[The fourth in a series on inclusiveness.]
The demand for inclusiveness is often attributed to emotion, but something so systematic and persistent can only be based on principle.
No one explains very clearly what the principle is, so it’s evidently something taken for granted. The peremptory nature of antidiscrimination, together with the irrelevance of practical considerations, confirms that its basic principle must be quite fundamental.
As I will argue in what follows, the basic principle that leads to inclusiveness is the view of reason that critics refer to as scientism or scientific fundamentalism. That view has been with us since the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, and has slowly been transforming social understandings and relationships in its own image ever since.
The process through which it has been doing so, sometimes called modernization or rationalization, is still going on. The abolition of traditional and natural patterns of human life in the name of diversity and inclusiveness is a current manifestation of that process.
Our understanding of reason is our understanding of how to reach reliable conclusions regarding the good, beautiful, and true. That process is neither simple nor easy.
That’s why people rely for practical purposes on something more accessible and easier to manage than reason itself. The latter is not fully attainable by us in any event, and life must go on, so it would be unreasonable to do otherwise.
People therefore rely on intuition, habit, experience, tradition, rule of thumb, and so on. Those things don’t give us comprehensive or perfectly lucid knowledge, but they’re systematically related to the truth of things. It’s difficult to do better and easy to do worse, so we accept them.
They’re nonetheless incomplete, and problems arise when we reject the secondary nature of the practical understandings by which we live. That rejection is most often a matter of thoughtless habit, but can also take the form of positive denial that there is anything higher than the concrete principles we are able fully to grasp.
In either case the result is that our way of understanding loses its awareness of its incompleteness and need for a higher standard and so becomes crude and degraded. Mindless dogmatism is a familiar example of such a situation.
There are more subtle examples, and modern scientistic understandings present such a case. Those understandings are based on a stripped-down version of reason that sacrifices adequacy to clarity and reliability. They hold, in effect, that all rationality must conform as closely as possible to modern natural science. What doesn’t satisfy that demand doesn’t qualify as reason.
Modern natural science is of course rational and it provides very useful and exact knowledge. Its insistence on clarity, simplicity, testability, and uniformity gives it great power. However, that insistence makes science unable to deal with some issues. In particular, it makes it unable to deal with traditional and even natural patterns of life that involve complex and subtle distinctions that resist clear formulation and understanding.
Scientism therefore insists on ignoring such patterns and, when applied to practical affairs, suppresses them in the interests of a more comprehensible and controllable system. The result has been radical simplification of the intellectual and social world: extreme secularization, hypertrophy of rationalized social structures such as world markets and the administrative state, and most recently inclusiveness—the abolition of distinctions not directly relevant to market and bureaucratic structures.
It’s too hard to find out what we really want to know, scientism seems to tell us, so let’s treat something we can study, understand, and make use of more easily as equivalent to reality itself. In short, let’s adopt naturalism. And as a social matter, let’s get rid of all those messy distinctions that don’t fit the kind of system we can understand and control. Let’s become egalitarian technocrats who insist on diversity and inclusiveness.
Scientific fundamentalism has deep roots. Its components, such as the demand for simple, universal, and mechanistic explanations, have been with us since antiquity. Those tendencies have led on occasion to views very much like modern scientific materialism. Democritus (ca. 460-370 B.C.) claimed, for example, that “in reality there are only atoms and the void.”
Until modern times such views might have been held by particular thinkers but they never enjoyed general currency. Today they have come together in an outlook that dominates public life and holds that modern natural science is the pattern for all reason and the only knowledge worthy of the name.
It’s difficult to trace the exact process by which something as all-embracing as an understanding of reason attains dominance. However, the thought of Francis Bacon (1561-1626) and Rene Descartes (1596-1650) evidently marked a decisive stage in the rise of the modern outlook.
Both men aimed at a general intellectual reform that would make knowledge more certain and useful. Bacon, a practically-minded statesman, wanted to reconstruct knowledge on experimental principles for “the relief of man’s estate”—that is, to make life easier, safer, and more pleasant. He thought that “knowledge is power,” and with that in mind wanted it to reject tradition, base itself on observation of the natural world, and become a tool. In effect, he wanted it to become modern technology.
Descartes, a scientist and mathematician, wanted knowledge that would stand up against any possible doubt. He could not doubt the reality of his own subjective experience—as he said, “I think, therefore I am”—so he tried to base knowledge on that experience, together with the most rigorous reasoning possible.
Put the two views together and you get a narrow, focused, and—it turns out—extremely effective view of knowledge. On that view, we should be as skeptical as possible, take nothing on faith, and base knowledge and our whole way of acting as much as possible on our own immediate experience and on mathematics and logic. And we should treat the purpose of knowledge as practical: it has to do with getting what we want. It comes out of, and exists for the sake of, our sensations, feelings, and goals.
