Reason and consequences

My last entry, on Melanie Phillips and her comments on the compulsory radical egalitarianism that has become so firmly established in the UK (and the West generally), brought to mind the general question of how to explain major social trends, especially major social trends like PC that seem sort of weird.

It seems to me that to understand what’s going on you have to step back a bit from the immediate actors and their struggles—who wants what and why, and how specifically the winners are winning and the losers losing—and look at the rules that determine the scoring. There are always people with every possible goal and personal quality, people who are constitutionally loyal and constitutionally rebellious, lovers of change and lovers of the way things are, people who want to advance the interests of X and people who want to advance the interests of Y. What determines who wins, I think, is how those in authority and those in the middle respond to the mass of conflicting voices. And what determines that, at least in large part, is accepted understandings as to what’s real, what’s rational, and how things in general should be—in other words, the accepted philosophy of the time.

It follows that there is no more practical political issue than the nature of rationality. In a time in which rationality means technology—the efficient fitting of means to ends for the purpose of satisfying whatever goals the actor happens to have—the notion that there are qualitative differences among human beings and their goals will seem crazy. Such differences—masculine and feminine, family and outsider, sublime, beautiful and base—simply make no sense on such a view. To act by reference to them in ways that affect and therefore limit others will seem a violation of the dignity of human beings, which will be thought as always to consist in their rationality—now construed as their ability to decide what they want, confer value on goals by choosing them, and act to pursue them. Eradicating the effect of qualitative judgments on human life will therefore come to seem a basic precondition of rationality and thus of justice. Hence PC.