Wildly Failing to Make an Assertion

I asserted in my previous post that I found it unclear whether the contributors and commentators on the anti-liberal blog the Othosphere all defined liberalism in the same way. According to Terry Morris (a regular commentator on the Orthosphere and of late my blog), that I “wildly failed” (somehow) in the making of this assertion. He expressed this in a brief exchange of comments following my previous post. I found this exchange interesting because it illustrates an unfortunate, adversarial dynamic I have experienced repeatedly in the comment sections of many blogs. This dynamic is characterized by two commentators ostensibly arguing the merits of a disagreement when they are actually (typically by means of passive aggression) trying to humiliate the other person because they feel the other person has offended them in some way.

Terry Morris began this exchange by taking issue with a passage from my post. In this passage I referenced a post entitled The Sexual Left Devours Itself made by Othosphere contributor Kristor. Specifically, I wrote:

If [Kristor] is talking about political liberalism then the counter example of myself refutes his assertion that political liberalism necessarily leads to sexual liberalism all the time.

Terry Morris reacted to this passage by exclaiming:

That isn’t Kristor’s assertion; it’s *your* assertion about what he wrote.

I can see why Terry Morris reacted this way although I think he misunderstood the point I attempted to make. It is true that a plain reading of my comment could lead one to believe I asserted that Kristor asserted “political liberalism necessarily leads to sexual liberalism all of the time.” To clarify, (1) the word “If” which begins my statement should have keyed Terry Morris into the fact that I did not know whether Kristor was in fact making this assertion and (2) the whole point of my post was that I found it unclear what exactly Kristor was asserting because I did not know what definition of liberalism he was using. Terry Morris is right, however, that I could have worded this specific sentence with greater clarity.

Proceeding with his misunderstanding Terry went on to say:

Having followed Kristor’s posts for years, dating back to our old VFR days, I can assure you that Kristor would *never* assert that “political liberalism necessarily leads to sexual liberalism all the time,” your counter-example and any number of others you might cite (or the lack thereof) notwithstanding.

Two things are interesting here. First, we see Terry Morris speaking for Kristor based on reading his prior posts. I find this interesting because it demonstrates Terry Morris’s readiness to speak with authority as to the mental states of others. Another example of this behavior that readily comes to mind comes from a comment from another post where Terry Morris asserted with (apparent) authority that God could not get bored. Putting aside the question as to why Terry feels the need to speak for other people, I get the sense that he is motivated not so much out of a desire to set the record straight but rather to put me in my place because what I have written has offended him in some way. Second, notice the passive-aggressive parenthetical phrase “or lack there of” he uses to describe my counter-examples. This reinforces the sense of offense I perceive as to his motivation.

Terry Morris goes on to say:

Concerning what definition of liberalism Kristor is working off of, yes, he would agree with Zippy’s definition. He would also agree with Zippy’s definition of what a liberal is further down Zippy’s post.

Again we see Terry Morris speaking on behalf of Kristor by stating with authority the definition of liberalism that Kristor would use. I admit that I have not been reading Kristor’s posts for as long as Terry Morris claims to have read them. I can only state that based upon my own experience have have not seen convincing evidence that Kristor one way or the other that he agrees with Zippy’s definition as Terry Morris asserts.

I then asked Terry Morris what I thought to be a reasonable question based on his comment.

So you are saying that Kristor’s post is discussing sexual liberalism only and that sexual liberalism is not necessarily related to political liberalism?

I thought this question to be reasonable because if political liberalism did not necessarily lead to sexual liberalism all of the time then it makes sense that they would not necessarily be related. That is, political liberalism could lead to sexual liberalism but not necessarily. Terry Morris apparently did not agree that this was a reasonable question to ask as indicated by his response.

Umm, no, that’s not what I’m saying and you know it. I’m merely pointing out that Kristor isn’t saying (in the post you cite) what you claim he said. Namely that political liberalism *necessarily leads to sexual liberalism all the time*. And I’m working off of your (sketchy) definition of what constitutes sexual liberalism at that. Hint: that you (or I, or anyone else for that matter) haven’t groped another woman in the 20 odd years you’ve been married does not make you a sexual conservative, or non-sexual-liberal if you like.

