Saturday, December 17, 2016

Introduction to “Thoughts of a Recovered Philosopher” – for Non-Liberals

1

This is for those who already understand that modern culture has gone fatally awry, that progress is a pernicious god, that there is much essential wisdom from the past that we are losing. Who understand, moreover, that the greatest danger to our culture at present is a willful despising of tradition and love of –for lack of better terminology—pop values. I’m speaking to those who get that the most subversive of these new values are found especially in your most innocent-seeming family film. Or Kindergarten classroom.

Most who know this, know it because they are part of a religion. Or perhaps they have read ancient philosophy, or a great deal of classic literature, or have some other exposure to traditional knowledge or old, pre-modern wisdom. Because the warnings were there, and they have been there for a very long time. How so many people have come to forget them at first seems unclear. Many have been tempted to blame it all on some new false religion—“liberalism,” or “neo-Gnosticism” or something like that. But the truth is that it’s simple ignorance, bred of wealth. Like a spoiled child who has never been told “no,” ours is a spoiled civilization that has succeeded mightily at everything we have tried simply because we have smart technicians who’ve been able to harness for us the power of fossil fuels.

For millennia religions have demeaned and discouraged wealth. We knew it was a corrupting force. But where today does the power of persuasion lie? With those who have, for whatever reason, forgotten this lesson. Those who have grabbed for themselves the biggest share of these new riches.

The power of mass propaganda lies in the hands of those who value fame and wealth above all. Why? Because those who have been willing to sacrifice everything else—duty, tradition, family, etc.—have done best in the rat race to get heard. Victory by exhaustion, victory by fanaticism. And so those who write the modern stories we read and watch are those who most want attention – the most spoiled of  brats. And those who select what stories get produced and published are those who most want money and career success.

And so we look around us now and see the masses, the product of this propaganda, all striving for attention in the rat-race of career. Two parents working outside the home, 50-70 hours a week each, no time for children, no real desire for family closeness or bonding, no more true love of nature or growing things. Or romantic poetry or old musty books. Because there’s no money or fame or career-building in any of these. They are not “practical.”

But of course you understand all this, right? But in the mass-noise of modern life, it is easy to forget. We need reminders.

And it is easy to grow tired of it. It is easy to become jaded, cynical in a way. It is easy to become resentful, hateful even. Of these emotions, hate is the least festering and most healthy, because it is active. To bury this hate only makes it rot and mutate, to tie itself in knots and build in explosive power. But what we must do is transform this hate into something loving. We must combine it with love to make: anger.

And here we might learn something even from Nietzsche, the most fame-hungry of decadents, who wrote, “We must get truly angry for once, for things to get better.” And another place: “Of all that is written I love only what a man has written with his blood. Write with blood, and you will experience that blood is spirit.”

Just as the medieval Christian kings could learn something from the military talents of the pagan Julius Caesar, we might learn something from the decadent Nietzsche about how to defend what is Good.

Nietzsche, like us, was pent-up. He had a new value system, and he saw the deep flaws in the value system around him, but he could not directly express such idiosyncratic thoughts. He spoke in indirect stutters—aphorisms—and gradually they began to cohere. Surrounded, outnumbered, somehow he held his own. There is something to be learned here about strength.

Again: “We philosophers … are no thinking frogs, no objectifying and registering devices with frozen innards – we must constantly give birth to our thoughts out of pain and maternally endow them with all that we have of blood, heart, fire, pleasure, passion, agony, conscience, fate, and disaster.”

I love this way of speaking because it treats thinking as a living, organic, ecological thing. We maternally give birth to our thoughts. We seek to create living ideas, we philosophers. This gift of creation, shared among all artists, is a god-given, evolution-honed faculty that Coleridge baptized “Imagination.”

The etymology of the term “genius” carries this view: “Latin genius ‘guardian deity or spirit which watches over each person from birth; spirit, incarnation; wit, talent;’ also ‘prophetic skill,’ originally ‘generative power’ (or ‘inborn nature’), from [Proto-Indo-European] *gen(e)-yo-, from root *gene- ‘to produce, give birth, beget’.”

In agriculture and in our daily lives we lack a connection to nature and its generative processes. Our ideal and dream of a good family life now lacks the essential image of the cottage farm or homestead. In our intellectual lives we also lack a connection with our own natural generative faculties. That is, our ideal of intellectual life lacks poetry and philosophy.

As Emerson wrote, “Our hunting of the picturesque is inseparable from our protest against false society.”

Understanding this, I hope you can understand why in my ruminations, recorded in small part on this blog, I seek philosophy and poetry above all else.

And maybe we’re already on the same page about what’s decaying in our culture and what needs to be re-cultivated. But things are still far worse than what I’ve alluded to above.


2

It isn’t just that people are forgetting religion and missing the point of it. It’s also that our religious institutions themselves are in a state of decay and corruption. Many people would rather not hear this. And in fact they have no reason to listen to me—a humble philosopher, however recovered from his wayward ruminations—on why their religion has a problem. In fact I am likely to be wrong in my diagnosis, being neither a profound theologian nor expert on the founding or leadership of spiritual institutions. I’d prefer to let someone infinitely wiser than me make the point:

“Do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.”


3

Oh, but it is worse still. In ancient Greece, Socrates condemned those who called themselves wise, but today none even wish to be called wise. In ancient Israel, Jesus condemned those who called themselves teacher, but today none even wish to be called by that title.

Today, the best wish to be mere sycophants. That is, in more popular terminology, spokesmen, partisans, reporters, propagandists, writers.

The term “philosopher” was introduced in ancient Greece as a term for one who admired wisdom, yet did not pretend to it. A lover of wisdom. To be contrasted with a “sophist,” that is, a self-proclaimed wise man.

Today, none would call themselves a wise man. Precious few sing praises of wisdom. The highest intellectual aspiration is merely to be a “writer.” At this, it must be a “successful writer.” Who speaks of “wise writers”? It is completely indifferent what words you put on the page, what they signify, or even the ultimate wisdom of your notions—so long as they sell. Money, Mammon, is lord and master.

Before we can truly love wisdom we must learn to even pretend to wisdom. It is sophists that precede philosophers.

And we must pretend to wisdom and love wisdom before we can truly love what is most wise, namely the essence of religion.

And until we have learned to love all these higher things, it will be impossible to find spiritual fulfillment, let alone stand up to those man-made institutions that would sell fulfillment, be they corrupt religions or progressive philosophies.

And this is why I am still a philosopher, albeit a tempered one, trying to recover from the disease of aimless speculation.  And it is why I think we need more genuine philosophers now, more than ever.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Through Nihilism: A Meditation

… the world
lives in the death of speech
and sings there.
— Wendell Berry

Why are you so afraid of silence? Silence is the root of everything. If you spiral into its void, a hundred voices will thunder messages you long to hear.
— Rumi

Silence is God’s first language.
— St. John of the Cross

Leisure is a form of silence, of that silence which is the prerequisite of the apprehension of reality: only the silent hear and those who do not remain silent do not hear.
— Josef Pieper

1

Try telling a self-styled philosopher that you are a complete relativist or nihilist. He’ll probably look at you like you’re a bit crazy. But on the other hand, if you ask him if he is a moral realist or believes in absolute truth he will deny it.

