Liberal theosis

Modern thought can’t make sense of man. Science wants to treats him as part of single system of cause and effect, and liberalism also takes that approach when considering social policy. The problem though is that science and liberalism need scientists and liberals as they understand them—that is, they need thinkers, observers and agents who are autonomous and therefore outside the system of material causation.

Science can avoid the issue for the most part, since scientists deal with particular problems and can allow those they can’t solve to remain problems. Liberalism cannot do so, at least not to the same extent, since for liberals liberalism is the supreme principle of politics and morality and must therefore provide and justify an overall way of life.

The practical solution for liberals is to make man as thinker, observer, and agent, who cannot be part of the rationally knowable system of material causation, an inscrutable transcendent being in place of God.

The result is that individual man acquires God’s traditional attributes, with the attributes emphasized determining the kind of liberalism. Thus, classical liberalism emphasizes the creative reason through which the godlike individual devises and calls into being his own intellectual and moral world. In contrast, contemporary politically-correct liberalism emphasizes the identity of essence and attribute in the divine being, and infers that to comment negatively on any quality of the divinized individual is a blasphemous attack on his essence and very existence. If you don’t accept him and praise him just as he is, you are his absolute existential enemy.

Neither of course makes sense as a way of understanding men. We are neither divine nor machines, and we are part of a world we do not make. We must understand ourselves that way to make sense of human life, and liberal modernity does not allow us to do so. It is radically divorced from reality, and therefore doomed.

19 thoughts on “Liberal theosis”

  1. Abstract systems?
    I do not think Liberalism makes sense, but I think the way in which the problem is pushed back a level (such that it is immune from sound-bite, one step logic) is that Liberals (at least post 1965-liberals) believe in abstract systems more than they believe in the individual person.

    So, science is supposed to be valid, despite the fact that it is done by fallible human scientists, because the abstract system of science automatically generates validity (“If it is science, then it is valid”).

    Having equated validity with the system of science, then Liberals are free to redefine the system of science to fit their needs – and indeed this has been done by saying that science is a product of ‘peer review’ – a product, that is, of the opinions of small groups of elite scientists having presumed expertise.

    So, the validity of science comes from the system of science, and the system of science consist of comittees, panels, groups of accredited scientists who express an opiniuon on the validity of work.

    When these elite panels reach an opinion (by some procedural mechanism or another – a black box essentially) that a specific peice of work is valid, then ‘science’ (the abstract system) is regarded as having validated the claim.

    And vice versa.

    If challenged, this system of peer review is contrasted with the ‘alternative’ of a state of chaos and ‘anything goes’.

    System (whatever system is currently in place, whose validity comes from the fact of two centuries of technological progress in general) is thus contrasted with an unimaginable chaos of non-system.

    This sounds pretty feeble – but it is enough when the system of peer review is in place, and the elite scientists are keen to maintain control. All accredited expertise supports the expertise of accredited experts…

  2. This seems a bit too cute by
    This seems a bit too cute by half. People have always reacted strongly to things that affect their identity. We’ve been encouraging people to adopt all sorts of non-mainstream identities, but people don’t seem able to be able to function with a live and let live attitude*, so some identities end up being subordinated to others.

    *Not to mention all the public policy decisions which force us to choose the values of one identity group over another.

    • Not sure I understand the comment completely
      Anyway, it seems to me we’re in a different situation than in the past because the basic ways of thinking that have public authority, scientism and liberalism, are so mechanistic and individualistic. That means they don’t have a good way to deal with agency or with identity as participation in something higher and shared.

      For that reason, human beings as agents can’t be part of our system of knowledge–that would involve labeling them, reducing them to the mere effect of causes we can manipulate, etc. In fact, it’s hard to make them part of any system at all. So in concept they become Unique, Other, Unknowable, and Ineffable, as well as somehow authoritative (we have to respect other people after all). In other words, they take on the qualities traditionally associated with God, and that leads to all sorts of irrationalities.