Such a view excludes from knowledge everything that goes beyond human experience and purpose. The transcendent, it seems to tell us, is beyond us. We don’t know what it is, and there is nothing we can do about it, so why take it into account?
Some of the consequences of such a view, and the length of the process that has led to the present situation, can be seen in the history of the word “speculation.” The word comes from the Latin specere, to look at or view. When it appeared in English around 1374, it meant “contemplation” or “consideration.” By 1575, at the dawn of the modern age, it had taken on the disparaging sense of “mere conjecture.” And by the eve of the great modern revolutions, in 1774, it had come to mean “buying and selling in search of profit from rise and fall of market value.”
So in four hundred years “speculation”—attending to things on some basis other than knowledge as power—went from man’s noblest faculty, contemplation or speculative reason, to making things up, to trying to get money without knowing what you’re up to.
Modern natural science has great strengths. It can be extremely successful when pursued with discipline, attentiveness and ingenuity, so it calls forth high-quality intellectual effort. It has built-in checks that tend to catch errors. And it has solved a great many problems, and continues to support fruitful inquiry on a very wide range of topics.
However, it narrowly restricts what counts as evidence and proof, and its rigorous attitude toward evidence and inference causes it to take an extremely critical attitude toward tradition, common sense, revelation, and other nonscientific forms of guidance.
Many supporters of science treat the scientific enterprise as if it were a political movement aiming at world domination and insist on universalizing the critical attitude that has made the success of science possible. To appeal to any principle outside modern natural science, it is argued, would compromise an extremely successful strategy of investigation for the sake of some particular concern that may yet be dealt with—to the extent it’s legitimate—within science itself.
And that, it is thought, would be an attack on the process through which we attain knowledge, and thus on knowledge itself. To look for reliable public truth from a non-scientific source is, we are told, antiscientific and therefore antirational.
The result has been a view that limits knowledge and indeed rational guidance to a very few sources, those upon which modern natural science relies most explicitly. Those sources are:
- Disinterested observations, especially observations that can be repeated and verified by any properly trained observer.
- Induction: what happened in the past will happen in the future.
- Formal logic, mathematics, and measurement, which enable us to organize and connect our observations and make them exact, impersonal, and usable. If an observation can’t be made numerical it’s not taken seriously.
- When necessary, additional assumptions that comply with Occam’s Razor—that is, are as few and simple as possible—and can be tested by experiment.
The Razor runs wild
Occam’s Razor is important. When someone tells you “you’re just trying to force your values on other people” it’s an appeal to Occam’s Razor. You are, it’s implied, bringing in something that’s neither proved nor needed, so you’re being willful and probably oppressive.
The problem is not Occam’s Razor in itself, which is a perfectly sensible injunction to keep things simple, but its overly aggressive use, which in effect makes it govern reality rather than regulate investigation. Rather than tell us to choose the simpler explanation where two explanations work equally well, it’s used to rule out explanations that refer to things modern natural science has trouble dealing with. It thus becomes equivalent to the dogmatic claim that modern natural science is sufficient for all our needs.
The consequences of trying to understand the world only scientifically pervade present-day life:
- The experimental method that is basic to scientific knowledge tells us how events depend on other events, especially those we can control. If that’s all we can know, then knowledge has to do with the control of nature, and rationality becomes difficult to distinguish from dealing with the world technologically.
- Modern natural science tells us about things that can be observed and measured by any trained observer who follows the appropriate procedures, and those that are connected to observations by a theory that makes predictions that can be confirmed, and is as simple, mathematical, and consistent with other accepted theories as possible. If those are the things we can know about, those are the things we can treat as real. Everything else is opinion, feeling, taste, prejudice, or fantasy.
- Further, science dislikes formal and final cause—the essential features of a thing, with their relations to each other and the results they characteristically bring about. Essential features and characteristic functions bring in too many imponderables. Who is to say whether, in a marginal case, something is a horse or not a horse? And who is to say whether it’s the true nature of a horse to crop grass, win races, provide offspring, die gloriously in battle, live long and prosper, provide glue and horse meat, or occupy whatever volume of space horses actually occupy?
Scientism therefore aspires to do without such principles. It prefers to appeal to material and efficient cause, the thing’s physical constituents and the events that directly brought it into being. That aspiration is perpetually frustrated, since without formal and final cause it’s impossible to discuss functional systems such as living things, but people nonetheless try to minimize their use or explain them away.
Such tendencies make evaluative concepts such as good and beautiful seem purely subjective. They have to do with form and function, so they depend on the observer’s arbitrary purposes and interpretations. To treat such qualities as real they must be observed and measured, and for that to be possible they must be identified with observed preferences. But if “good” means “preferred,” it’s simply a matter of what we want, and the triumph of the good becomes indistinguishable from the triumph of the will.