As if we all inhabit a twilight world where there isn’t exactly truth but there sort of is.

Better by far to choose one or other.

One of the most important turning points in my life was when I admitted to myself that I had become a nihilist. It was in the utter silence of this unfathomable doubt that I first realized that there is truth.

You must give yourself silence. You must give yourself space, and time. Long stretches of time, where thought is welcome and non-thought even more welcome.


2

Before nihilism took me I was something of an evolutionist. More accurately, before flirting with nihilism I flirted with a kind of universal Darwinism. Neither is an ideology complete in itself. You can do little more than flirt with an ideology. It takes a fully-fledged religion to command devotion.

You might say we live in an age of ideology, of flirtation, of promiscuity of mind. Much is promised and little is consummated. Many are married but little does it mean because divorce is as common. We’re not supposed to believe in marriage, not really, just as we’re not supposed to believe in religion or even really believe in belief.

You might call modernity Paganism 2.0. A profusion of small gods.

Evolution is a funny set of ideas. It’s sort of philosophy, sort of religion, sort of science. There’s some mathematics, but not much. But what it has is mountains of is evidence. Make no mistake. The earth is billions of years old, and traditional Biblical chronology is literally false. Many take this to mean, as I did for a long time, that the Bible is literally false, as if St. Augustine had never suggested over a millennium and a half ago that the six days of creation in Genesis might have been figurative, and as if no Pope John Paul II had ever admitted that Darwin’s theory is, at least in broad outline, true. There’s a lot of prejudice and doubt tangled up with the idea of evolution, for scientists and theologians alike. Evolution reminds people of eugenics and the Nazis. It reminds people of the absurdity of old myths, and everything that is unbelievable about religion. The whole Struggle for Existence reminds us, in short, that we take peace and comfort for granted.

It reminds us of those Hard Truths that we like to forget. That competition is a part of life. That human knowledge has always been limited. That not everything can be tolerated, not even in principle. That inequality is a natural state. That populations wax and wane and civilization is mortal. That some cruel criterion of selection is necessary for creativity. That weak books and weak minds do not procreate. That there is a hard reality that will break our illusions. That life is essentially the horror of mutation and creativity. That life must have some higher purpose beyond mere reproduction, beyond mere faith in faith, beyond mere being. That somewhere beyond this material rat-race there is a supreme good, a Good worth the Struggle.

A God worth this Devil.


3

Evolution cannot be used to derive a complete set of values for life. If you could predict the future with certainty, all you would have to do—as a devout Evolutionist—is calculate what sequence of actions would leave the most ideological and genetic progeny over the next, oh I don’t know, few millennia, say. Then perform that sequences of actions. But of course we can’t do this. The world is too complex. We don’t know who will win the game of evolution. Fascism believed in evolution and it believed it would win it. It did not. Darwinism is not a perfect formula, nor even a very good one.

And in any case, we don’t have time to sit around and derive a new set of Commandments from Darwin’s theory. There are philosophers trying to do this, of course. But we’ve got to live our lives today. We all know this, or else we’d be hanging on the Darwinists’ every word. (Okay, we don’t all know this.)

Then how do we answer the question of value? Fine, toss religion. It’s superstition. Where to begin? Basic kindness maybe. But maybe not. Why not selfishness? Wasn’t religion a form of control for the masses? So let’s rebel against this tyrannical rule of kindness. (Nietzsche, anyone?) Or maybe not, I don’t know. Seems like we’d be back to Darwinism again.

Fact is, the question of ultimate value is groundless. “What is the meaning of life?” cannot be answered. Not unless you’ve already got some ultimate value you are assuming. For example, you might say, “I choose ... Christianity, because Islam is too militant.” Too militant for what? What standard of militancy are you presupposing here? Maybe it’s just militant enough. Maybe Christianity is too peaceful. You don’t know unless you have a previous set of values. At some point values bottom out. If they don’t, if you are questioning the root of the tree, you are done. This is the abyss. Nihilism. Silence.

It’s tempting to use evolution here. “Which religion is fittest? Which grows fastest? Which will win the Struggle for Existence?” But you’re counting your chickens before they’ve hatched. I mean, maybe you should become a nano-engineer and invent and new kind of tiny self-replicating robot that outbreeds every other living thing on earth, and cover the world in a gray-goo of nano-bots, destroying everything but your invention. Then you win. I mean it, congrats, you win everything: you are the fittest.

No, evolution is not the ultimate meaning of life. You cannot determine the ultimate meaning of life, not on the basis of any fact. Life has meaning, but the question of that meaning, in all its nihilistic presuppositions, is unanswerable.

Nihilism. Silence.


4

Without history, the term we means nothing. All philosophizing, all serious thinking and discussion, presupposes a community, and a community is something alive, it is something that acts. To act is to be, dynamically. To act is to be in time. Time is the translation of future into past. It is the contextualization of the future by the past. All stories presuppose a beginning and an end. All purpose presupposes a present state of lack and a future goal. All learning presupposes a past, a history.

We cannot speak without history. This discussion, the discussion of the meaning of life (is that what we’re doing? really? but isn’t that the opposite of nihilism? oh got it) the question of whether life has a meaning, is impossible—as any discussion is—without memory. Don’t forget Socrates, that’s what I’m saying. He started this discussion (or maybe it was Thales or Thoth or Abraham) and really, he’s the arbiter.

Now I’m pretty sure if Socrates were here now he’d point out that the reason the whole discussion has gotten so confused is that we’ve forgotten how it started. When Socrates catches you in a contradiction this is always how it works: (1) he asks you what you think and you tell him you think X, then (2) he leads you through a dialogue showing you how actually your other beliefs imply that X is false, and (3) he reminds you how you started by saying X was true. This forces you to make a choice. Something has to be given up.

Logical confusion, in other words, is the product of inconsistent belief.

When did our confusion start? In other words, when did nihilism become a thing? When did suddenly everything get thrown in doubt?

There’s the theory of evolution, that’s one thing. But really the whole modern tendency to question started with the Enlightenment in the 1700’s, when Voltaire and Hume and others began, very seriously, to doubt traditional religion. European civilization expanded, encountering other belief systems. It delved deeper into ancient history, encountering very old versions of Christianity and philosophy. And scientists began to make big discoveries, leading to not only evolution but modern chemistry and physics, which don’t seem to leave much room for the spirits we used to believe in.

Socrates would probably chuckle at this point. This is exactly how Greek philosophy started. Athens became an empire, bringing in new ideas from everywhere. It’s science and mathematics made many new discoveries. People started questioning the old gods. In fact, that’s the main reason Socrates was condemned to death, for “searching high into the heavens and deep into the earth” and “introducing new gods” and more generally “corrupting the youth.”

As a result of all this doubt, philosophers in ancient Greece began to debate questions of truth, meaning, value, and purpose. Fundamental, unanswerable questions. Parmenides offered the answer that whatever is thought, is true. (Sounds to me, at base, the same intuition as Descartes’ that whatever thinks, exists.) Others simply concluded that truth is whatever people agree on. Modern Pragmatists, incidentally, still hold to this. Back then they were known as “Sophists” and they made their living as lawyers. Lawyers need no higher test of truth than agreement. Their sole purpose is to convince.

