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Pragmatism, PC and tyranny

Philosophical pragmatism is mostly the habit of changing the subject if a line of thought makes one uncomfortable. It’s the collapse of the coherence theory of truth into a comfort theory of truth. Such a view can have the appearance of great reasonableness, of not wanting to take things too far. A consequence of the view though is that the
status quo becomes impregnable, because the comfort of the well-positioned becomes the criterion of reality. Rather than explore reality pragmatism has thinkers explore how they feel about things. If they don’t like them, they can then maneuver (with the aid of media people, publicists, and professional organizations) to make the positions that cause them discomfort impossible to assert.

Current attitudes make that possible. If experts agree that something is irrational, then that’s what is is, and those who disagree are ignorant bigots. To base government on discussion is to give ultimate political power to those who can decide that what makes sense and what does not. Political correctness shows how power works today. It’s an attack on all distinctions other than wealth and bureaucratic position that procedes by insisting that it is wrong to treat such distinctions as real and significant. The result is to increase the power of those at the top by reducing the rest of humanity to a mass of unconnected individuals ordered only by the market and the state bureaucracy. To say that distinctions of sex and sexuality should have no significance, for example, is to say that the family should have no settled nature, and thus that it should not be a social institution but should be replaced in serious matters by the education system, public childcare agencies, the welfare system and so on.

Pragmatism, combined with political correctness, is the ideology for a ruling class of experts and bureaucrats. Pragmatism tells us that social practices and purposes determine reality, so those in a position to control practices and articulate purposes become all but divine. They say something is, and it is! PC debunks and abolishes the common sense (“traditional social stereotypes”) that might give the people a vantage point of their own. Put the two together and you get a tyranny that in principle has no limit.

Naturally, that’s not what we’re told. Striking oppositional poses is part of the way well-placed people today secure their power. The effect of the pose is to make genuine opposition to power illegitimate. Consider, for example, the current habit of apologizing for historical misdeeds. The apologies impose no personal cost, and their effect is to enhance one’s control of a community by asserting both the need to change it radically and the illegitimacy of the established standards and traditions that might limit doing so.

So what does any of this have to to with Catholicism? Only this: the concern for establishing a reliable standard for truth, for security, and for personal freedom that motivated the modern age to do away with appeals to the transcendent has led to a situation in which truth is whatever the well-placed say it is and individuals have no defense against manipulation and abuse. Human dignity requires the presence of the transcendent in the world in some authoritative concretely recognizable form so that the powers of this world do not become absolute. Catholicism can serve that function, and it’s hard to think of what else could.

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