The resulting pragmatic orientation transforms our understanding of the world. If knowledge has to do with control, if there are no essential functions or qualities, and if willfulness is our basic guide to action, then stable purposes and relationships dissolve. That dissolution is part and parcel of the technological outlook. An industrial process has no loyalties. A computer does not care what you program it to do. It works the same in all settings, and interacts with equal facility with any other computer anywhere. The technological outlook thus puts us in a sort of eternal now without place or context, in which everything is a neutral resource for the achievement of the current projects of whoever is in control.
Such views make it impossible to accept that we are what we are through participation in something larger than ourselves. The world does not dictate classifications and meanings to us: we dictate them to it. What something is depends on what we want out of it. Stable identities thus dissolve: as Marx put it, “all that is solid melts into air.” Self-definition becomes the thing that makes us more than objects defined by our use in the projects of others, and is thus the essence of our dignity. Membership in a larger whole comes to seem oppressive. Since getting what we want is the purpose of thought, to classify someone and thus make him part of a larger whole is to treat him as a thing to be used rather than a person to be respected.
Hence the abolition of traditional culture, which is always based on particular connections, meanings, and identities, as intrinsically oppressive. Hence the belief that “essentialism”—the belief that things have a particular nature and significance—is ignorance and bigotry. And hence the belief that “discrimination”—treating one connection as more fitting than another—is irrational and wrong.
Different treatment on account of accidents of birth and the like is particularly offensive, since the individual does not choose them. That’s why there is such extreme resistance to recognizing natural differences among human beings. Such recognition denies our self-createdness, our I AM THAT I AM. It denies that we can be free, equal, and self-defining, and so suggests that subservience is natural and unavoidable. That’s why there is a human right in the EU to get your birth registration changed from “male” to “female” if you’ve had what is called a sex change operation.
Morality and politics
The belief that the principles of the modern natural sciences should be applied to morality and politics might seem surprising. Those principles are designed to deal with objects in space. Since we often concern ourselves with other things, like the good, beautiful, and true, it seems that scientific principle should have only limited applicability in human affairs.
Nonetheless, we are indeed objects in space, and it follows that we can apply the methods of the modern natural sciences to ourselves. Since we can do so, the scientistic version of Occam’s Razor insists that we should do so—exclusively. We should try to rely, not just in physiology and physical anthropology but even in politics, morality, and social relations generally, on something as close to scientific reasoning as possible. It’s considered irrational to do otherwise.
The logic of liberalism
The result of the attempt to make social relations scientific is contemporary liberalism, including inclusiveness, diversity, and all the rest. When scientism is applied to morality and politics it gives us both a highest good and a highest standard of justice. From those two principles it’s possible to generate a complete political and moral system, one that’s extremely simple and rigorous and therefore excludes all distinctions other than those it relies on.
The highest good scientism gives us is freedom, understood as satisfaction of desire. Preference and aversion are observable, and they’re available to us as guides. Since that’s so, scientism tells us, why not stick with them, and concentrate on setting up a system that gives us what we want and gets rid of what we don’t want? Why bring in other standards based on things that are harder to demonstrate, like God, natural functions, essential qualities, or the good, beautiful, and true? That, it is thought, would be unscientific and therefore irrational.
The standard of justice that corresponds to scientism is equality. What’s good is simply what’s desired, scientism says, and since all desires are equally desires, all goods must equally be goods. It follows that the desires of all men deserve to be treated equally. To say one man’s desires are less valuable than another’s is simply to value him less. That’s arbitrary, discriminatory, and oppressive. It’s the sort of thing that leads to Auschwitz, and can’t be allowed.
In effect, scientism tells us that there are no transcendent goods, just desire, and there are no essences of things that we have to accept and respect, the world is what we make of it. Also, formal logic and means/ends rationality is the whole of reason. For those reasons the rational approach to politics, social life, and morality is to treat the world as a resource and turn the social order into a kind of machine for giving people whatever they happen to want, as long as what they want fits the smooth working of the machine.
That understanding is the present-day liberal understanding. The correctness of liberalism, including inclusiveness, is thus demonstrable given the present view of reason. Those who accept scientism and reject liberalism are either nihilists, Nazis who reject the equal intrinsic value of some people and their purposes, or eccentrics who hold views that suffer from severe internal conflicts. The fact actual science is at odds with many egalitarian claims doesn’t matter, since actual science is not scientism and the latter must satisfy needs actual science can ignore.
Its apparent unique rationality gives liberalism an insuperable advantage in political and moral discussion. If you reject it there is something wrong with you. You’re irrational, nihilistic, or Nazi. Most likely, you’re all three.
The rigor of liberalism
The specific features of the liberal order follow from its basic logic. These include:
- Universality. Reason is universal. Since liberalism follows from reason, it too must be universally applicable.