      Your point may be that that sort of conceptual problem doesn’t determine all things. Mine is that it does have an effect.

      • Simpler and more direct
        “Your point may be that that sort of conceptual problem doesn’t determine all things. Mine is that it does have an effect.”

        I’d go further, that at least in this particular case, there is a direct and simple explanation for what is going on, and that in this case there is no need for your explanation at all.

        People just don’t seem to like having any group that you are attached to denigrated and this does not seem to be a particularly modern phenomenon. We form these kinds of identity groups incredibly easily and this isn’t limited to politically relevant differences. Woe be unto you if you walk into the wrong bar and yell “The Red Sox suck!”

        As an example of how this works, 200 years ago there wasn’t any conglomeration of gay men, so while there were individual men who were attracted to other men and who sometimes engaged in sex acts with each other, there wasn’t any sort of gay identity group. However, as soon as gays started to form a community, it wasn’t just some incidental trait anymore; it became part of their identity. So, once a community forms, any criticism of homosexual behaviour now becomes an attack on that person’s humanity, because their sense of self has become so bound up in membership within that group.

        • Concepts, not psychology
          At all times and places people want everything imaginable. For that reason I don’t think explanations based on motives and goals explain as much as people think. The issue is what motives and goals are valid and authoritative, which is a matter of what’s real and what makes sense. That’s why basic philosophical concepts actually do matter.

          • I think you, like most
            I think you, like most intellectuals, _vastly_ overestimate the power of philosophical thought. It’s not that it doesn’t matter, but it almost always seems to come in a distant third behind innate psychological tendencies and material incentives. As an example, it wasn’t libertine philosophy, which has been around since forever, that gave birth to the sexual revolution in the 50s and 60s. It was reliable birth control.

          • The entry discussed relations
            The entry discussed relations among implicit assumptions. It wasn’t about explicit philosophical thought any more than a discussion of economic assumptions and understandings is about explicit economic thought. And it was only concerned with causality outside the sphere of assumptions and understandings by implication, to the extent one thinks such things affect how people act. It didn’t discuss the issue.

            I do think there is an effect, since the appropriate response to a situation can’t simply be read off from the physical facts of the matter. Basic assumptions as to what the world is like and what claims make sense matter practically, although how and how much they matter in this or that situation is of course complicated. Political correctness for example cannot simply be read off from the presence of various groups and their struggle for recognition and dominance. The latter has existed without the former.

          • I suppose the real question
            I suppose the real question would be why the white Christian majority lost the will to assert itself.

            I guess I’d see the whole thing as mostly being as a result of our massive increase in health, prosperity, and protection from violence. There is research that shows how when in the absence of threat, we start to massively lose interest in the moral foundations the of ingroup, purity/sacredness, and authority, and only pay attention to the remaining two foundations of care/harm and fairness. We live in a world where the white majority in the West is comfortable and doesn’t feel any threat to itself, so all people really care about are harm/care and abstract fairness. So, when gays or blacks or whoever shriek that they are in pain (for the reasons I stated above) or that they are being treated unfairly, the natural instinct is to sympathize with them and not really care about traditional morality or your interests as part of your own ethnic group. All you care about is that someone is in pain, and therefore anyone else who objects just seems like they’re being a dick.

            (However, whenever there is an immediate threat of violence, people will tend to revert to normal. For all the advances in PC in the U.S., no one seems to have much of a problem keeping 10% of the black male population in jail.)

          • It’s an odd situation
            It seems to me PC involves a lot of ingroup, purity/sacredness, and authority. It views itself of course as concerned only with care/harm, fairness and reason. But what could be more disgusting than those bigots, the Tea Party people and so on? And then there are all the creepy deniers (of evolution, climate change, or whatnot). We certainly don’t anything to do with any of them! They’re all the same people, and if they want to secede that would be great …

            On a related front, I was at a conference the weekend before last. One very distinguished speaker gave a very interesting talk about how hunter gatherers are all lazy, shortsighted and short-tempered, and European man used to be like that too, but beginning in 1000 when things settled down the shortsighted and violent began to be hanged in large numbers, and the prudent and hardworking had lots more kids, so the composition of the gene pool changed and (e.g.) murder dropped by a factor of 100.

