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More on academic winter

Here’s a Harvey Mansfield piece about the Larry Summers situation that’s worth reading. Since the issues are controversial, I suppose I should say that I think it perfectly obvious that men and women differ naturally in talents and inclinations, and that current views on the topic are evidence that something’s gone radically wrong with intellectual and social life. For evidence though that the Swedes are even more far gone than Harvard, here’s something about their view of the issue. According to their gender equality minister, “The government considers female and male as social constructions, that means gender patterns are created by upbringing, culture, economical conditions, power structures and political ideology.” One consequence, it seems, that books to the contrary shouldn’t be published.

The “dumb Swede” stereotype seems to have dropped out of the picture, at least in America. Should we bring it back? Probably not—“gender policy” is the same throughout the West, but the Swedes are willing to say what it’s actually about. So maybe it should be “honest Swede.”

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From the Secular Blasphemy piece linked in the log entry on Sweden:

“The first time I realised the government had involved itself in neurobiology was when Gender Equality Minister [! - ed] Jens Orback in a speech about sexual deviations and living with horses [!!! - ed], affirmed: ‘The government considers female and male as social constructions. That means gender patterns are created by upbringing, culture, economic conditions, power structures and political ideology.’ “

Jens Orback also wants police in Sweden to wear turbans, apparently (thanks to a Swedish reader over at MajorityRights.com for the heads-up). My strong suspicion would be this Orback person is some kind of hard-core extreme neo-Marxist. I googled his name to check this, but only saw articles in Swedish which I can’t read without a dictionary. Nevertheless, I think it’s already clear what kind of person he is. The only question would appear to be, why did the government appoint someone of his ilk to this post of Integration Minister.
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Long live Flanders!

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If so, he’s not the only Marxist among Swedish officials. The piece I linked quotes a “gender equality director” named Britt-Marie Lugnet-¤ggberg thus: “Our Swedish gender equality policy is based on us being equal and being socialised into different gender roles.” It follows for Miss Lugnet-¤ggberg that a book based on some sort of difference feminism shouldn’t be published.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

Apparently, Sweden has resolved the conflict between science and advanced liberalism, at least insofar as gender difference is concerned.

Advanced liberalism believes that human nature is infinitely malleable. Hence, genetics is irrelevant. This is Lysenko all over again, except Lysenko restricted his speculations to vegetation.

As Mr. Kalb has repeatedly pointed out, within the waters of liberalism, this is good logic. The logic of liberalism leads to gross irrationalism. If science contradicts the dogma of equality, then science must be banished. In this universe, everything is a social construction, except of course the dogma of equality, which is God-given I suppose.

What is the justification for excluding the dogma of equality from the social constructionism epithet? Why must it be accepted as divine writ?

It would seem, to be consistent, the social constructivism analysis must turn upon itself, exposing the dogma of equality as just one more social construction, thereby resulting in nihilism.

The basic argument in favor of the liberal dogma of equality is that if there are no essential differences in value among men and their desires, but pretty much everybody (including oneself) wants to stay alive and get what he wants, then the general scheme that makes the most sense from both a personal standpoint and the standpoint of overall rationality that everyone can support is an arrangement that treats all men and desires the same as much as possible.

The question is then whether the development of liberalism makes even that line of thought fall apart. I’m inclined to think it does. Rationality and moral reasoning fall apart as social practices when they’re stripped down to that extent. If I want what I want why not just pay lip service to the idea that other people should get equally what they want? And if wants conflict, how do you figure out which trumps which? I may find your existence an act of aggression, because for me it just ruins everything. I can’t breath knowing you’re walking around on planet earth. Who’s to say it wouldn’t be an act of elemental self-defense for me to do you in?

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

You’re presenting the dogma of equality as a social construction, that which “makes the most sense.” It seems to be bare utilitarianism.

But note the premises (which I’m sure you have):

1. There are no essential differences among men and their desires; and

2. If 1, then the general scheme that makes the most sense is to treat all men and their desires as equally as possible.

The first premise is absurd. The second is highly questionable. This is before any alternatives have been considered.

The first question is how a rational person could possibly get to the first premise, that there is no essential difference between men and their desires (By the way, under this premise, the purpose of education is radically altered).

I’ve seen a variation on that premise, which goes as follows: Of course there are differences among men and their desires, in fact some men are vile and debased, but in the name of freedom we must allow them to live out their natures and accord them equal treatment, in effect give them the means and oppportunity to destroy themselves and their families and their neighborhoods, and subsidize them out of the public treasury if we must, so long as the blokes aren’t violent, that’s where we draw the line.