The phrase “and you known it” suggests to me that Terry Morris thinks I was being willfully ignorant or perhaps intellectually dishonest. This further reinforces my suspicion that my original post offended him in some way and that he sees our interaction as adversarial. He then goes back to the claim (I did not intentionally make) in my previous post as to what Kristor asserted. This is a great example of how adversarial comment section exchanges can easily go off the rails as both sides do not fully understand each other and are not motivated to do so. Rather, the primary motivation seems to be to punish the other either by demonstrating to them they are wrong or by making them look foolish to the viewing audience.

Terry Morris then asserts that he “is working off of [my] (sketchy) definition of what constitutes sexual liberalism.” This further illustrates that we are not really communicating because to my knowledge I never attempted to define “sexual liberalism” anywhere in my post. My point (once again) always was that I did not know what definition for liberalism Kristor was using in his post and I attempted to articulate this in my response:

I don’t use these terms. There does not seem to be an agreed upon definition which was the point of my post.

To which he replied:

Agreed upon definition of what? Liberalism, Political Liberalism, Sexual Liberalism, Moral Liberalism? What? You’ve made distinctions that certainly exist on a case-by-case, moment-by-moment basis, but what has that to do with anything Kristor said in his post?

I am not sure what he is accusing me of here. In my mind I have been clear that I do not know if the writers on the Orthosphere are using a common definition of liberalism. As such, I cannot be sure which definition Kristor is using. In my analysis of Kristor’s post I attempted to document my thought process as I parsed what he had written.

Interestingly, Terry Morris followed with this comment:

I don’t presume to understand what your overall point in the post was/is, but I’ll take you at your word and also say you’ve wildly failed to make it!

This statement leads me to believe that when Terry Morris’s emotions got the better of him. He was obviously attempting to be insulting. But even more interestingly, he immediately refuted his own assertion that he did not “presume to understand [my] overall point” in his next statement.

That *you* don’t see general agreement amongst traditionalists about what constitutes liberalism, is a failure on your part. 

If Terry Morris really did not understand my point then how could he clearly articulate my point in his next sentence? As to the failure on my part to discern a general agreement amongst traditionalists I can only say that this agreement Terry Morris asserts to exist is not apparent in the posts that I have read. Perhaps he can point me in the right direction.

In the final comment I wrote:

I think my point was clear but I take you at your word that you don’t understand it.

Obviously (to me anyway), this was a bit passive aggressive on my part. I do not take Terry Morris at his word (i.e., that he does not understand my point) based on his own articulation of my point. But whether we understand each other was not really the point of this exchange especially as it reached its conclusion.

I cannot speak with authority as to Terry Morris’s mental state (as he can apparently do of others). I can only say that the aggressive tone of his comments suggests to me that my post has offended him in some way. Of course, interpreting motivation and mood behind writing (especially in internet comment sections) is always an inexact science. This is why I always couched my interpretations as to his mental state by saying “I suspect” and the like. In some ways it is a shame that most adversarial exchanges in internet comment sections devolve in this way. On the other hand there is a certain joy that one experiences in doing it even if he refuses to admit it to others or to himself.

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The Sexual Left’s Ambiguous Definition

In a recent Orthosphere post entitled “The Sexual Left Devours Itself” contributor Kristor commented on the recent rash of sexual harassment charges being lobbed at public figures. He begins his piece by writing,

The Great Sex Harassment Witch Hunt of 2017 is mostly hitting liberals. It is leaving conservatives largely unscathed (at least so far). Why should this be?

My first reaction after reading this assertion was to think of two prominent examples of sexual harassment charges hitting conservatives. The first is conservative Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore who has been accused by numerous women of sexually assaulting them when they were minors. The second is the Republican and self described conservative President of the United States, Donald Trump who’s own voice was recorded describing his penchant for grabbing women by their genitals. Despite these two rather glaring counter-examples, I must admit that there is nothing factually incorrect about his statement that most of the the accusations seem to be directed towards liberals when viewed generally.

The real problem is in trying to know what definition of liberalism Mr. Kristor is using. This is actually a common problem on the Orthosphere. It is very clear that the contributors and most commentators on the Orthosphere are anti-liberal in their political philosophy. But it is most decidedly unclear whether they are all using a common definition of liberalism. In some cases it is clear they are not.

For example, contributor Alan Roebuck wrote in his post “A Basic Guide to Liberalism and Conservatism, Part I“:

There is no need here to give a full definition of liberalism. Like the famous quip about pornography, we know it when we see it. We know liberalism because its message is everywhere.