But Socrates argued that this was insufficient. A doctor does not seek merely to convince his patient that he is better, but to repair his body. Likewise, a wiseman should not seek merely to convince people that they are right, but to convince them of what is true. In today’s parlance, Socrates argued that truth is objective, not subjective.

Okay Socrates, that’s great. But you know, this conversation you began took an unexpected turn. Your student, Plato, wrote a series of beautiful books that spread throughout the known world, convincing the most educated of your ideas on truth and virtue. It did them a great deal of good. But it must have been lacking something, because within 1000 years after your death, most became convinced that the Bible contained a more compelling notion of both truth and virtue.

True, many of us now blame the rise of Christianity on the spread of ignorance, superstition, and violent intolerance. But I’m not sure this view is justified.

Violence and intolerance? The rise of Christianity saw the decline of slavery and was in fact accompanied by less religious violence and less human sacrifice than before. Ignorance? It occurred during the most literate period of Roman history. Superstition? This also declined along with Paganism. It is not inaccurate to say that as Christianity rose, Rome became measurably less superstitious, ignorant, and violent. The Dark Ages came later, as the wealth of the empire waned, bureaucracy grew bloated, taxes became burdensome, and the barbarians immigrated.

Until we come to terms with history in its uncomfortable, unfashionable reality, we will never come to terms with our own place in it or with the ability, duty, responsibility, and inevitably of making history as we live. And to be mindful of this is the precise opposite of nihilism. This is the meaning of meaning, the meaning of value, if in broad outline only. The question of our place in history is not to be dismissed as mere subjectivity, something undecidable and avoidable—not if we are going to really live, to live with sincere mindfulness.


5

Our meditation may have historical context, then, but this alone doesn’t answer our question of how to ground our values, nor exactly why we’re in this situation. For the thousand years between the collapse of Rome and the Enlightenment, we were just fine with our traditional beliefs. Here and there, you had a philosopher or heretic with some new idea, but for the most part we were content. Now, a significant percentage of the population counts itself as among the doubtful, uncertain, or simply unbelieving.

Presently I am not stating any of this as a value judgment. We’re taking the nihilistic perspective. We’re talking about interesting facts. And it is a very interesting fact that traditional values have a way of sticking around for many centuries, especially with how fickle, ignorant, and careless humans tend to be. There must be an evolutionary explanation here.

Under normal circumstances, in any traditional society (which constitute the vast majority of societies throughout history), those who doubt what everyone else accepts are shunned. They are avoided and forgotten, shamed and ignored. They do not leave a legacy. They do not start a movement. In evolutionary terms, their ideas are unfit. They are selected against and disappear.

So, from an evolutionary standpoint, the fitter option is to conform, not to question.

This is from the point of view of the individual. From the society’s perspective, there are still more compelling reasons to stick to tradition. To pass on everything your culture has learned over the centuries means making sure people don’t forget. They must be encouraged to remember tradition, to revere tradition, to pass on tradition. Not to neglect it, to care for it. If you do not do this, your society will change in unpredictable ways, and more likely than not succumb to time’s entropy. Your society will mutate, decay, perish. It should be no surprise that the longest-lived traditions held certain core beliefs to be sacred.

All I’m saying at this point is that all this is understandable. Hate tradition or love tradition, this is its nature and justification.

But we’re being nihilists now, right? We don’t really care. Future generations can do what they like, the laws of evolution be hanged. Maybe all that matters is that I live my life in a fulfilling way. Maybe I just want to be happy. Maybe I will leave no descendents, and maybe I will be forgotten by future generations. Maybe I have nothing to contribute to the stream of evolution—so what? Evolution’s purposes are not my purposes, and why should they be?

Heck, you don’t have to be a nihilist to think this way. You want a decent job, a spouse, maybe a kid or two. You want good TV and better movies. You want a good novel, a good philosophical debate. Can’t you then say you’ve led a fulfilling life? What is all this about history and the big picture and future generations?


6

Dear future generations, you give me pause. I can’t help but care about you. It must be buried deep in my instincts, this paternal feeling I cannot shake. No surprise. It carries the favor and blessing of the evolutionary command to survive.

My instincts remain. However much I blaspheme the history of humankind, and call it brutal and unforgiving and cruel and ignorant and blind, I carry this legacy of its millions of years in my blood. I’ve always wanted to marry. I’ve always wanted to learn, and to teach.

I’ve always wanted to care. To do something for humanity. Who doesn’t, when their own needs are met, want to reach out and help others? Make a difference? Do something worthy of remembrance, or at least admiration? These are evolutionary instincts, like it or not, to spread one’s ideas. They are as powerful as the sexual instinct to pass down one’s genes, for ideas evolve too. The worship of fame can only spread itself.

From nihilism, what is there to do, but surrender to instinct?

Tradition is a special kind of instinct, passed down by book and preacher rather than gene. Tradition is the result of evolution, too.

But from nihilism, which tradition? There are hundreds of religions and philosophies and ideologies to choose from, new and old, foreign and domestic.

We are in a unique historical position. Like the ancient Romans, we have access to many distinct belief systems and can study as many as we like. This can be an advantage. But it can also be a disadvantage, because who knows how these hitherto unmixed chemicals might react? Well, it’s too late anyway. What hasn’t been mixed over the last few centuries? What horrible explosiveness haven’t we discovered?

And look, we’ve got a problem. What scientifically-educated person can so easily go back to believing that Moses literally parted the Red Sea, that Noah literally fit two of every animal on the ark, that Elijah was literally carried into heaven in a fiery chariot? It’s not so easy to say, “Okay, tradition was healthier, let’s go back to that.” Tradition asks for faith in absurdities.

So let’s come back to science and practical objectivity. Let’s think about this question from a practical point of view. What we desire is to give rise to healthy future generations. (In other words we want evolutionary fitness, even if we don’t like putting it this way.) But what good is this desire if our children do not share it? If they fall into the hedonistic pleasures of the moment, and themselves forget to care about the future? Hasn’t this already happened generation after generation—flappers, beatniks, hippies, etc.? Urban civilization has always been filled with spiritual dangers. Prostitution, crime, greed, hedonism, drugs. This is where our civilization is. These are our dangers, though it seems we keep forgetting it.

Right?

I’m struggling for eloquence right now.

Maybe you and I still aren’t on the same page at all. I’m sure you’re wondering what I’m getting at. People are free, aren’t they? It’s not like we need to start oppressing them and forcing our beliefs on them, do we? Shouldn’t we live and let live, leave others free to pursue what happiness they may, as long as nobody is hurt?

What I’m having trouble explaining is that I really don’t care what the law is. And I really don’t care what you do with what I’m telling you. Go pursue pleasure for it’s own sake. Pollute the environment, exploit the poor, use plastic inorganic goods. Raise your children on horror movies and pornography. Burn your Bible.

But first, before you light that match, maybe let’s take a peek and see what all the fuss is about. Why not? Let’s open it at random, see what we get.

My son, keep your father’s commands
and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.

Bind them upon your heart forever;
fasten them around your neck.
When you walk, they will guide you;
when you awake, they will speak to you.

For these commands are a lamp,
this teaching is a light,

and the corrections of discipline
are the way to life,

keeping you from the immoral woman,
from the smooth tongue of the wayward wife.