            Another very distinguished speaker gave another very interesting talk that mostly consisted of quoting Oswald Spengler grousing about how modern European man is a small-minded cautious bourgeoise wimp and all the glorious heroic aristocratic virtues have been lost.

            So there’s another explanation for you. There’s no end to them.

          • “It seems to me PC involves a
            “It seems to me PC involves a lot of ingroup, purity/sacredness, and authority.”

            It involves some, but much less than religion and conservatism. I actually think PC would not be as powerful as it is if it did not draw on a kind of deep consonance with an overwhelming majority of the population. It relies on pure numbers to maintain power. I read a survey this week about Norway, perhaps the most PC nation on earth, where 95% of the population feels strongly in control of their lives. They’re also the happiest people on earth.
            PC is really only of much annoyance to people like us in the intellectual class, because it tried to make you believe just the most stupid stuff. PC can catch the average person in some unpleasant situations, but mostly it doesn’t, and our vast prosperity covers over most of the ills that it causes on a societal level. The only long run threat I see to society from PC is through unfettered immigration.

            I find explanations for PC that focus too much on intellectuals, the media, philosophy, social conditioning as totally unconvincing. They seem to call forth more questions than they answer. Why do these things have so much power _now_? Why do they seem to have so much power in some areas but not in others? Whereas the idea that peoples psychology changes when they are safe, prosperous, and rich is supported by psychological research. It is observable all around the world. It is supported by observations from people in the past, such as Christ noting that it is easier for a man to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven or Luther noting the worldliness of the elites of his day, with their penchant for birth control and even abortion. And I think this explanation also speaks to the strange phenomenon where if you try to talk to certain people about religion or race or traditional sex mores they just stare at you like they can’t understand what you are saying. That is because, being raised in a prosperous, safe and comfortable environment, they have never actually felt a conservative or religious sentiment in their entire lives. They quite literally have no idea what you are talking about.

          • What’s really going on?
            PC doesn’t look to me like it’s driven by popular sentiment. If it is, why the indoctrination? The fear and hatred of populism? The insistence on importing millions of genuinely alien aliens? The emphasis on experts who always say counterintuitive things? The denunciations of social stereotypes and deeply-rooted cultural patterns?

            Dunno know much about Norway. PC doesn’t seem to have done much for happiness in the U.S. or England, which I know more about. I suppose Norway’s probably a bit like Canada though, a prosperous backwater where PC provides an occasion for nationalistic preening and adds to the sense that everything’s been taken care of.

            I wouldn’t attribute PC to intellectuals any more than I’d attribute religion to theologians, commercialism to economists, or language to grammarians. It’s based on fundamental understandings of reality, and everyone has fundamental understandings.

            On the theoretical side, PC (as suggested in the entry) is the attempt to treat each of us as divine, and defend that view against the contrary view (to which current basic understandings also lend themselves) that the less powerful are resources for the purposes of the more powerful. On the practical side, of course, it’s a way for elites who control commercial and bureaucratic institutions to disrupt all other institutions and put themselves in control of all social life. As such it’s made possible by the pervasiveness of electronic mass media and the industrialization of life generally.

            I agree that part of what’s going on is that security and prosperity mean this-worldliness. I don’t agree though that they mean more uniform attention to harm and fairness. I’d think it goes the other way—wealth and security mean snobbishness, overreaching, and impractical extravagances. Think of courtly life and degenerate aristocracies. What’s happened I think is that insistence on purity and ingroup identification pass themselves off as practical and rational concerns that can be justified under current basic understandings. Examples include PC, human rights, and the EU. Those things are not driven by concern for fairness and security, they’re driven by an idealized vision of a perfect system of fairness and security. They’re religious and utopian, and support for them is part of what makes people legitimate human beings.

