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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Richard Land and the Censoring of Discourse about Race in America

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English: Vectorized Southern Baptist Conventio...

English: Vectorized Southern Baptist Convention logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Richard Land‘s radio show has been canceled by the Southern Baptist Convention. Although Mr. Land was cited for plagiarism, which he apparently did commit, this was not the focus of the SBC’s statement. The SBC was concerned about Mr. Land’s allegedly inflammatory remarks concerning the Trayvon Martin case.

What did Mr. Land say that was so horrible? He said that Mr. Obama was taking political advantage of the situation. One can make a good case for this claim–Mr. Obama said that if he had a son, he would look like Trayvon Martin–this could be construed as an attempt to shore up support among his base. Political charges similar to Mr. Land’s claims have been made quite frequently in conservative circles, though perhaps with more tact than Mr. Land used. Mr. Land also referred to Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton as race baiters. An even more solid case can be made for that claim–are Mr. Jackson and Mr. Sharpton beyond criticism? Should they escape the inevitable criticism that those in the public eye routinely face? Surely not except in a liberal fantasy world. Does anyone remember the Tawana Brawley case or the Duke Lacrosse case and how Mr. Jackson and Mr. Sharpton stirred emotions to a dangerous level in cases that turned out to be other than Mr. Jackson and Mr. Sharpton claimed?

Discourse about race has become so emotionally charged that the range of politically correct things to say has narrowed to the point that one cannot say anything outside the liberal party line without being labeled a racist. Now I don’t know if Mr. Zimmerman is guilty of manslaughter or not–I will wait until the facts of the case come out. Pointing out the fact that some individuals are using the case to agitate others and to stir up dangerous emotions is not irresponsible or wrong. The more the left and the pseudo-right shut off discourse, the more frustrated those silenced become. If those silenced already had wrong attitudes, they will only be hardened in them. If they did not have wrong attitudes, they are far more likely to gain them after being silenced. Cutting off discussion of race will most likely lead to an increase, not to a decrease, in racism.

I have noticed a leftward trend in conservative Evangelical churches over the last few years, fueled by liberals in their academic institutions. These colleges, universities, and seminaries train ministers and other church officials. They may be technically “conservative,” but they buy into much of the left’s beliefs, including supporting politically correct speech on race. If Mr. Land had used an obscenity to refer to another race, he should have been fired and disciplined by the church. If he had claimed that one race was intrinsically superior to another, then he should have been disciplined. He said neither of those things. Yet he lost his radio show and was forced to apologize–I do not doubt the sincerity of his apology. What I doubt (without defending everything Mr. Land said and not justifying his plagiarism)¬† is the apparent belief of Southern Baptist officials that any criticism of Mr. Obama, Mr. Jackson, or Mr. Sharpton is tantamount to racism, which is an absurd position.

Leftist Pressure Groups and Freedom of Expression

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Pat Buchanan

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In the past it was often the far right that opposed freedom of expression. There was once a movement in one state to ban the book, The Wizard of Oz because it has as one of the characters “a good witch.” I have personally experienced the dogmatic closed-mindedness of extreme Christian Fundamentalists, and I believe I can recognize that mindset in other groups, both right and left.

Pat Buchanan was recently fired as a commentator on MSNBC. I have found his books to be well-argued, and Mr. Buchanan has a vast knowledge of history that is sadly lacking in most Americans. I agree with his view that immigration should be limited so that those who move into the United States have sufficient time to assimilate to the culture, especially if they come from nations without a tradition of democracy. His position against free trade and in favor of tariffs on incoming Chinese goods is also a good suggestion, a first step in bringing back some of the American manufacturing lost through outsourcing. The same follows for his suggestion that the United States revoke NAFTA. As a traditional Anglican Catholic, I agree with most of Mr. Buchanan’s views on theology and ethics. I also believe that the 1947 partition of Palestine has been a disaster, and although Israel has a right to exist and advocate for her national interests, the United States should not provide support for Israel no matter what she does. Too many people confuse antisemitism and anti-Zionism–they are not the same thing. Many Jewish people are anti-Zionist.