Do not lust in your heart after her beauty
or let her captivate you with her eyes,

for the prostitute reduces you to a loaf of bread,
and the adulteress preys upon your very life.

Can a man scoop fire into his lap
without his clothes being burned?

Can a man walk on hot coals
without his feet being scorched?

So is he who sleeps with another man’s wife;
no one who touches her will go unpunished.

Men do not despise a thief if he steals
to satisfy his hunger when he is starving.

Yet if he is caught, he must pay sevenfold,
though it costs him all the wealth of his house.

But a man who commits adultery lacks judgment;
whoever does so destroys himself.

Blows and disgrace are his lot,
and his shame will never be wiped away;

for jealousy arouses a husband’s fury,
and he will show no mercy when he takes revenge.

He will not accept any compensation;
he will refuse the bribe, however great it is. 
 
(Proverbs 4:20-25, NIV translation)

What are you waiting for? Go ahead, light your match.

Look, why don’t we choose another random one, so you can see just how inferior this silly book is to the much wiser hippie policy of sex with whoever and all old wisdom be damned. Honest, I’ll roll some dice and make sure this one is completely random. I’m sure this time it’ll be something ridiculous about fire and brimstone and angels and devils. (Crossing my fingers ...)

Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.

See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees, and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

(Deuteronomy 30:11-19)

All right, so there’s no fire or brimstone, but there is this pernicious myth of the “Holy Land” and this idea that they all must go forth and multiply and force their tradition on their children and their children’s children, isn’t there? How can this be okay?

I understand your doubts. There is, indeed, something very militant and dogmatic about this passage.

But I’m inclined to get Nietzschean here. I’m inclined to say, good. Our society has become decadent and weak and luxurious. Let’s make a stronger culture, one worthy of the land it inhabits, one that can grow and become evolutionarily strong and fit. Why the hell not? We’re nihilists, remember?

I’m also inclined to get historical. Every promise made in the passage above was fulfilled. To the extent that the Jews followed the commandments laid down, they and their children were prosperous and happy. To the extent that they forgot their tradition (see the later books of the Old Testament for the story) and grew decadent and forgetful, they did perish and were scattered across the earth.

The passages I quoted above, in short, helped shape how the world would become. Those societies that remained true to them grew and left legacies spanning centuries. These were not the ravings of madmen or simple bigots (e.g. Mein Kampf) but very sane analyses of what it takes for an individual and a society to be prosperous and successful. And before you object that America is already prosperous and successful remember that over 80% of its population still believes that the Old Testament is the word of God.


7

We’re not going to turn the clock back to 1700. We’ve got new technologies, a different world, a different social context. But we’ve still got some serious problems, problems analogous to those of ancient Rome. We lack challenges. We are growing weaker and more forgetful. When all of this finally falls apart, we will likely be too weak to survive for long in the coming dark ages. But there was hope for the Romans, and there is hope for us.

What hope? A hope for my personal legacy. A hope for your personal legacy. We’ve seen that the world has unity. Start with Darwin’s theory, and reason brings you to the Old Testament. Start with nihilism, and in the silence purpose and God appear. You may call this revelation if you wish, or not.

Evolutionary success is the problem solved by every traditional society so far. Nietzsche said it was Will to Power that created new religions. I say it is that hand of God we call natural selection. There is no reasoning values. This is nihilism. But out of the nothingness of nihilism springs vibrant life full of passion, will, and power; this happens according to instinct, according to struggle, and trial and test.

Modern utilitarianism—that we must strive for the most comfort for the many, that life is about suppressing suffering and violence forever—this is a weak doctrine and a fragile idol. Rather, life must embrace risk. To love is to risk the loss of what you love. To grow is to struggle, to give is to defend, to honor is to fight for. The worship of pleasure and comfort is the precise danger warned of in the Bible, and it is the reason that the Bible is the holy book of most civilized cultures: precisely because it warns against the dangers of civilization.

I believe that the message of the Bible, and the message of science, converge. Disbelieve if you wish, but as a believer I must simply say: this is true. The meaning of life is to live thus virtuously, mindful of your legacy. To do so brings prosperity for future generations and personal fulfillment.

It’s all right to balk. This is my meditation, not yours. Be warned, however, that you must eventually come to a decision on what is true, or perish. “But absolute truth is impossible.” Is that an absolute truth? The prohibition of truth destroys itself. The prohibition of value as “subjectivity,” the flight to pure objectivity, equally destroys itself. For any prohibition of value is itself a value. And any life not according to value is a life arbitrary and listless. Relativism is self-deceiving nihilism. But honest nihilism is self-annihilating, leaving nothing but virtuous honesty and honest virtue.

(This was in part inspired by this post and subsequent comments.)

Saturday, November 5, 2016

The Illogicality of Physicalism

Modern philosophers and scientists like to tell us that consciousness is an illusion. Everything is really just made from physical particles, they say. There is no such thing as mind or soul.

This has become a sort of consensus in academia. It's ruining philosophy, because anyone who suggests otherwise--that values, spirit, truth, beauty, or goodness are worth discussing--is marginalized. Leave it to the neuroscientists, we're told.

I've recently posted an article on Sydney Trads with the logic behind my view that this is a bunch of bologna:

The Illogicality of Physicalism – A Response to Cocks



The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Catholicism, the Cult of Progress, and the Alt-Right (Part 3 of 3)


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Assuming that I am right and Moldbug and his crew are simply erecting new idols, where does this leave us regarding the Alt-Right’s indictment of democracy? Is it true, as they say, that democracy is a kind of “chaos,” a kind of “entropic decay,” a “fall from grace” that is less and less gradually wearing down the moral fabric of our society?

First, is our moral fabric disintegrating? I think it is. Respect for tradition, classic literature, and ancient religions is at an all-time low. If you’re on the liberal end of the political spectrum, this might all sound like a good thing. But in Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, he gives us some reasons to think it is bad. Bloom had been teaching philosophy for decades to very bright Ivy-League types. Over the years, he noticed that their ability to engage with classic literature had markedly declined. They tended to dismiss almost every philosophical or political discussion at the outset with statements like, “Well isn’t that subjective?” or “Isn’t it all relative anyway?” He couldn’t get the discussions off the ground. Students seemed to believe that our right to Free Speech was based on the “fact” that there is no moral truth, that everything is permitted. Bloom was forced to return to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers and demonstrate that, in fact, all the rights they put forward were supposed to have been based on everlasting truths: “We hold these truths to be self-evident ...” None of this should have been in question, but our modern-day high school graduates are simply not taught to think. The best way to learn thinking—reading the greatest thinkers of all time—is now demeaned as too white and male to be PC.

This may sound serious enough by itself, but it’s only one of several ways in which our culture is decaying, according to conservative thinkers. Single parenthood is ever rising. The quality of public education, overall, is declining. Psycho-therapy is at an all-time high. Every year there is measurably more violence and sex in entertainment. Ask anyone who likes old movies. The growth of the Alt-Right itself is a sign of decay. If the movement is right that our culture is decaying, then it’s right, and if it’s wrong, well, then it’s still right because we have such growing movements of apocalyptic prophets on our hands. Dissatisfaction with the government is at an all-time high. Average working vocabulary is declining. Ask anyone who likes 19th-century literature.