Obviously, leaving liberalism undefined as such makes it a convenient punching bag because it can mean anything a person wants it to mean. But not defining liberalism also makes it very difficult to have a meaningful conversation about liberalism because although there might be a meeting of the minds in terms of one’s dislike for liberalism, it is unclear whether there is a meeting of the minds as to the reason for this dislike.

Another Orthosphere commentator and blog writer in his own right Zippy Catholic provides a more concrete definition of liberalism on his blog. In a post entitled, “Definition of Liberalism,” Zippy defines liberalism as:

…the political doctrine that securing individual freedom and equal rights is a primary legitimate purpose of government.

Zippy’s definition seems to be a reasonable one in that it is not inflammatory on its face, nor is it vague. It also largely accords with the standard definition of liberalism one might find in a typical dictionary. For this reason I will proceed with my analysis of Kristor’s post with this definition of liberalism in mind even though I do not know if this is the definition he is using.

After making his original assertion, Kristor went on to say:

Conservatives typically and generally labor under and prosper by a strong sense of traditional morality, under which it is not just perverse, but wicked, horrifying, repellent, and so rather inconceivable, to behave ignobly or impolitely toward women or other lessers. Most conservatives, I think it fair to say, would never even think of groping a woman or boy, any more than they would think of torturing a cat. They’d rather rip out their own guts.

At this point it is conceivable that Kristor believes a correlation exists between a belief that government should secure the freedom and equal rights of its citizens with a belief in sexual depravity. I suppose an argument could be made that if a person believed in freedom as a general political proposition that this belief in freedom would naturally translate into a free sexuality. I have no doubt it can be true that political freedom and sexual freedom correlate to a certain extent. But this certainly does not hold true for everyone. Take myself as an example. I consider myself to be a liberal according to Zippy’s definition but I have also been married and faithful to my wife for almost 20 years. I certainly have not sexually assaulted a woman during this time period. All this is to demonstrate that it is possible for a political liberal to not also be a sexual liberal. I am not sure that Kristor makes this distinction.

But Mr. K might not really be referring to political liberalism at all as it relates to sexuality. When he uses the term “liberalism” in his piece he might just be referring to sexual liberalism and nothing else. The point is that I am not sure as to this point and I question whether his is sure as to this point as well.

He continues:

Almost all the pathetic gropers who have been brought to shame in the last few weeks, on the other hand, are liberals, who have long loudly proclaimed their allegiance to liberal moral nostrums. As liberals, they think there is nothing inherently, absolutely wrong. They think that what we construe as wrong is – like everything else in human life whatsoever – no more than a social construct; which is to say, a pure fiction.

Here we see the author painting all liberals with a rather broad brush, asserting they all must hold (perhaps by definition) a belief in moral relativism. Again, for myself I have to point out that I am a political liberal but also believe in absolute right and wrong. Although I have no doubt that some liberals believe in moral relativism this is certainly not the case for all. So to say that moral liberalism (or relativism) and sexual liberalism are the same is questionable in my mind. However, I am not at all sure this is what Mr. K is saying, because I do not know what definition of liberalism he is using. You might say he is being liberal in his use of language.

Insofar then as the scandal truly attaches to some putative conservative, he must be conservative in name only. He must, i.e., be at heart a liberal. He must not at bottom really believe in the traditional morality he publicly espouses, or therefore form his acts according thereto.

Acts betray convictions.

Here, I think we see that in the eyes of Mr. K a conservative is by definition a person who acts sexually according to a conservative morality and a liberal is a person who acts sexually according to a liberal morality. This seems to be true to him regardless of whatever political philosophy the conservative or liberal might also hold.

But again, the problem here is that I have no idea whether Kristor makes any distinction between the terms political liberalism, sexual liberalism or moral liberalism. If he is talking about political liberalism then the counter example of myself refutes his assertion that political liberalism necessarily leads to sexual liberalism all the time. If he is speaking only of sexual liberalism then it seems like he is attempting to make a point that is obvious on its face. That is, sexual liberals are sexual liberals. If he is talking about moral liberalism it is unclear whether Kristor can see the possibility of a person acting morally in one situation (like speaking the truth) and acting immorally in another such as groping a woman against her will. Non moral relativists can differ in terms of what they believe morality to be. Would a person be considered to be moral if he acted morally but believed in divorce? Reasonable, moral people can differ as to this point. And just because a person is a moral relativist does not mean that they would go about committing murder and rape. Again, I doubt Kristor is making this distinction.