          • “PC doesn’t look to me like
            “PC doesn’t look to me like it’s driven by popular sentiment.”

            It’s all really an intra-liberal squabble about whether freedom or equality will be the dominant value in society. This seems to get quite vicious at time, but people seem to genuinely like liberalism in general alot, at least the part about freedom. The “I’ll leave you alone if you leave me alone” sentiment seems to be pretty spontaneous. The research too seems to support the idea that freedom is pretty central to people’s happiness, more than any other factor, perhaps even including family or religion.
            Of course such an emphasis on freedom would seem to imply some low level of PC to keep everyone getting along, which most people seem pretty happy to go along with. People don’t like the extremism of a lot of PC, but they tend to agree with the basic sentiments.

            I would add that the reason people have abandoned traditional religion is decidedly _not_ indoctrination. Indeed, many of the countries where religion is weakest and PC the strongest have had the most religious indoctrination in the past, and still have some remnants today. I’d also note the large scale abandonment of religion by my own former classmates in a very conservative religious school. Why does liberal indoctrination take and religious indoctrination not? I think the evidence is strongly pointing in the direction of a fundamental shift in human psychology induced by the safe, comfortable and prosperous world we in the West tend to live in.

          • “I don’t agree though that
            “I don’t agree though that they mean more uniform attention to harm and fairness. I’d think it goes the other way—wealth and security mean snobbishness, overreaching, and impractical extravagances. Think of courtly life and degenerate aristocracies.”

            Well, the tendencies towards in-group, authority, and purity never completely go away, particularly when there is a perceived threat. But I would defend the following: they are much, much less salient among liberals, and this is shown by the fact that liberals do need to justify everything in terms of either harm or fairness. I’d also point out that it isn’t just Haidt noting this diference between liberals and conservatives. Steve Sailer has been pointing out how important team psychology is to Republican politics since forever. I will stand by this, for liberalism to triumph it needs the support of overwhelming numbers, which it has. The only real controversy any more is over what kind of liberalism we will have.

            As for things like snobbishness, of course it exists, but for liberals it needs to be disguised as fairness. “I got into Harvard because I deserve it.” etc. I doubt aristocrats in the past worked so hard to prove how virtuous and deserving they were of their positions as aristocrats. As Charles Murray has noted, the work these Ivy Leaguers put into these sorts of things is really quite remarkable. And aside from our entertainers, I don’t see our elites as particularly degenerate in their personal lives. Rather, they tend to be rather on the comparatively conservative side in that respect. One of my favourite observations is how conservative periodicals in England completely distained to use any of Burke’s arguments in support of monarchy and aristocracy. They were noblemen and such and the hoi polloi were the hoi polloi and that was that.

          • It’s an interesting case
            Liberals justify by reference to what they see as reason—fairness and avoidance of harm. But their vision of those things is religious. It relates to some ideal world rather than the practicalities of this one.

            You can see that in the attitude toward HBD. Natural differences that matter among groups of human beings are metaphysically impossible for them. Belief in them is dirty and somewhat uncanny. The EU is another example. It’s not a policy, it’s a metaphysical necessity. That being so, I don’t think their ideals are really fairness and avoidance of harm. If you take something limited and relative and dependent on facts and circumstances and turn it into a divinized absolute it’s not going to be the same thing any more. Ares and Aphrodite, taken literally as active divine presences, are not the same as war and sexual attraction simply as such.

            You’re right that Republicans are a team. Their nationalism, for example, is a matter of rooting for Team America. But liberals are a religion. If you’re not a Republican you’re not on their team, but if you’re not a liberal, you’re not a legitimate human being. Is being on a team more of an in-group concern than being a legitimate human being? It’s less a purity concern for sure.

            It seems to me that left-wing morality has to do with compliance with an infinitely demanding system of abstract concepts. That’s a purity concern. Among true believers, PC is purity purified. That’s one reason why—as you note—liberals often work very hard to prove their worthiness.