It makes sense that our culture is decaying, at least theoretically. How is culture passed down? Books, music, movies, religion, education. Books, music, and movies are now created almost solely with the thought of entertainment, of being “new” and “original” and most importantly “popular.” As a result they cater to our guilty pleasures—sensationalism, darkness, disrespect, and so on. We’re talking entropy here. Standards are not firm; they will decay. Entertainment is becoming more and more influential while religion becomes less and less so. And education is not breaking the cycle because moral teachings have been banished from it. Worse, education contributes to the decline of religion because our most vocal and influential professors tend to be more anti-religious than average.

Many, including Bloom, are pointing out that our obsession with equality is leading to relativism. No culture or idea or writer is being taught as intrinsically better than any other. By withholding judgment in this way, we have lost contact with the great thinkers of the past. We can’t even call them “great” anymore. It’s grade inflation, retroactively. What has been the basis of education for millennia, reading the classics: tossed. We needed to beat the Soviets in science. So we’ve now had three generations of students that know almost nothing about the history of Western thought stretching back to Plato, what used to be Western culture. Western culture is all but dead. It self-destructed in its mania for material success over tradition, it’s mania for science over humanities, it’s mania for whatever over the best.

Granting that our culture is in decline, this raises two important questions. (1) How do we account for this? Why are we suddenly mutating so much, when we’d been nearly static for centuries? (2) What can we do about this? Is there anything we can do?

The answer to (1) is relatively simple. We are a civilization that has grown incredibly rich due to cheap energy from fossil fuels. The industrial revolution was driven by coal, and the 20th century added oil and natural gas as major sources of energy. This is 80% of all the energy we use and it’s been estimated that without fossil fuels for fertilizer and transportation we could only support about a billion people on earth. When you've got a filthy rich empire like ours and life gets easy, the result is pretty obvious: you get spoiled. People like to say that this fossil fuel thing is only temporary until we can get solar or wind or maybe fusion power to take the reigns. Even if you could, do you really want to deal with that many more decades or even centuries of cultural decay? It strains the imagination to picture the weirdness of the result.

The more difficult question is what we are supposed to do about this. If you ask the Alt-Right, we need a benevolent monarch. Moldbug claims that monarchy has proven itself to be the most stable form of government. You don’t have to worry about “equality” taking the reigns, because you don’t have to worry about getting elected. You can just stick to tradition.

But the obvious problem here is that monarchy has proven that it is isn’t stable in the modern world. The one thing we should have learned over the past two centuries is that plentiful resources, population growth, and mass media together tend to magically dissolve monarchies. It’s mass media across a mass population that is causing tradition to decay. And it’s mass media across a mass population that is causing democracy, not the other way around. Moldbug’s indictment of democracy fails to get at the root cause of the problem.

Do we need tighter controls over mass media? Fascism tried this and failed. Communism tried this and lost the economic war. The problem is not an uncontrolled mass media, but mass media period. We’d have to destroy it. This seems unlikely to happen. While it has its disadvantages, mass media has proven that it can spread new, better ideas faster. It has proven itself a net benefit over the last two centuries, despite its problems, and that is why the most powerful nations today love their mass media. Or rather, those nations that have loved mass media have become the most powerful. If we ban it we lose our most powerful tool.

There is no fountain of youth, whether for humans or nations. There is no perfect political philosophy that will keep a state or culture eternally young. Mortality is a fact of life for civilizations too. Plato says as much in the Republic, when he speaks of the selfish forces that work to break down every system of government, even the most ideal. Democracy, he argues, tends to spoil its citizens and gradually form them into violent mobs. This is what he saw happening in Athens. It seems it is happening to us.

Which leads us to the final question: where is this ride taking us?


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Plato claims that democracy devolves into tyranny. We’ve seen this sort of thing happen before, with the Nazi and Soviet revolutions. It happened with the quasi-democratic Roman Republic. We don’t know if it would have happened with Athens (Macedonia conquered it before it had a chance to) but it must have happened frequently-enough with Greek democracies for Plato to set it down as a law.

There are many reasons to think that a collapse of some kind is coming. So the Alt-Right is likely correct on this point. But what they are wrong about is thinking that this somehow means we have no responsibilities toward the poor and disadvantaged. Economically, the Alt-Right is libertarian. That means they do not believe in social welfare. I suspect that they do not believe in personal charity at all, because they tend to think this encourages the poor to breed.

I disagree. They say they believe in Tradition. But to begrudge the less privileged every last penny—is this the traditional notion of chivalry? For the more privileged to rush ahead and greedily snatch up every opportunity—is this not the traditional notion of greed? Is it not traditionally Christian to despise a scrooge who clings to riches despite the sufferings of the poor? Do we no longer realize that wealth leads to decadence? Isn’t that the whole point of critiquing the vices and uncontrolled mutations of high civilization?

The more wealth we horde, the longer we forestall the cleansing day of judgment, and the more severe we make it. The less generous we are, the more we grind the faces of the poor in the brutality of natural selection, and the more we glorify they day of their revolt. This is why I am not and never will be a libertarian. It is the greediest and least Christian doctrine there is. World Progress is impossible. Social Engineering is futile. And for this reason basic human love is king.

You can’t predict the future. We have no idea what political systems are in store. Newspapers brought modern democracy. What will Google bring?

Plagues are coming. Our vast new networks are virulent. Cultural pestilence will spread unlike anything we’ve ever seen. We’ll need strong immune systems. We’ll need Christlike love. We’ll need incorruptible personal integrity.

Many desire to bring about the collapse of our society right now. This is pure impatience. We must resist complacency—but never embrace chaos. Many desire to set up our culture or race as an idol. This is pure pride. We must resist decay without falling into cultural incest.

Be not arrogant; be benevolent. Be not a parasite; be a symbiont.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Catholicism, the Cult of Progress, and the Alt-Right (Part 2 of 3)


A lot of smart people are raised without any particular religion. Perhaps you are one of them. Or maybe you were raised religious as a child, and have since opened your mind and left. (Since religious people produce most of the children, you are more likely to fall into the latter category.) In either case you may feel, consciously or unconsciously, very reluctant to discard Progress—and understandably so. After losing the purpose given to you by religion, Progress has given you a reason to live. It’s centered your thinking. The liberal way of seeing things has provided you with immuno-responses against extreme ideologies—including racist, anarchist, and violent ones. But you should be aware that there are other sources of these benefits, even outside the Western tradition. Buddhist meditation presupposes no metaphysical unprovables, and trains your mind to quiet itself, which gives strong immunity against ideas or memes run amok. Learning formal mathematics, as Plato asked his disciples to do, can also give you more control of your thinking, and gives you rational tools for contemplating the abstract realm of ideas. You can learn prayer from the New Testament or from any Muslim or Hindu. (There must be a reason prayer is so common in traditional, that is, long-lived societies. In fact, its health benefits have even been measured.) Just as important is to read ancient, living texts, also known as classics or great books. Being old is not enough. The Epic of Gilgamesh is one of the oldest texts that still survive, but it is dead. It wasn’t passed down to us by monks copying old crumbling manuscripts for generations. Rather, some archaeologists found it on buried clay tablets; it’s almost literally a fossil. Its myths no longer live on in the popular consciousness, as do Homer’s Illiad and Odyssey. There must be something more profound about the latter. The Tao Te Ching is an even younger text, yet its impact has been equally great. Personally, I prefer the Bible, as interpreted by modern Christianity, as my source of bedrock values. It’s my heritage. I was raised on it. Reading it helped save me from endless, pointless, abyssal philosophizing. It re-centered me.