My statement of the line of thought doesn’t say “there are no essential differences among men and their desires,” it says “there are no essential differences in value among men and their desires.” It’s just a restatement of the subjectivism as to value that I think is behind liberalism.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

Thanks for that correction, and I agree it reflects a basic subjectivism.

My comments remain the same. It’s an absurd premise. The question is, in unpacking liberalism, how does one reach that place?

I see two possible paths, which have often been confused (even by philosophers). One is a simple-minded morality of undifferentiated love or compassion (I still don’t see how this morality extends beyond acceptance of men to the acceptance of men’s desires, a simple distinction often ignored). The other is the basic mistake in thinking that we have discussed surrounding Kant: we have no criteria to make distinctions, because all distinctions are social or mental constructions, therefore we can make no distinctions that aren’t arbitrary, therefore we won’t make any distinctions.

These merge into the “compassionate, non-judgmental, tolerant” (and brain-dead) monism of contemporary liberalism.

I think it’s a natural consequence of modern tendencies of thought. You insist on what can be checked and publicly demonstrated, try to make things as simple, numerical and mechanistic as possible, and avoid positing entities without necessity. What that leaves you with with regard to moral issues are the demonstrable facts that people prefer some things to others, and some ways of organizing things satisfies preferences more than others. So what you try to do, if you’re a modern, is construct the whole of morality and politics out of those demonstrable facts, with as few and as formal additional assumptions as possible.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

I agree that your description of what a liberal would say about his world view recounts what a good liberal might concoct in a pinch, in so many words; Stanley Fish would certainly endorse it. But it’s just a cover story. In other words, I think what the good liberal says in his defense are effects (propaganda) rather than causes, the causes being the underlying assumptions or prejudices that would lead a person to subscribe to such a world view and reach such conclusions about society and morality.

I would like to deconstruct liberalism to unmask (or “unpack”) the assumptions and prejudices that lead to the “modern tendencies of thought.” I think that the “modern tendencies of thought” that lead to such conclusions, as you describe, contain within them fundamental mistakes, and therefore, no matter how logical or precise a liberal might be in his application of superficially appealing liberal principles, the result will be flawed because the premises are flawed.

Liberals never establish premises; rather, they pronounce conclusions. These conclusions—such as the notion that all men and all desires are of equal value—are proclaimed without the slightest hint to that which might support such a conclusion. If a liberal is questioned about these underlying supports and the reasoning built upon them, he will became hostile and accusatory, as if only a demented chimp would question them. In fact, such questioning and reasoning is simply no longer permitted; it is decidely taboo.

Taboos interest me; what suppositions, anxieties, vulnerabilities, and instincts lay behind them? Advanced liberalism is a veritable zoo of intellectual taboos.

I don’t think the logic of liberalism is just a superficial excuse concocted opportunistically. It follows too closely the general logic of modernity from Descartes and the English empiricists on to present-day scientism. Liberalism really does seem incontestably true to liberals, and they really do find it impossible to understand how anyone could reject it unless there was something seriously wrong with him. To my mind that indicates a source in fundamental understandings of knowledge, reason, man and the world. With that in mind:

  • I agree that the modern tendencies of thought behind liberalism contain fundamental mistakes. I would identify the basic mistake as a rejection of the transcendent, and a consequent tendency to accept as real only what we can fully grasp and control.
  • It seems to me that part of the liberal outrage at being questioned is outrage at dealing with someone who questions obvious necessary truths. No sane and well-intentioned person could do such a thing. Or so it seems to a liberal.
  • I’d agree though that on some level liberals (and moderns) sense that their fundamental presuppositions don’t cover the whole field, and that there’s something not quite right about the conclusions they lead to. It’s unthinkable they could be wrong, but it’s hard for human beings, who after all have some degree of common sense, to feel they quite ring true. That’s the point at which taboos proper, like those regarding recognition of certain human differences, come into play. If you don’t shut people up who talk about such things, who knows how bad thoughts might spread and what horrible things might happen?

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

I generally agree with you, but I have a few comments.