Liberal “morality” leads logically, and so inevitably, to boundless wickedness. It removes the ontological (and therefore ineluctable) limit of right action, that cannot be swayed by any means whatever; so then any act that can be rationalized… The result is not limited to a parade of petty personal pecadilli [leading to] things like the Katyn Forest Massacre, or the Holodomor. Or, indeed, Lidice, the Holocaust, the Terror, the Purge.

There is a certain logic to the notion that if political liberalism leads to moral liberalism then atrocities are a possible or perhaps probable outcome. However, the examples of the massacres in the Katyn Forest, Holodomor, Lidice and the Holocaust all occurred in un-free police states and as such, arguably illiberal regimes. If free societies lead to massacres the same argument could be made against hierarchical police states as well and if both arguments can be made then it is hard to make the case that liberalism has anything to do with it.

I have made this argument before and it does not seem to make any impact on a person who has committed himself to believing that the political philosophy which holds that the freedom and equal rights of citizens can actually be the exact opposite. Anti-liberals by definition are against liberalism. This sentiment is only reinforced by having no clear definition of liberalism because it creates a boogeyman that can then be blamed for anything one finds disagreeable.

Kristor concluded his opinion piece by stating:

If sexual predation is wrong, it is *wrong,* period full stop. And in that case, the moral relativism of liberalism, and with it the sexual libertinism of liberalism, is … absolutely wrong. In which case, feminism is dead.

To this I would clarify that the objectionable portion of the term “sexual assault” is that an “assault” (or predation if you prefer) occurs against the will of the other. I believe this is what the feminists primarily take issue with and not so much the sexual aspect of it except to the extent that a sexual assault is generally considered to be a higher degree of assault. Accordingly I think Kristor has exaggerated his report as to the death of feminism. I also think his anti-liberal tirade would be made stronger by clearly defining the term.

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My Experience With Stand Up Comedy – Thoughts on Misdirection

For a long time I have wanted to try stand up comedy. People have consistently told me that I have a good sense of humor and I experience pleasure and satisfaction when I make people laugh. I recognize there is a lot of ego and perhaps insecurity behind this motivation. There is very little that is altruistic about being on stage commanding the focus of the room’s attention, with my voice amplified by the only microphone in the room and speaking the words of my creation in the hopes that the people observing me will not only approve but will also be moved to laugh. I suppose an argument could be made that there is some aspect of altruism in the desire to make people laugh but (if I am being honest) any altruism involved would only account for a minute portion of my motivation. Altruism is there, I suppose, but it is vastly overshadowed by the ego in my estimation.

Anyway, recently I had the opportunity to perform stand up comedy in an actual comedy club. My performance went well enough for a beginner and the experience of facing my fear of standing before an audience, making myself vulnerable to their judgment and then coming out the other side unscathed was exhilarating. Although, the entire experience of developing material and seeing it through to its performance was not exactly how I had envisioned it, the process was satisfying. It was also educational in a lot of ways. One of the most interesting concepts I learned through this process was that laughter often results from a misdirection of the audience or by presenting the audience with an unexpected idea or take on an idea.

Making people laugh is to varying degrees both an art and a science. It is an art because effective comics have the ability to read an audience and react to them intuitively. I notice this both through observing experienced comics but also through my own experience. Indeed, some of the biggest laughs I got were in response to off the cuff remarks I made in the moment which were completely unplanned. On the other hand, making people laugh is also a science in that there are specific techniques used by comedians all the time to elicit laughter from their audience. Misdirection or surprising the audience is one of these techniques. What I mean by this is that a comedian will set an audience up by making them think he or she is going in one direction but will then surprise them by taking them in a completely different direction. The classic example of this is Henny Yongman’s “Take my wife… please!” line. By this line the audience is first led to believe that Mr. Youngman is making a point using a his wife as an example but then he takes the audience by surprise when he says “please” which changes the meaning of his original statement to mean, “please take my wife away from me.”