Don’t worry. Christianity may be an irrational germ, but it’s not a Bad Germ. It’s a Good Germ.

We used to all know this. Lacking all religion, that is atheism, used to be seen as an unhealthy thing. The source of modern anxiety is really Progressivism, which has given us an idol—material prosperity for all—that we now hold as the greatest good in the world. Progress has become our exclusive object of worship, to the neglect of older and healthier ideals.

Having materialistic idols is a common thing for powerful empires like ours. The Romans, to a large extent, worshiped Rome itself. It deified its emperors. The gods it had inherited from the Greeks its poets made still more violent, selfish, capricious, and rapacious. It worshiped them as idols, and even imported idolatrous cults from other nations. Babylon, Sumeria, Egypt—all the same story. Worship became an entertaining pastime; power itself (not even love, though this can also become an idol) was often the primary object of admiration. This is all part of the phenomenon conservative thinkers call “decadence,” that is, the disintegration of culture, becoming spoiled by one’s own success.

We are indeed becoming spoiled by our own (temporary, materialistic) success. There’s a reason the Bible warns against seeking wealth, worshiping physical idols, and discarding spiritual tradition. When a culture seeks wealth and worldly goods, and abolishes spirituality, all its striving is thrown at things that are imperfect, fleeting, unworthy, and often impossible for this world. Unless you have a higher ideal you are quite simply setting your sights too low. You get leaders who want nothing but money or power or fame. You get a populace that is selfish and greedy rather than unselfish and idealistic. You get cynicism rather than hope. There is a reason that religions like Christianity have won out again and again. And that reason is that they teach you to meditate on and strive toward the ideal good, that is, the Good, that is, God. Read some Catholic theology and see that God is not anything like an existing material being, but is rather an immaterial, infinite, ultimate Ideal that transcends all human experience. By praying to God, that is, meditating on the Good (which is what even Plato, Confucius, Lao Tzu and all the great philosophers taught) you center yourself in what your instincts and your tradition have passed down to you as the best way to be, whether you want to describe that goodness in terms of evolution (for these doctrines are well-tested by evolution), or material success (for the holy texts teach that goodness does tend to bring prosperity), or in terms of Godliness itself, the last of which is ultimately the best and least materialistic way to look at it.


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With that immuno-boost, if you absolutely refuse to call it a faith-boost, we are ready to take an excursion into the ugliest, swampiest part of our ideological jungle, get our hands mucky, and face down some petty memetic demons. (All demons are petty by nature, being materialistic, i.e. short-sighted. Lets put some glasses on them.)

Many have come this way before, heretics fleeing the decayed Temple of Progress, lacking sometimes even sword or shield or armor or antibiotics to protect them. Among the most famous of these (at least for the last 15 minutes or so) are the members of that infamous excursion party known most commonly as “Neoreaction,” the “Dark Enlightenment,” or the “Alt-Right.”

But why do we care to follow their trail? It leads through some excessively difficult and dangerous swamps: the Bog of Biological Differences among Races and Sexes; the Marsh of Memetic Frogs; the Haunted Ruins of Absolute Monarchy; the Fen of Frustrated Fascism Fascination; etc.

We care, well, because everybody seems to care, whether positively or negatively. Hillary Clinton has found them important enough to publicly denounce them. Meanwhile, the Alt-Right is recruiting stray conservatives in droves, especially young nerds, and it’s got them working on some huge projects. It’s trying to drain the whole region, known collectively as the Swamp of Old-School, I Mean Really-Old-School, I Mean Dead-and-Gone Fossil-Species Conservatism. It’s been submerged for ages, but they might even succeed, especially if that up-and-coming Conquistador, good old Donny “I Didn’t Say That” Trump, becomes the next president and their biggest sponsor.

Also: there are some incredibly intelligent people on the Alt-Right. You might even call them philosophers. Some of what they say is inspired and even true. Some of it is merely partisan. Some of it is virulent.
I hope you’ll forgive me that off-the-wall preface. I’m not sure how else to summarize the meaning of such an uncentered movement.

I’d like to give a fair assessment. Being fair is essential in this case because fairness, as it so happens, is exactly what has been lacking in how Progressives have been reacting to the Alt-Right, and vice versa. Dialogue has broken down, and with it our ability to reliably distinguish the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of these various ideological organisms.

The Alt-Right is not a unified movement. It includes everything from atheistic neo-Nazis to fundamentalist Catholic monarchists to apocalyptic ultra-capitalists. Some of them have said that what unites them is an opposition to what they perceive as the unconstitutional tyranny of political correctness. They just want the freedom to be honest about their views about sex, race, and class. Others have said that all that unites them is an opposition to mainstream conservatism. But this can’t be right because that makes me automatically Alt-Right, as well as this guy, who rightly challenges the assertion. Because from what I can tell the Alt-Right does have something more specific that unites them. This common thread is the philosophy of Mencius Moldbug as expounded on his blog Unqualified Reservations. Moldbug believes that democracy is rotten to the core, a brain parasite (he uses such terms) and that it should be surgically removed so we can finally see the truth of absolute monarchy, particularly of the Jacobite sort from 17th-century England.

If you’ve never heard of this before you’re going to wonder: Why bother? It’s obviously crazy, right? Well, yes and no. There was a time when Nietzsche was considered obviously crazy. But he’s had a huge impact. Moldbug’s philosophizing is in fact so carefully analytical and in a twisted way fun that you can’t help but hear him through and try to figure him out. (Don’t believe me? CAUTION: ingest at your own risk.

Moldbug’s thesis includes the correct ideas that Progress is an illusion and civilization is in decline. Such truths are dangerous for Westerners who are unprepared for them. They are glaringly obvious if you think about them at any great length. We’re destroying our environment, we’re letting our culture decay, and we’re even letting our DNA mutate out of control. The Temple of Progress is a temple to an idol—our own success—and we know it’s not a real god because it’s decaying before our eyes.

Well, not exactly before our eyes, slowly, but Moldbug gives us photographs of what the idol looked like at various points over the last two centuries, citing little-read primary sources with vivid descriptions of each stage of its decay. Proliferating Democratic freedoms, he claims, have caused the bloodiest wars and revolutions, the increases in crime, the dissolution of the family, the loss of sexual morality, and the disappearance of civic consciousness. He gives us decent-enough eyeglasses to see it. He’s a demon who’s slightly-less short-sighted, and in the land of the short-sighted demons, he’s king.

