It is not news that the new Pope is Catholic. Nor, therefore, is it news that he teaches what the Catholic Church has taught for over two millennia–not even if these teachings offend your sensibilities. Continue reading
This is not addressed to the leaders or ideologues of the pro-abortion movement. They, I suspect, are too far gone to be reasoned with, though I would be very happy to be proved wrong about that. Nor is it addressed to the increasing number of ethicists who argue that the killing of newborn infants ought to be legalized, since what I said about the pro-abortion movement’s leaders and ideologues goes double for them. (Including the part about me being happy to be proved wrong about them.) No, this is addressed primarily to those ordinary people who on balance consider themselves “pro-choice,” and who have repeated or accepted the common slogans and arguments of the pro-abortion movement without giving them too much thought. If you are one of those people—or, for that matter, if you know such people—keep reading.
In the comments of Dr. Bertonneau’s most recent portion of his valuable series on TS Eliot, I wondered idly why the Powers decided that we ought to use “Muslim” in place of the traditional “Moslem.” There followed some interesting offline conversations with Ilion and another regular commenter at the Orthosphere, which led to the discovery of some unexpected connections to apparently unrelated issues.
Really, should we ever be surprised at such discoveries? In a coherent world, how could anything fail to be connected to everything else, whether trivially or not? What is thought but an exploration of that network of connections?
This post then is mostly a recapitulation of the exploration I undertook with Ilion and my other correspondent. My thanks to them both.
What did the exploration unfold? “Language is an instrument of power, whether we want to think of it that way or not. E.g., I doubt you would say that the move from AD and BC to CE and BCE was innocent of political implication.” Ergo: Politically correct speech is a type of jizya, the head tax Muslims imposed on infidels under their power: Christians, Jews, &c.
In preparation for the fall semester, which has just now begun (the date of writing is 28 August), and in the cause of a senior seminar that I have organized for English majors, I have recently revisited the work of T. S. Eliot, especially his prose, and particularly his short book Notes towards a Definition of Culture (1949). Outside of The Waste Land and beneath the calculated reserve of their prose, the six chapters of the Notes offer the single best articulation of Eliot’s sense of a world in dissolution – and in the Notes he had and additional twenty-five years of evidence and experience to bring to the support of his intuition. In the Notes, Eliot suavely rejects the modern project, which he characterizes not simply as an alarming and yet inexplicable unraveling of the West’s social and intellectual cohesion, but rather as the deliberate destruction thereof by a great wave of petulance that has gripped the cultural elites since the time of the French Revolution. Eliot’s analysis of the modern deformation of civic order on the one hand, and of the interior, spiritual order of the elites on the other greatly assists in the understanding of the changes over the last sixty years – every one of them for the worse – in the Western order and more particularly In that central modern institution, the university. Certain of Eliot’s insights have permitted the discussion to draw one or two depressing but also unavoidable conclusions about the contemporary university of the incipient twenty-first century, one being that the university has become a factory of ideological indoctrination and another being that the university’s primary means of protecting that ideology (liberalism) is by demonstrative emissary punishment of anyone who flouts the rigid tenets of the ideology or calls them into question on a factual or logical basis. The presentation categorized this tendency to non-procedural emissary procedure as sacrificial. In attempting to go “beyond” the Christian revelation that it repudiates modern society in fact slips backwards into primitive forms that only Biblical religion has superseded. The university being the chief anti-Christian institution of the prevailing order, its atavism is hardly unexpected; rather – it is characteristic and trend-setting.
Anyone who has spent time at one of the more established Christian or theist blogs will have experienced the angry atheist troll, who makes his first appearance in any comment thread spitting bitter bile and frothing at the mouth with rage, hurling contemptuous insults and heaping scorn on the other participants. Nothing can so quickly cause an edifying thread to devolve to a wrestling match in the gutter, with lots of hissing and scratching. It’s unseemly.
This happened a fair bit over at Throne & Altar, bonald’s site (which, if you are interested in the Orthospherical weltanschauung, you should definitely check out – he has a precious trove of writings posted over there, many of which have been formative for Christian Reaction). Not that bonald attracted a lot of trolls because he deserved it; on the contrary, it seems to me that there is a direct relation between the importance and seriousness of a theist site and the number of trolls it must suffer (which, if right, must mean either that Orthosphere is neither serious nor important enough to bother with, or that we are just too new to have been noticed yet; or probably both). A couple months ago I suggested over there that we should always respond to such folks with blessings:
The reductio ad absurdum is one of the most devastating forms of argument. Show a man how his doctrines lead to absurdities, and you will almost always vanquish him in debate. Say a man is in favor of gay marriage; it is easy to show that the arguments in favor of gay marriage may also be adduced in support of polygamy or polyandry, or of marriage to animals, or even marriage to oneself, or to material objects. “Oh, pish,” he will say, “be serious. There is no slippery slope here; no one would do such silly things.” But people are already marrying inanimate objects, animals, and themselves. If you point this out to him, he won’t really have anywhere to go. You will leave him speechless.
But while you’ll make him feel frustrated and upset, you won’t change his mind (because he’ll be frustrated and upset at you). To do that, you have to talk with him in such a way that he himself elicits the absurdities implicit in his opinions. If he is himself the agent of the reductio, his defenses against intellectual attack will not have been mobilized.
The Socratic Method may be used to help moderns recognize the absurdities they espouse, and, having done so, to begin an honest deliberation toward a solution to the intellectual problem you have helped them discover.
Social engineering consists of two phases:
- What could possibly go wrong?
- How were we supposed to know?
For every case in which question number two is asked, it is because question number one was never asked with sufficient rigor. For most of the social disasters that now afflict us, that rigor would have been trivially easy to achieve. A quick gedanken experiment – a thought experiment – would have sufficed to warn us off. For most policy proposals, such tests usually take about a minute.
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.