The question as to why misdirection produces laughter is more complicated to explain. As far as I know, there is no definitive answer to this but I think it has to do with creating a “vacuum of cognitive dissonance” which the mind must fill with something. In other words, the misdirection creates a void of confusion in the mind which compels the mind to come up with an explanation to dispel the confusion. The simple answer the mind comes up with to explain the misdirection is that the comedian is trying to be funny and the realization of this creates laughter which then breaks the tension caused by the confusion. Of course breaking it down like this sort of takes the funny out of the experience. But then again, observing comedians work their craft with this in mind can make their material funny for a different reason.

It is interesting that the pleasurable experience of laughter is elicited through misdirection or surprise. This suggests that there is something pleasurable about not being in control or by not being aware of what will happen next. This reminds me of Alan Watts’ description of human consciousness. As he described it, human consciousness is a divine self-delusion. That is, the omniscient, immortal divinity became bored always knowing what is going to happen next and devised a plan whereby it could be surprised. This surprised state of mind is the predicament in which we currently find ourselves according to Watts. Of course, if this were true that would make humans God with which I assume some people might take issue. However, all this is to say that there is something entertaining about  being surprised especially when contrasted with a regular experience of not being surprised. Just as there would be something comforting about resting in an unsurprising existence if one is constantly being surprised.

Here is a video of my most recent performance. I find it interesting to observe what lines actually elicit laughter in the audience. Some of this is explained by the idea that laughter is elicited when the audience is misdirected. Of course this does not entirely explain it because there are times when the audience is misdirected and they do not laugh.

Of note: The “Matt stole all my ashy skin material” remark in the beginning is an example of an off the cuff remark that got a good reaction from the crowd. This was in reference to a comedian who preceded me named Matt who is African American and talked about how his skin gets “ashy” when the weather turns cold. Anyone familiar with this would know that my being white is part of what makes this remark funny. It can be thought of as a misdirection because it was probably an unexpected thing for me to say.

Perhaps the misdirection has to be clever enough in some way in order to be funny. Perhaps it all depends on the state of mind of the audience and if enough people can relate to what is being said in order for it to be funny. Obviously, there are a lot of variables at play and what will or will not elicit laughter in any particular audience is a bit of a mystery.

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Is it Freedom or Ego that is the Problem?

There has been much discussion on various anti-liberal blogs that freedom (i.e., the idea behind liberalism) is the cause of all society’s ills. There is the notion that if only liberalism could be abolished then something better would take its place and all the social problems of modernity would be solved. I suppose the thinking is that anything is better than liberalism therefore there is no need to come up with a replacement for it. Or perhaps the reluctance to come up with a replacement reflects the subconscious knowledge that liberalism really is not the problem and that the same issues will come to exist under any type of regime.

One theory I see over and over again is that liberalism leads to evil and specifically mass murder because it is “incoherent.” The theory that liberalism is “incoherent” is based upon the premise that a government action is by its nature restrictive. Even if a government acts to promote the rights of one person or group of people it will necessarily restrict the rights of another person or group of people. Therefore, it is “incoherent” to say that a priority of government should be to protect the freedom of its citizens (as Western governments typically do) because in actuality a government cannot protect the freedom of one group of people without assaulting the freedom of another group of people. For example (the argument goes) if the government protects the right of one group to speak freely it will necessarily assault the right of another group to not have to listen to what the first group has to say.

Let us assume this analysis actually proves the incoherence of liberalism (and not the balancing of competing priorities). Does this incoherence really lead to mass murder as is claimed by the anti-liberals? The anti-liberal’s “go to” example of modern day mass murder is abortion. They argue that because liberalism is incoherent it can be used to justify abortion just as it was used (they argue) to justify the killing of Jews by the Nazis in World War II, the nuking of Hiroshima and the execution of opponents to Communist reform in the Soviet Union under Stalin. This justification arises under the “principle of explosion” apparently because under a contradictory logical construct such as is (supposedly) liberalism anything can be logically inferred to be true.

There are a few problems with this line of thinking. First of all, understanding the “principle of explosion” requires more than a bit of formal logic theory under one’s belt. It is not a theory that is readily grasped by the general public without this education. Therefore, to say that this principle is somehow used by liberals to justify their actions seems to be a bit of a stretch on its face. However, the argument might be that although expressing the principle of explosion in formal logic requires an education in logic that most people do not have, the principle itself is sound because most people on some intuitive level appreciate it to be true and use it to justify their beliefs psychologically. This too I think is a stretch because the intuitive level is governed more by emotion and ego than obscure rules of formal logic. But let us also assume this to be correct.