Horror of horrors; our god is a mortal god. A dying god. Who is to blame? Well, democracy for one, or so he says. It’s been a brain parasite all along, spoiling the uneducated masses of voters with promises of free goods (welfare, minimum wage, etc.) that pave a broad road to totalitarian communist hell. The harder conservatives fight, it seems, the farther left the nation moves. The conservatism of today would have been the extreme liberalism of 50 years ago, and unthinkably radical 150 years ago. But we’re no better off than we were back then. No progress has occurred. Instead, politicians promise more and more, government debt explodes, and we march inexorably toward communism and social decadence. Every year conservatives are forced to retreat and let age-old institutions, such as marriage, decay. Every year divorce rates rise. Every year faster-breeding immigrants pour over our borders, bringing their own culture and diluting our own. And every year political correctness renders it harder to protest. Despairing, self-mutilating his own brain to get the democratic parasite out, Moldbug fled into the swampy ruins of Anglo-American culture, leaving us his snarky trail of clues, and now spends his days attempting to unearth, revive, and polish up, for some reason, idols still older, more decayed, and more primitive than Progress. Idols that were whipped by Progress before, unfairly, and which now just need a second chance to show their true potential. Class hierarchy. Nobility. Aristocracy. Divine Monarchy. If we had only held true to these doctrines, the American and French Revolutions, which essentially gave the power to rabble-rousers and uneducated mobs the world-over, would never have happened. We need to bring Absolute Monarchy back, he says.

But was it ever even possible to stifle the budding power of the people? Or was this force—whether entropic decay or true progress—a part of the inevitable maturation of industrial society? I would lay my bets on the latter. The obvious ridiculousness of attempting to revive those dead idols is the main reason Moldbug’s sanest supporters are Christians. His atheist followers have gone as morally insane as he has, and so typically lack the eloquence for evangelism. His Christian followers have naturally strong immune systems and are thus stronger, more beneficial hosts and carriers. They get that progress is pagan idol. They move on. They fare much better than poor allergic Moldbug in the swamp. They can help him uncover the old idols not to revive them, but as memories of a better time, as promises of worldly goals more fulfilling than Progress, or simply as warnings against idolatry. And the saner of his followers that are non-Christians are philosophers, such as this guy. These philosophers at least have the notion of Platonic good to guide and protect them, if little else.

I had a dream the other night that Freud had an affair with his own daughter, and the two committed suicide together. When I woke I realized I had a perfect allegory for the Alt-Right. It’s a reverse Oedipal complex. Bring back patriarchy; marry your own father. His whacked theories were respected enough in their day, sure, but they were ultimately suicidal. To revive dead traditions rather than learning about live ones is, in essence, a kind of cultural incest.

The postmodern philosopher Nick Land is perhaps the most famous of Moldbug’s followers. While his conclusions are more original, they are for this reason even more mutated and tragically flawed. Land was a philosophy lecturer at the University of Warwick for about a decade, but also writes horror fiction and poetry, does performance art, and dabbles in the occult and psychedelic drugs. His essay, “The Dark Enlightenment,” starts, very reasonably, with Moldbug’s insight that our civilization is not progressing but decaying. After touching on the politically- and socially-corrupting power of democracy, the ongoing breakdown of race relations, the hollowing-out of the American “inner city,” and the resurrection of white nationalism—all rightly identified as signs of this decay—he concludes with a deeply vexing analysis of what kind of future we might expect.

Option (1), according to Nick Land, is “Modernity 2.0.” He thinks China would be most likely to form the center of a second spurt of global modernization. Option (2) is what he calls “Postmodernity.” He calls this future “a new dark age, in which Malthusian limits brutally re-impose themselves.” Option (3) is a “Western Renaissance,” in which the West reboots its traditional power structures—just as Moldbug himself suggests—leading to a renewal of civilization.

What strikes me most about these options is that they are non-options. Options (1) and (3) reduce to the suggestion that some new political idol replace that of Progress. Land’s discussion makes it clear that he sees the best such idol as some form of libertarianism, or monarchy, or libertarian-monarchy. I guess he’s just helping Moldbug polish off another fossilized monument to Absolute Hierarchy. Option (2), while perhaps the most realistic, is presented as a form of nihilism and thus vanishes as a possibility. But in reality, Option (2) is inevitable, and this is why we need an abstract notion of good and not a materialistic one. We need to be ready to face the next Dark Age with as much integrity as we can muster, as the Christians did when Rome fell. It is lacking an abstract Good or God that dooms Land to the realm of politics-for-politics’-sake.

Nick Land’s anti-spirituality becomes most glaringly clear at the tail end of his conclusion, when he considers humanity’s coming ability to engineer its own DNA. Since it is inbred groups of organisms that tend to evolve most quickly, he concludes that some small, incestuous group of cybernetically-engineered humans will achieve a superiority to the rest of humanity so vast that all other racial differences will be rendered non-existent by comparison.

The image is terrifying, but the prospect vanishingly unlikely. We have enough trouble as it is engineering a decent dairy cow. It is hard enough to educate children, let alone build their DNA from scratch.

But the image itself, and the assumptions behind it, and the fact that so many are buying it—here we might say that Nick Land has succeeded in mastering the art of horror, if it can be called an art. For what could be more horrifying than the rise of a new civilization built around the worship of a new master race? We know that he is not talking about a morally superior race. Morality precludes setting oneself up as god. No, he is talking about a demoniacally superior race—a politically and economically superior race. He is talking about deifying greed itself.

What more appropriate climax could the Cult of Progress ask for? We now have philosophers attempting to set up idols whose materialism is so naked it can be called (forgive me but the accusation must be made) pornographic. We are seeing the height of perversity. It pains me to foretell that in our decadence we may yet see higher. As Land himself exultingly proclaims, “a time of monsters is approaching.”

There are, of course, already the neo-Nazis and neo-fascists. Like Land and Moldbug, they tend to be atheists. Catholicism has managed to cure many of these. Still, such extremists are rare, and the last thing I want to do is help destroy dialogue between progressives and conservatives by focusing on the worst aspects of either. When Trump is derided as a fascist or Nazi, this is guilt by association. It’s pure rhetoric; it’s irrational. Among progressives are corporations destroying the biosphere for profit and using propaganda and lobbyism to cover their tracks. But most progressives don’t condone this behavior and it shouldn’t be assumed that they do. Likewise, we should assume that the vast majority of conservatives would fight as hard as anyone to prevent a neo-fascist revolution from taking hold.

The dialogue between left and right has largely degenerated into mere name-calling. If we fail to heal this divide, we hasten the day when confrontations become—for lack of any other mode—violent. I wonder if this outcome is somehow unavoidable. Even if it is, if only a few of us can discuss our disagreements sanely, maybe we can help revive a philosophical ecosystem, at least in patchwork, whose seeds can blossom and help renew our culture after the dust settles.

Despite the fame of Moldbug and Land, I think the most interesting reactionary insights can be found among the Christian Alt-Right. They represent, at least, a faint possibility of reconciliation on the basis of shared moral values. I’m going to focus on a group blog, “The Orthosphere” which has served as the hub for this school of thinking for several years. (For an overview spanning several blogs, go here.)

There is good here, but also plenty that is bad and ugly.

Good? In this article J.M. Smith of the Orthosphere draws parallels between the modern world and Biblical Babylon, where the Hebrews, like us, faced the challenge of not becoming corrupted by the “delectable fruits” of civilization. This single article speaks volumes of the continued relevance of the Bible. (If you're interested in a Good theistic website, but employing a scientific, evolutionary viewpoint, try Anonymous Conservative.)