            Why do you say liberalism needs the support of overwhelming numbers to triumph? Certainly not prior support. The overwhelming numbers of people can find something to like in almost any political view from Nazism to traditional monarchy to PC liberalism. The point is that they’re not the active factor. That’s why there have been so many different political regimes, each of which has seemed inevitable and overwhelmingly real while it has lasted.

            I’d tend to explain why we get one regime rather than another less by differences in psychology, in the sense of desire and motivation, than differences in how we make sense of things—that is, in basic explanatory concepts. Such things are not just for intellectuals any more than grammar is just for grammarians. So on that view indoctrination would tend to work if it plausibly applies how people generally make sense of things in a particular setting. That’s an obvious reason why PC indoctrination works better than say Calvinist indoctrination among North American middle class whites in the year 2011. If you want Christian indoctrination that works you have to go to the most basic issues and deal with them seriously.

          • Excellent encapsulation
            The comment entitled “It’s an interesting case” deserves independent existence outside the comment section – would you publish it as a post, or shall I post it on my blog?

          • Well, the moment that people
            Well, the moment that people feel any severe threat that will tend to re-activate their non-liberal moral sentiments. If there really was a severe crisis, and something like the present financial troubles do not count, support for liberalism would evaporate and they would strongly prefer some other political ideology more in tune with their intuitions. I think this is what makes liberal elites nervous is that they know on some level that their support is entirely dependent on keeping the gravy train rolling and that the general public would turn against them in a heartbeat should prosperity and security go away. And in a sense you are right in that prosperity has to come first before support for liberalism and that the former causes the latter rather than the liberal myth that has it the other way round.

            I’d also agree that all moral values have to be divinized to some degree or they don’t really function as moral values. But it is important to note that what liberals are divinizing are harm and fairness. That may not quite make sense, but they aren’t getting there through the method you described in the original post. I also think as a conservative it is quite easy to project conservative type sentiments onto liberals when they don’t really have them.

            In some circumstances, it is possible to alter human nature to an enormous degree. Of course, this does not mean that the left wingers were right that all aspects of human nature are highly malleable. There are some fairly strict constraints on such change and many aspects of human nature may not be changeable at all. But in highly specific areas, such as religion and moral sentiment, it does appear that large scale alterations are very much possible and it would be foolish to ignore the political implications of this. Of course, peoples fundamental understanding of things matters, but such understanding is primarily intuitive not rational and our intuitions come out of our psychology. I will not yield an inch in my contention that the primary reason for the triumph of liberalism and the particular form of modern society that we have is that respect for religion and traditional understandings quite naturally and spontaneously plummets in the presence of prosperity, comfort and safety.

          • “If you’re not a Republican
            “If you’re not a Republican you’re not on their team, but if you’re not a liberal, you’re not a legitimate human being.”

            There is some in-group stuff going on here with liberals, but mostly I see this as liberal’s complete inability to understand conservative thought and sentiment. Liberals can’t think like conservatives, while conservatives can, to a degree, think like liberals. Conservatives understand harm and fairness, while liberals have, at best, only the most vestigial understanding of the conservative moral sentiments. So, liberals literally can’t conceive of how anyone would think any differently than themselves. And that, for them, makes conservatives deeply weird and frightening. Much more so than liberals are to conservatives.

          • It seems to me the difference
            It seems to me the difference between our views is that you accept, mostly on its own terms, what is now viewed as normal everyday common-sense secular reality.

            Another way to put it is that you accept the concepts that now determine what realities are socially recognized. The result is that you see conduct as determined by normal human reactions and the psychology of particular participants rather than by the system of logic and ontological commitments that is now generally taken for granted.

            If you look at generally-accepted understandings from outside, as a system with its own logic and manner of functioning, it all looks very different.

          • A subtle shift in value.
            I suppose the real question would be why the white Christian majority lost the will to assert itself.

            Because of the profound changes in Christian culture in the late 19th Century. Niceness, or more importantly, agreeableness, became the supreme virtue. Being nice was more important than being good.

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