The precepts of careful or traditional thinkers – these two categories being mostly coterminous – are generally hedged about with qualifications, distinctions, and definitions. They are not usually sweeping in their generality. Usually, they do not reduce everything to just one sort of thing.
Trained philosophers, even of a nihilist, secular bent, usually hedge their bets this same way.
Notice all the qualifiers in the foregoing: “usually,” “generally,” “mostly.”
Not so for modern utopians. Utopians are almost always intoxicated by some grand, glorious and beautiful vision, so that they tend to make sweeping statements of perfect generality. This tendency makes them, and their ideas and proposals, quite vulnerable to a rhetorical technique known as retortion. Retortion applies a doctrine to itself, to see whether it survives the treatment. If it does, the doctrine is more likely sound. If not – well, then it is dead. A doctrine that does not survive retortion is autophagic: self-devouring.
Most moderns are utopians. It’s not our fault; it’s how we were raised. The tradition of the modern era, into which virtually all of us were inculcated from birth, is utopianism. So moderns – and I include in this category all the readers of the Orthosphere, and all its writers, too, no matter how distasteful they find the label – are chthonic utopians, and are therefore prone to making perfectly general statements.
It’s a dangerous move, and to be avoided at all costs.
Allow me to provide some illustrations.
Perhaps the simplest is the classic cant of every sophomore: There are no absolute truths. It seems so wise, right? Or, at least, it once did, until we all learned to ask, “Is ‘there are no absolute truths’ absolutely true?” If so, then it is false; if not, then it is false. So, there are indeed some absolute truths.
Another classic: “We ought to tolerate all points of view;” which, of course, follows directly from the supposed truth of “there are no absolute truths.” OK; the proper response of the traditionalist, or indeed of anyone not an idiot, is “So, I guess we ought to tolerate the point of view that we ought not to tolerate all points of view.”
Here’s another good one: “All texts are instruments of the reproduction of power relations in society, and therefore unreliable as guides to truth.” OK; so, then, “Is the text, ‘All texts are instruments of the reproduction of power relations in society, and are therefore unreliable as guides to truth,’ itself an instrument of the reproduction of power relations in society, and therefore unreliable as a guide to truth?”
Then there’s the hallowed cosmopolitan syncretist refrain, “All religions are guides to truth.” Hm. What about the religion that – like any self-respecting religion – insists that it, and it alone, is the sole guide to truth? If it is wrong, then it is not a guide to truth; if it is right, then the other religions are not. Either way, the perfectly general statement is eviscerated.
You see how this works. No doubt you can multiply examples. Have fun with it. But remember: be nice! If you enjoy yourself too obviously while employing retortion, you’ll only antagonize your interlocutors, when what you want is to make them stop for a moment and think. Best, then, to adopt a doleful tone and a downcast countenance as you slowly, delicately insert the knife.