Mr. Buchanan’s book, The Suicide of the West, is what got him into trouble with MSNBC. Under pressure from radical leftist groups who claimed the book was racist and “homophobic,” MSNBC’s (already radicalized) staff decided to fire Mr. Buchanan. I have read The Suicide of the West and find it to be a convincing indictment of the Enlightenment attempt to deny that humans are embodied by denying that embodied properties, even accidental properties, have a great deal to do with an individual’s perceived self-identity. While Americans of European descent do not usually have a specific sense of identity, both African-Americans and Hispanics tend to have a strong sense of identity. Pat Buchanan never says that there is anything wrong with that–he states that it is a part of human nature. Unless there is a consensus civilization to unify various ethnic, religious, and cultural groups, a multicultural society cannot work in practice and leads inevitably to violence (as is the case in California, especially in the prisons, today). For many people in the world, their self-professed identity includes race. Mr. Buchanan does not condemn them, but suggests that such self-identity resists being placed in a “melting pot.” Ethnic and tribal strife in the former Yugoslavia, the former Soviet Union, in Somalia, Uganda and other African nations that were artificially divided across tribal lines by European colonialists, are examples, as are some Asian countries. The United States may believe it is beyond such strife, but in the end, the human propensity to divide into self-contained groups will win out over multiculturalism (or “multi-civilizationalism” as one commentator in Chronicles Magazine once noted).

Mr. Buchanan has also affirmed traditional Roman Catholic moral positions on sexual ethics. This has resulted in a hostile reaction from groups that hate Roman Catholic restrictions on sexual behavior. But as Mr. Buchanan says, “Since when did it become a crime to express traditional Catholic moral positions?” Apparently it is a crime today.

A libertarian might argue that as a private company, MSNBC has every right to fire or hire employees. From a legal point of view it does. But from a moral point of view, it is interesting that a network that claims to value pluralism caved into to radical pressure groups that do not accept freedom of expression. There is hypocrisy there. Left wing political correctness is out of control, just as Fundamentalist political correctness was rampant among some people around whom I was reared.

Someone will probably attack my view, stating that the “progressive” position on issues is the only correct stance to take. Such a claim requires argumentation to justify, not bullying.

The Health and Human Services Department’s Attack on Faith-Based Organizations

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Logo of the United States Department of Health...

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The United States Department of Health and Human Services mandated that employers offer health care insurance to employees that includes payments not only for standard birth control, but also for abortificants. Faith-based organizations are not exempt from this mandate. The Roman Catholic Church is resisting this mandate, as well they should, and since abortificants are also paid for, all faith-based groups who oppose abortion are being forced to violate their beliefs. I have no doubt that the social democrats and socialists who read this post will disagree, which is their right. What about the right of a faith-based organization to establish employment benefits in line with its beliefs? H. Tristram Engelhardt, Jr., a bioethicist and physician at the Baylor College of Medicine, has argued for ideological pluralism in health care choices. That is, if someone accepts abortion, she can buy insurance through a company that accepts abortion. Roman Catholic groups could have what Engelhardt calls “Vaticare” or something like that. Now Engelhardt is a Classical Liberal who is consistent that pluralism be respected. What the government is doing is the equivalent of telling “Vaticare” or similar organizations that their beliefs be damned. The government will now tell you what to do, and if you don’t like it, suck it up. The result, if this rule is not overturned, will be a mass closing of faith-based organizations that help a significant number of people.