So then, we are now assuming it is correct that the belief in incoherent doctrines can lead to mass murder. It seems to me that from the perspective of the orthodox Christians who believe this this theory there is an obvious flaw they are ignoring. That is, the belief that incoherent doctrines lead to mass murder not only condemns liberalism (assuming liberalism is actually incoherent) but it would also condemn Christianity itself. There are many tenets in Christianity that are incoherent on their face (arguably). For example, the doctrine of the Trinity is logically incoherent. The belief that Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully man is logically incoherent. The belief that the Eucharist is actually transformed into the body and blood of Christ during the Roman Catholic mass is logically incoherent. The theodicy question suggests an incoherence to Christianity as well. These are but a few examples of arguments that could be made to demonstrate the incoherence of Christianity that are far more convincing (in my mind) than the argument that supposedly demonstrates the incoherence of liberalism.

All that being said, I do not consider either liberalism or Christianity to be incoherent. Nor do I believe that an incoherence of a doctrine logically leads to mass murder. So then the question arises what does give rise to these incidences of mass murder than take place in modern times? I think a far more logical explanation for the existence of mass murder in modern times is the modern technology that makes it possible.

The anti-liberals will argue that these acts of mass murder have only occurred under liberal regimes. But the fact that these events have (arguably) occurred only under liberal regimes does not prove that only liberal regimes are capable of committing acts of mass murder. Indeed the same people who argue only liberal regimes can commit mass murder are the same people who argue there are only liberal regimes in modern times. I think it is clear that this line of thinking easily becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy because if there are only liberal regimes in the world then any crime committed in the world can be blamed on liberalism. Moreover, examples of illiberal regimes committing acts of mass murder (albeit on a smaller scale) can be pointed to in the Inquisition and the Crusades. It is easy to conceive that these acts of cruelty could have been much more extensive had the perpetrators had access to modern technology.

I use these examples not to attack Christianity. I am a Christian. I use them to demonstrate that any political philosophy or belief system is capable of mass murder given the right circumstances and therefore to believe that the supposed incoherence of liberalism is responsible for these acts is a fallacy.

But modern technology is not the whole explanation. So what then is the discriminating authority that causes one person or group of people to commit an act of violence on another person or group of people? Might I suggest that it is ego. It is the voice within the self that says I am right and he is wrong. It is the voice within the self that says I am different than him (or her). It is the voice in the self that says I am better than him or her. It is the voice within the self that says if you disagree with me you must lack the capacity to understand me. It is the voice in the self that says you are my enemy. In my mind (and I would think most reasonable people would agree) this is the real problem.

 

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Essentialism and Egotism

ESSENTIALISM AND NOMINALISM

From what I gather reading the Orthosphere and other related anti-liberal blogs, anti-liberals believe essentialism and anti-liberalism go hand in hand. To aid my loyal readers who may not be familiar with this term, Essentialism is a philosophy holding everything has a set of characteristics that define it and that this essence has an existence logically prior to the existence of the thing itself. For example, a dog has a set of characteristics that make it a dog and not a cat. In other words, there exists an essence of “dogness” that all things we call dogs possess which is why we refer to them by the same name. Put another way, the label “dog” is indicative of a pre-existing truth.

Essentialism is typically contrasted (by anti-liberals) with nominalism which is a philosophy holding that these essences are only labels or intellectual concepts without any actual corresponding reality and that only things (not the essence of things) exist prior to the labels man applies to them. For example, a dog is a thing man calls a dog because it makes it easier for man to conceptualize a grouping of similar things. In other words, the things man calls dogs exist but this label “dog” is a just a creation of man. Moreover, man could just as easily contrived some other labeling system that did not segregate dogs into a discrete category the way man is used to thinking of dogs.

I can see different appealing aspects to both philosophies. The appeal of essentialism is that it presumes a reality and truth that exists independent of the mind of man. The universe has an order to it and it becomes man’s job (if he chooses) to seek after this pre-existing truth of reality. By contrast, the appeal of nominalism is the presumption of a universe in which man is free (to a certain extent) to define and shape as he sees fit. Whether a person identifies as an essentialist or a nominalist depends upon their view of the world which is in turn determined by their culture, religion, education and psychology. I imagine most people do not consciously identify as either. Interestingly enough, I have observed that anti-liberals tend to use nominalism as a pejorative term.