1. Rejection of the transcendent. You note the consequence of this rejection a tendency to accept as real only that which we can fully grasp and control (materialism, I presume). This is certainly one possible consequence. Another possible consequence of rejection of the transcendent is to establish a substitute transcendence, man for example as a little divinity (idol worship). Alvin Plantinga divides the academic world into the materialists and what he calls the “creative anti-realists” (Kantians). Both are varieties of liberalism, and they are irreconcilable. The materialists are of course in the sciences, and are not wholly acceptable to the Kantian anti-realists (who populate the humanities). I question whether science/materialism can properly be considered as a part of advanced liberalism. Liberalism will invoke and exploit science as expedient, but in any conflict liberalism will simply banish science. Hence, the so-called “science wars” between representatives of the hard sciences and the postmodern “theorists.” In the end, materialism is helpful, but, after all, man is now God, notwithstanding the findings of science. This leads me to believe that, at bottom, liberalism is unprincipled and does not necessarily follow from any reasonable premises, although it will capriciously invoke the name of supposed deity (like Descartes or Galileo) from time to time for effect and atmospherics. Science is sometimes a useful club with which to beat on opponents, but liberals don’t really take it seriously.

If liberalism, and its principles, were so self-evident, liberalism and its implementation would not have been so difficult and it wouldn’t arouse the howls of laughter from your ordinary man-on-the-street observer. It’s not that people disagree with the claims of liberalism; they laugh out loud at them. Liberals are truly funny people, at least when they don’t have power. This also leads me to believe that liberalism is something other than some coherent thought world worked through from reasonable premises.

At bottom, I believe liberalism is an intellectual con game, devised for the usual purposes and from the usual human motives—what a Christian would call Sin. It was devised originally to justify expansionism (Jacobinism) and imperialism, decapitate and disinherit the Church (while appropriating its properties and discrediting its theology), validate and expand the secular powers of the middle class merchants, lawyers, and bureaucrats, establish the ascendancy of the secular power over the ecclestiastical, validate capitalism and the depopulation of the countryside and the labor practices of factories, emasculate the monarchy, the princes, and the aristocracies, establish a self-validating ideology for its practitioners, and put in place a dynamic of continual expansionism (economic, military, and ideological) that is called “progress,” a dynamic that is supervised and managed by its creators—liberals. Because liberals have an underlying, fixed agenda, liberalism can never truly be “liberal.” It was marketed as “liberal,” but it is now obvious there is nothing “liberal” about liberalism.

Comments:

1. That which transcends us is that which we can’t grasp. So rejecting transcendence is the same as recognizing only what we can grasp.

2. Given that you reject transcendence, you can emphasize either the thing grasped, in which case you accept scientism, or you can emphasize the activity of the grasper, in which case you accept creative anti-realism. As Kant said, it’s the way we grasp things that makes them what they are. It seems to me the latter approach goes deeper philosophically, since after all the whole idea of rejecting transcendence is making one’s experiences and intentions define reality.

3. It’s true it’s taken liberalism centuries to advance from Locke to what we have now, and it still doesn’t seem fully common-sensical to most people. The reason is that how we understand and deal with things at any particular time is not for most people a matter of applying a clear simple explicit logic (which I think liberalism has) but the result of a whole network of mostly inherited habits and understandings that only slowly reforms itself in response to the demands of the ultimate principles that have come to be understood as authoritative.

4. It’s hard for me to view liberalism as basically a con game. It’s lasted for centuries, developing and extending its logic and its dominion over social life, without (until recently) any effective way to suppress objections and contrary views. It’s true though that now liberalism has become so dominant and aggressive its flaws are becoming hard to miss. That makes it harder for intelligent informed proponents to be altogether honest and it means they have to use more aggressive methods to enforce conformity. So I’d agree that in its current late phase it’s taking on somewhat the appearance of a con game.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

This is a response, but I had to post it here due to lack of space for further replies.

“Con game” was not a considered phrase. I probably borrowed it from Roger Kimball of The New Criterion. In any case, in an article posted at Claremont (to which you may have linked, I don’t remember), William Voegeli called liberalism “The Endless Party,” an open-ended, limitless enterprise unmoored from any apparent principle.

Voegeli’s article addressed liberalism as a political phenomenon, whereas I’ve addressed it as a worldview or thought-world, so I acknowledge the distinction.

As for your distinction between the “grasped” and “grasper,” if I had to choose, I’d take the “grasped” (materialism). Neo-Kantianism leads to relativism and nihilism (a point already made by Kierkegaard and Nietszche in the 19th century), and neither are particularly interesting from a philosophical point of view (not to mention incoherent and self-contradictory). At least materialism holds the philosopher to his word, and provides some objective feedback that can, at least in theory, lead to some actual learning.

Modern academics are neo-Kantians because they’re lazy; it’s a discipline in which you can just make things up, and there’s no basis for anyone to criticize or question, because everything is, after all, just made up, just another version of someone’s mind or his preferences or his desires. It’s good work if you can get it.