Although Mr. Obama has tended to be a friend of Wall Street and warmongers, his ideological roots are strongly Marxist, and, I would claim, totalitarian. The fact that he is no more totalitarian than Dubya does not change the fact that Obama desires as much power as did Mr. Bush. Regulatory agencies have been one way that government can gain power without legislative approval. Congress should establish a conscience clause in the health care bill in order to allow for faith-based organizations to offer insurance to their employees consistent with their own beliefs. To do otherwise would be another step toward a “social democratic benevolent” dictatorship that the most radical on the left wing desire. Although this is by now a tired cliche, it remains true that freedom of religion was never construed by the founding fathers to mean freedom from religion. I am pleased that Eastern Orthodox Bishops (The Council of Canonical Orthodox Bishops) as well as conservative Protestants have joined the effort to reverse this rule change. I hope they succeed.

Schools and Children Accused of “Sexual Harassment”

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At http://www.wsoctv.com/news/29910470/detail.html and http://boston.cbslocal.com/2011/12/02/7-year-old-accused-of-possible-sexual-harassment-for-kicking-boy-in-groin/ are two stories that illustrate the lack of common sense among many teachers and administrators in the government school system. For the retort I expect, I am not saying that all public school teachers and administrators lack common sense to the extent shown in these studies. But to accuse seven and nine-year-olds for sexual harassment (a few years ago, a five-year-old boy was accused of sexual harassment for kissing a girl he had “puppy love” for on the cheek) is stupid to the point of incomprehension. A boy tells another boy that his teacher is cute–and a nosy substitute teacher blabs about it–and the boy is suspended for “sexual harassment.” A seven-year old kicks a bully in the groin and is accused of “sexual harassment.” The specific teachers and school administrators responsible for such injustices are utterly ignorant–and if I could get away with it I would use stronger language. The most radical elements of feminism have invaded society to the point that even a male child cannot complement a woman’s appearance without being accused of sexual harassment. Such extremes are bad enough when applied to adults–this is a world in which a man cannot even say to a woman “You look nice today.” If he says the opposite, he would be in just as much trouble. Such views are so contrary to human nature that only academics (and I am an academic, so I know that way too much of the academy has been corrupted by the radical 1960s crowd) could actually be stupid enough to believe them. Unfortunately, the most radical theories of the academy, having poisoned the minds of way too many policy makers, producers of government regulations, and educators, have become more and more dominant in the nation’s school system. There are exceptions, of course, and thank God for those teachers and administrators who still retain common sense. If only there were more of them. More

Obama and the Patriot Act

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Rand Paul campaigning in Kentucky.

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President Obama has signed an extension of the worst surveillance procedures of the Patriot Act. No records of a private citizen are safe from government intrusion. I commend Senator Rand Paul for standing up for liberty. Between Democrats who by nature love the expansion of federal power, and Republican “Red State Fascists” who have no problem with the expansion of law enforcement power, what freedom the United States has left is eroding. We now have a government that can check anyone’s phone records, anyone’s internet records, and invade a person’s private life in a vain attempt to find potential terrorists. Defenders of the Patriot Act claim it would only be used against people suspected of terrorism, but history shows when the government can do harm to the innocent, it will. Sadly, most people will go along with losing their freedom for an ephemeral security that they will never have this side of heaven. The public’s fears of terrorism are constantly used by the federal government to justify expansion of power in a world where a person is more likely to die of a myriad of diseases and accidents, as well as domestic homicide, than by terrorism. The media as a whole, “conservative” or liberal, supports the Patriot Act, and many Americans are stooges of the media. Government schools have failed to teach them critical thinking skills, and the decline of classical rhetoric classes in high school and college/university education keeps the public unaware of the government and media’s manipulative techniques. It is easy to become cynical and believe that the American people are getting the government they deserve. But the vote in the House was closer than the vote in the Senate, and this offers some hope that Rand and Ron Paul and his allies will be able to gain more support when the next renewal of the “Patriot Act” (talk about doublespeak!) comes before Congress. The actions of President Obama do not surprise me–he campaigned against the same provisions of the Patriot Act he now supports. He is a typical politician who says what he needs to say to gain power and then goes back on his promises when the election is over. To their credit, some liberals, such as Nat Hentoff (an honest man and a true civil libertarian), recognize this and have sharply criticized the president. Most of the rest, sadly, follow him like sheep. Maybe the American people will wake up; polls have revealed growing unease with the Patriot Act. The federal government has much more immediate power to harm the American people than terrorists–and Americans should keep that in mind.