- Absolute validity. A system based simply on reason is the only possible legitimate system. Dissidents are not properly part of political discussion, since they reject reason. If they’re accepted in the discussion they will corrupt it.
- Insistence on effective abolition of all institutions and standards at odds with the unity, clarity, universality, and efficiency of the system.
The last point is important. For a rational technological system to exist and perfect itself, everything has to be transparent and manageable from the point of view of those on top. All institutions have to have a clear orientation toward maximizing preference satisfaction or equality, and it has to be possible to supervise them and intervene to correct deviations and irrationalities.
The only institutions that measure up to those standards are markets (especially global markets) that are properly regulated, and bureaucracies (especially transnational bureaucracies) run on liberal principles. In contrast, traditional and local institutions—family, nation, religion, and non-liberal conceptions of personal dignity and integrity—are
- Opaque and resistant to outside control. They resist change.
- Not oriented toward maximum equal satisfaction of individual preference. They’re oppressive.
- Not based on expert scientific knowledge. They’re ignorant and prejudiced.
- Dependent on distinctions and authorities that are not required by liberal market and bureaucratic institutions. The family, for example, depends on distinctions of age, sex, and blood. It follows that such institutions are bigoted and hateful.
Accordingly, liberalism tells us, institutions other than bureaucracies and markets have no right to exist. Their presence makes a just, rational, and efficient social order impossible.
They’re also extremely dangerous. Rational action is a matter of trying to achieve some preference, with means chosen in accordance with technical criteria. Race, sex, family, heritage, and the like do not present themselves as simple matters of preference, and they’re not technical criteria, so they’re not rational guides to action.
It follows that they’re mindless obsessions with no rational limitation on what they might demand. If allowed at all their demands naturally expand without limit and lead to Auschwitz. They must either be extirpated or brought into the system of liberal rationality by reducing them to private choices with no consequences for social relations that matter.
In other words, we must insist on diversity, inclusiveness, multiculturalism, and so on. Nation and culture must become ethnic cuisine and folk dancing, religion private discipline, personal therapy, or a poeticized version of advanced liberalism. None can matter more than any other, so none can matter at all.
The family can get lip service: it’s said to be terribly important when that’s useful rhetorically, as in the case of selling “gay families.” In fact, though, it can no longer be recognized as a social institution at all, but as a sentimental or contractual arrangement with no special content or purpose and therefore no public function.
Suppose you’re an official who accepts scientism and its application to social relations, and you’re presented with a claim by a gay rights group that they have a right to live in a society free of homophobic attitudes, and a claim by Christians that they have the right to educate their children in the principles they think right—which include the view that homosexual inclinations are intrinsically disordered. The two claims conflict. Who wins?
Obviously, the gay rights group. A basic purpose of public authority is to establish public rationality, which includes defending people from oppressive social structures. Christian morality is at odds with the equal standing of all desires that accept the liberal public order. It’s therefore intrinsically irrational and oppressive and should not be allowed to affect social relations.
Further, the point of parental involvement in the upbringing of children is its contribution to their ultimate ability to choose and pursue their own legitimate goals, with the liberal public order the standard of legitimacy. The Christian parents reject that principle, which is the only principle that could justify their authority. So why, from the liberal viewpoint now dominant, should they be allowed to determine their children’s education?
The immovability of inclusiveness
Liberals say they believe in reason. On their understanding of reason, their views are correct beyond all possibility of discussion. What part of maximum equal satisfaction of legitimate preferences could any intelligent and well-meaning person have a problem with? And what justification could there be for denying equal citizenship to those who accept the principle of equal citizenship? Opposition to the one rational and just system is not only wrong but obviously inexcusable. If you oppose it
- You’re ignorant, confused, and irrational, since your opposition is against reason.
- You’re trying to suppress and exclude other people to get more for yourself, to make yourself look better by comparison, or just because you like abusing people. You’re greedy, resentful, oppressive, hateful, or all four.
Such views are fundamental to the present legal and public moral order. They’re taught in the schools, guide all respectable leadership, and define legitimate statecraft. That’s why in much of the West you can now be fined or put in jail for saying there are problems with homosexuality or Islam.
They’re impossible to argue against, and therefore to resist. Public discussion must be based on principles acceptable to all parties, but the only principles liberals will accept for purposes of debating their opponents are stripped-down scientistic principles that when taken as the basis of discussion automatically give back liberalism.
All of us are affected by such views, at least to a degree. It’s very hard to avoid falling into the basic assumptions on which the people around us—especially the people who run things—carry on discussions. The most basic of those assumptions is their understanding of reason, which is now understood to require liberal inclusiveness. That’s why even people who officially don’t accept it, for example would-be religious traditionalists, slide into accepting it in practice.