change is for the better–I think of the wonderful advance in medicine, advances that saved both my parents‘ lives. The computer on which I am typing has been a useful tool, speeding communication, research, and writing–I remember the days when I typed on a manual typewriter, then moved up to an electric–and stayed up all night two times in my undergrad days typing term papers. With a computer I might have gotten eight hours of sleep.

Change, however, can be for the worst. Despite recent drops in violent crime, the overall trend since the 1950s has been upward. Religion plays less and less a role in American society, and it seems that the U. S. is moving toward a European style secularism with a few New Age attempts to rescue some measure of spirituality from the maelstrom of materialism. The South used to be one of the few areas (outside Italian-American communities in cities) in which people lived together in extended families. The system was imperfect, but overall there was less loneliness and more social support in times of trouble–and the grandparents could babysit the children in case the parents had to work to make ends meet. When I was a child, the legalization of abortion, homosexual marriage, and (in three states) physician assisted suicide was in the future. A person was attacked for defending immoral practices, not attacked for criticizing them. Discipline was practiced, both in homes and in schools. Of course the world in which I was a child was imperfect–I was happily oblivious to the destruction of society from 1964-70, although I felt the effects in my teenaged years in the mid and late 1970s. I remember my childhood as a happy one–but I remember what happened in detail, I can discover some unhappy times–but I choose not to dwell on them. Overall I was blessed, and memories of a childhood that was filled with the joy of exploring new worlds every day outweigh memories of spankings and being picked on by other children. If those memories of the “good ole days” are unrealistic, I will live in their unreality to help give me a picture of Paradise–a world in which people live without the flaws that mar life today.

The “good ole’ days,” like all times in human history, were marred by sickness, death, and mourning–the universals of humanity before the eschaton. People sinned in the past just as they sin in the present, and usually in the same ways. There were murders, assaults, rapes, and robberies fifty years ago just as there are today. The difference is that Christianity was respected then and was part of the public square, and today it has been removed from the public square, as if Christians live in a two-tiered world, one totally secular and the other sacred, and never the twain shall meet. Basic Christian morality was respected–in 1960, both Jews and Christians understood that abortion is not the kind a thing a person should do. Abstinence until marriage was the standard position before the Pill changed everything in and after the early 1960s. If a child screamed, “Shut up!” to his parents (as I heard one scream in a store), the parents would remove the child from any place of business and discipline that child. Today bad behavior by children in public is tolerated by many parents, to the chagrin of other people who must put up with hearing unruly children.

It may be that the eighteenth century Enlightenment, with its radical secularism and denial of tradition, helped lead to the present poor state of society. While history reveals periods of chaos and moral turpitude in society, what is unique about the current age is the combination of such bad behavior with a denial of the transcendent. I do not believe that I am an “old fogey” in saying these things–in some significant ways, apart from technological advances, earlier times really are “the good ‘ole days.”

What can be done to restore society? A blind nostalgia will not do. Restoration of community begins not only with encouraging families to remain together, but with encouraging people to understand that there is transcendent meaning in life. When people render aid to others who are in need and establish a personal relationship with them, this draws them out of themselves to understand that their needs are not the only ones important in life. A relationship with the Transcendent also draws a person out of the self–and it is only in this way that the radical individualism of the last fifty years can be overcome and society can start to recover from its moral and religious lapses.

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