Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Unreason, demagogues and the end of the West

The Blogger Who Must Not Be Named posted A Question from a Reader, who asked why same-sex marriage is such a cause célèbre. MS’ reply touches three basic answers, which I will simply describe here:

1.      Consent is the sole criterion of the good. The premisses are that the State has no valid interest in what happens inside the social black box labeled “private” so long as no one inside the box is harmed, and that harm is a purely personal judgment. Thus, sodomy and other risky sexual practices can’t be bad so long as either party thinks they’re not.
2.    Homosexuality is narcissistic. Narcissism isn’t unique to same-sex attraction. However, in the gay-rights movement, it lends itself to a demand for social acceptance such that mere tolerance isn’t sufficient: You. MUST. Approve. Marriage, with its evocation of the spouse, the kids, and the little white house with the picket fence, is symbolic of the goodness of natural affections. Ergo, homosexuals must not be denied this “seal of approval” for the natural goodness of their love.
3.    The mystery of sin at work in the world. God’s gift of free will implies Man’s ability to pit his will against God’s, the ability to say Non serviam (“You’re not the boss of me!”) and act on it. This necessarily leads to distortion in one’s values, to redefine good and evil according to one’s desires or to enjoy evil in full knowledge and acceptance of its wickedness. It also corrupts virtues, so that the value of one virtue can be inflated beyond proper bounds to the cost of other virtues.

As thoughtful as these answers are — and, to think about it, the third comprehends the other two — I don’t think they suffice. So let me add to the analysis:

4.     The triumph of unreason: Demagogues revel in logical fallacies. Why? Because they work. One good ad hominem blast, especially carried in a ten-second sound bite, can bury a hundred pages of syllogisms.[*] Our education system fails to teach students the necessary jiu-jitsu to construct classic rational arguments and defeat paralogisms, leaving them in a state where reason itself becomes a social construct subject to arbitrary redefinition. In such an intellectual morass, opposition to gay marriage is not only irrational but a sign of psychological defect; you need only go through the motions of the Scientific Method to make it an indisputable fact … and grounds for persecution.

5.    Moral cowardice: The demagogue has a powerful tool for psychological compulsion: he can force people to accept intrinsic evil as “good” by making them feel bad for opposing him. The individual may be aware and even resentful that he’s being manipulated. Yet he lacks the courage to risk the social costs of open opposition. The emotional compensation of being socially approved is felt to be worth the cost of manipulation. Thus, he will condone evil as the path of least resistance.

6.     Social engineering: In the abstract, social engineering isn’t intrinsically evil. Indeed, if you want to improve society, you have to persuade people to behave as you want. But since the advent of the printing press, developments in psychology, sociology, political science, marketing and technology have given the demagogue unprecedented tools for mass manipulation, which social liberals have exploited ruthlessly and successfully … sometimes with the naked crudeness of a club crushing the skull, sometimes with the subtleness of an ice pick in the ear. Brokeback Mountain achieved what the corruption of social science couldn’t: it buried the common-sense “Adam and Steve” argument[†] under a sympathetic portrayal of homoerotic love.

7.  The Reformation: So many encomiums have been delivered on the positive aspects of the Protestant rebellion that its deleterious effects have been ignored, minimized or even twisted into net benefits. Whether or not the Catholic faith is true, it still remains true that, so long as Europe held to a single common value system, a sense of objective truth obtained: actions could be right or wrong; governments could be good or wicked; propositions could be true or false — all according to common standards. Moreover, the general goodness of authority, both temporal and intellectual, could be sustained even while individual rulers and teachers could be commonly apostrophized as wicked or wrong-headed. But once the Reformers set the individual conscience over human authority, they cracked the wall of objective truth; like a dam with a flaw, it eventually crumbled under pressure. People now can pick and choose their moral principles in an ethical marketplace and set values on them according to what they’re willing to pay in social capital for them, with no need for consistency or coherence. They’re all “true” because no one can prove them false; no useful, commonly-accepted distinction can be made between wishful thinking and first principles, between the rebel and the freedom fighter, between the independent thinker and the wrong-headed fool.

In sum, same-sex marriage is a cause célèbre because of hubris. Not content with having duplicated the Fall of Adam by supplanting God with the individual conscience, we’re just now beginning to tinker with our own genetic and social programming to create Homo sapiens 2.0. Why be content with sainthood when you can engineer the race into godhood?

Unlike MS, I don’t see the State “mutating into a colossus”. Rather, I see it becoming a reactionary, self-perpetuating monster as it desperately sheds social and scientific programs and enlists an underequipped, ill-paid military to prop up the 1% against social rebellion, eventually devolving into a loosely confederated set of poverty-stricken principalities and city-states much like the Russian Federation.

And the First World will become as the Third.

[*] This is where New Atheists such as Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, P. Z. Myers and Philip Pullman succeed and trained philosophers don’t: it’s much easier to sneer and smear God to death than to prove He doesn’t exist.
[†] “If God had meant for people to be gay, He would have created Adam and Steve.”