The World Turned Upside Down

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World upside down

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Imagine that aliens invade the United States (space aliens, not illegal aliens). Suppose that instead of attacking the American people with weapons, they plant ideas into the minds of the people. Enough ideas take root that the old order of society is uprooted, and the individuals who resisted the alien attack feel as if the world has been turned upside down. Unfortunately, the aliens go through to most educators, journalists, and other cultural elites. Ordinary people who lived prior to the invasion feel ostracized and out-of-place. The fear that the old order on which they have based their lives has been completely destroyed.

Today many Americans find themselves in a world turned upside down. A comparison of the American of 1963 compared with the America of today reveals seismic shifts have occurred which have altered the very fabric that holds society together. Some would say they have ripped the fabric into shreds, and any hope for patching has long passed.

There are many causes for the cultural shift, which had already taken place in Europe by the end of the 1930s and which was accelerated by the end of the Second World War. Supreme Court rulings in 1948 and 1962 limited religion’s public expression and banned required organized prayer in public schools. The Supreme Court claimed to have discovered a “right to privacy” in 1965, a “right” that the Court used to justify legalization of abortion in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. The last year of the great post-World War II religious revival was 1965; after that year, weekly church attendance began a decline which continues today. The development of effective, cheap contraception with the birth control pill helped to revolutionize sexual mores to the point that only very conservative religious people believe that sexual intercourse should wait until marriage. The problem of juvenile delinquency in the 1950s grew from problems with street thugs and motorcycle ganges to problems with the use and sale of hard drugs and cold-blooded murder. The traditional family structure of a man and woman married with children has been replaced in many circles with the notion of the “family” as a fluid structure that can be modified to suit individual needs. Many young people today reject initiative, thrift, and hard work. College and university professors complain about the poor quality of their students, but supervisors also complain about workers failing to report for work and multiple firings. To their surprise, many workers don’t care if they’re fired–yet they have a sense of entitlement to material things even if they are too lazy to work for the money to buy these things. People have more to do than ever, but are lonlier than ever. The government plays a greater and greater role in individuals’ lives, and mediating institutions between the state and the individual, such as family and church, move more and more to cultural irrelevancy.

I believe this seismic shift to be a disaster that threatens the very structure of American society. When individuals decided to find meaning in their own subjective desires, mainly involving pleasure, and were unrestrained by permissive parents, they became contemporary barbarians–or even worse–at least the barbarians hunted and farmed for their food. With the search for transcendent meaning finding effortless New Age “spirituality” or a vapid Evangelical Christianity that caters to the lowest elements of popular culture, especially in music, it is no surprise that American society has been turned upside down. It is not just the trendy leftist followers of Herbert Marcuse in the 1960s who have fomented a disasterous cultural revolution; it has also been many Americans. When a society aborts its most vulnerable citizens, allows others (in two states) to off themselves legally, is promiscuous in both sex and in mind-altering substances, and which puts vapid “self-help” above all, that society is dying. Those Americans who hold traditional values stemming from orthodox Christianity feel out of place, for the university and the media ridicule their theological and moral positions. A sense of anomie pervades what is left of traditional Americana.

What should traditional Americans do? Some have emigrated to more traditional countries such as Poland. A more realistic option is to begin to develop¬† an island of normalcy and civilization in one’s own home. Parents in such an environment would try to guide their children toward tradtional cultural and moral values; they will not practice permissive parenting. At the very least, if parents can instill in their children a sense of reponsiblity and a sense of avoiding the urge for entitlement, this will do a great deal toward righting the world. The toughest task, which seems almost impossible, is to change people’s hearts. But despair is the unpardonable sin–those of us who are traditionalists should not despair but fight the good fight and finish the course as people of virtue and honor.

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