Bad? In Bonald’s manifesto, the authoritarian beliefs of the movement are honestly stated in their full absurdity. “For the citizens of a ‘moralized’ society, all the major aspects of existence are colored by ideas of duty, loyalty, and status. ... Neighbors become countrymen; power becomes authority ...” This is a very Moldbug-like way of understanding politics. Power becomes authority. According to Moldbug, the depraved essence of democracy is a bending of authority to the spoiled wishes of the people. He concludes that authority must always be taken as absolute. Power becomes authority? This is simply another way of stating the formula that Plato’s Republic was written to destroy: Might makes right. Such a formula can accomplish nothing better than rigidification—ultimately fossilization. The essential question of politics is not what power can do but what it should do. To glorify power itself—whose naked image is Absolute Monarchy—is the poisonous formula that transforms monarchy, oligarchy, and democracy alike into tyranny. We should never define morality as authority or hierarchy or even good government. This is a materialistic, empty, and dangerous reversal. What we should always strive to do, rather, is give authority to what is moral, wise, and good. First, do what is right. Authority will come of its own accord. Let’s not make of it a new idol.

Ugly? Many articles in the Orthosphere and elsewhere use rhetoric like this: “the future of religious liberty under an administration of vindictive social justice warriors.” SJW (social justice warrior) is the label reactionaries like to use to throw discredit on anyone who uses labels like “racist” to discredit others. It’s nothing more than tit-for-tat name calling. This, more than anything else, is causing the split that is dividing the web into mutually-exclusive domains, each allergic to the other.

This is the trivial state of the dialogue. I’ve been accused of being sexist for criticizing Hillary. I’ve been accused of giving the presidency to “Hitler” for refusing to vote for her, even by intelligent people who I have a great deal of respect for. At the same time I’ve been called a “cuck” by equally intelligent reactionaries when they find out I believe in God and democracy. Atheists on the both the left and right have told me I’m holding on to dead ideas.

The truth is, these ideas are nowhere near dead. Nearly a third of the global population is Christian, and this percentage is projected to remain steady for the next four decades. And most Christians are of the most traditional sort, Catholic.

Catholic theology is an interesting system of philosophies to read about, and I find it healthier than much else I can find in conservative literature. Catholicism has a way of respecting and absorbing everything from classical Pagan philosophy to the findings of modern science. The most frequent objections I hear to taking Catholicism seriously are not very serious. (1) “It has perverted priests.” But no man-made institution lacks crooked members, even in leadership. Humans are fallible. This is another case of guilt by association. (2) “It’s about fear and guilt.” But this is a good thing. People need fear and guilt as much as they need hope and love. One should be afraid of sinning. One should feel bad when one does wrong. This is called learning. One should also hope to do the right thing, and have faith that right action will have the best outcome. As long as we are fallible mortals we need these emotions to guide us. Absolute freedom from guilt is freedom to harm yourself, your children, and your neighbor. The word “sin,” before it was ridiculed by modern atheists, simply meant “error.” Is no error to be avoided, then? A fitting formula for producing the modern age.

The Alt-Right, it seems, has absolutely nothing good to say about democracy—it is the ruin of civilization. But some of the best defenses of democracy come from Catholic thinkers. G.K. Chesterton, a Catholic writer who published books through World War I and the rise of Nazism, believed that democracy was—while flawed—a better application of Jesus’ teachings of compassion than either Fascism or Communism. He was a vocal opponent of both eugenics—the breeding of a better race—and Aryan Nationalism—the championing of a master race. Influenced by Chesterton was Tolkien, who issued a formal protest when Germany demanded his genealogical records before he could publish the Hobbit there. Chesterton, Tolkien, and Lewis, the great conservative Christian philosophers of the 20th century, all opposed extreme reactionary thinking and defended—Lewis and Tolkien in the trenches, all three in word—the right of democracy against authoritarianism.

The ideal of democracy has influenced almost every government and national leader in the world. It is a living ideal, if imperfect. Its previous rivals, Communism and Fascism, squashed and sterilized their respective philosophical ecosystems—a poisonous, incestuous, and ultimately fatal strategy. Free speech is a healthy symbiont that allows for the most reasonable and vital ideas to thrive. For as much ridicule as the Alt-Right pours on political correctness, the Alt-Right’s ultimate goal is a new, sterilized form of PC, entirely under the control of the state. Molbug demands a new University, what he calls the “Antiversity” devoted to “pure truth.” It’s the word “pure” that’s dangerous here—a term for sterile.

What is healthy about political correctness is that it opposes stereotype. But as it is used today, it often abuses stereotype, as sometimes with the terms “racism” and “sexism.” Such terms have lost their original, correct meaning: one who withholds opportunities from others or abuses others on the basis of race or sex. Mere unconscious bias for or against shouldn’t count—then we’d be talking “thought crime.” Nor is discrimination simply any comment that could possibility lead to bias—then we destroy free speech. Used in these ways, we end up with such a broad definition of discrimination that all conservatism becomes classed as racist. Consider the reaction to the Hispanic woman who told the news camera that she supported Trump’s plan to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Conservatives immediately applauded her because they felt that now they could express this idea without being accused of racism. Liberals, nevertheless, were appalled and reflexively scrambled for terms like “self-discrimination” or “indoctrination” to explain the anomaly. In this way the notion of discrimination is stretched so thin—so stereotyped—that most conservatives have trouble taking it seriously any more. “Conservative” and “discriminatory” become synonymous. And this is bad. We need these notions to be different. We need a notion of conservatism that means tradition, respect for the past, and respect for values. This is what conservatism is for. But we also need to be able to criticize people for discrimination, racism, and sexism. In other words, we need political correctness. And we need this to be distinct from liberalism, which is not simply “the stifling of free speech” as reactionaries would have it, but the right to bring new points of view into the discussion, especially minority points of view. If we begin suppressing all liberalism we suppress, along with it, most of the stories and insights coming from non-whites and non-males. In allowing these stories to be heard and acted on, however, we should not at the same time exclude white males from all discussions of race and sex. It doesn’t matter that white males tend to be richer and more powerful. So do Jews, and even more so. Neither should be excluded from having their say.

Dialogue absolutely must be possible, or the foundation of freedom that our country was built upon will be destroyed. When that is lost, all is lost. Violence will be the result.

I propose we start using the term over-generalization. It’s politically neutral. When a liberal says or implies that conservatives are automatically bigots, it’s over-generalization. When a reactionary says or implies that the left is a bunch of social justice fanatics, it’s over-generalization. Over-generalization is bad, whether it comes from the left or the right. And this is why I will hear what you have to say, whether you’re Hispanic, Jewish, female, Alt-Right, atheist, liberal, or black. And I will try not to criticize you based on generalized stereotypes of any of these groups. And if I make a bad joke or a Freudian slip that reveals bias, I trust you will laugh it off, maybe call me out, and move on. I trust that you will not demonize me and never listen to me or my kind again. Because such demonization is the road to war.

The term “cuckservative” should be banned. Also, the terms “fascist,” “nazi,” and “racist” should never be used except to describe those tiny minorities to which they strictly apply. Guilt by association must stop.

If you are unthinking toward your opponents, they will be equally unthinking and vicious toward you. If you are generous to them, you will have a better chance of being heard out yourself.