THE GOOD

There also seems to be a link between what anti-liberals consider to be orthodox (small “o”) Christianity and essentialism. This link has to do with there being one true definition (i.e., the essence) of the good which is reflective of God’s will and exists independent of man’s speculation or opinion of the good. Among essentialists there does exist some degree of agreement on at least part of the definition of the good. One can certainly look to the Bible and to the magisterium of the Catholic church (if one happens to be Roman Catholic) for guidance on this subject. Of course, not everyone happens to be a Roman Catholic or even Christian and so in this general sense there does not exist a universal agreement as to the definition of the good. Essentialists believe this definition exists none the less despite the fact that even they do not possess one hundred percent clarity as to what is in fact the definition of the good.

Even Saint Paul laments, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33). Based on this passage it seems to me to be extremely arrogant for a person to presume to know the mind of God which is the vault in which resides the exact definition of the good. I accept, certain aspects of the good can be discerned from various secondary sources but the entire picture remains (as Saint Paul accurately points out) inscrutable in part.

THE ESSENTIALISM / NOMINALISM DICHITOMY

I am not convinced that liberalism (defined as the political philosophy espousing that the freedom and equal rights of citizens should be a nonexclusive priority of government) has a special relationship with nominalism. Perhaps one could argue that the very notion of freedom implies a rejection of the tyranny of labels. But one could also conceive of a person being “free” within a specific set of rules or parameters. It has been my experience that most educated and reasonable people understand the notion of freedom as used in political discourse to refer to Western political structures which are relatively more free than dictatorships, police states and authoritarian polities and not the non existent, straw man society where every citizen is absolutely free. As such, the “freedom” liberalism espouses is not a total rejection of authority and labels by any means and is therefore not incompatible with essentialism as far as I can see.

I am also not convinced that the essentialism / nominalism dichotomy is an accurate reflection of how people generally look at the world. Essentialism holds that a definition of the good exists independent of man’s conception of the good. Nominalism rejects this pre-existence of the definition of the good and thus leaves it up to man to make this determination. But I can certainly conceive of a person believing in freedom and a pre-existing definition of the good at the same time. The two are not mutually exclusive. I can also think of a third category where there is a pre-existing definition of the good that man does not have one hundred percent clarity as to the exact nature of the good so therefore there is room for speculation. I can even think of a fourth category where essentialism is true for some things but not others. I suspect, however, that the rejection of this dichotomy would be seen by an essentialist to be a symptom of nominalism.

EGOTISM AND ESSENTIALISM

Based on my admittedly limited experience the impression I get from many essentialists is that they have convinced themselves that they have clarity as to the exact nature of the good. The process of convincing themselves may have been augmented by their tendency not to converse with or take seriously anyone who might hold a different perspective or challenge them in any way. One can see how easy it would be for a person believing himself to have clarity as to the exact nature of the good to judge and criticize those with a different perspective.

It would make sense that an essentialist who truly believed his own dogma to be true would also have to believe that anyone who disagreed with him was either dishonest or lacked the capacity to understand his particular position. He might very well view the ability to see things from different points of view as smacking of the heresy of nominalism.

It seems to me that a true essentialist would be humble because he would know there are truths greater than the self and the mind’s ability to conceptualize. As Saint Paul reminds us, God’s ways are inscrutable. But for a man to have convinced himself of his own hold on truth and goodness seems to me to be closer to nominalism than essentialism. If given temporal power who knows what cruelties he might inflict on those he would condemn from his lofty perch. This (it seems to me) is the true danger of arrogant egotism combined with essentialism.

 

 

 

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Reductio Ad North Korea

For sometime now (much to the chagrin of some) I have been using North Korea as an example with which to compare the United States in order to demonstrate that some countries can indeed be “more free” than others. In my mind this comparison clearly makes the point that if one country can be more free than another, then prioritizing the freedom of citizens (i.e., liberalism) is a coherent aim for a government to pursue.

I would think most reasonable people would be in agreement as to this point but apparently a certain small population of people are not. One person (who goes by the name Zippy) sticks out in particular. Not only does he stubbornly reject the notion that North Korea is less free than the United States but he does so in an arrogant and condescending manner.

He often refers to my argument as reductio ad North Korea. Specifically he stated recently in a comment section:

Your reductio ad North Korea has been dealt with extensively and repeatedly in multiple venues. You’ve never demonstrated an adequate understanding, let alone mounted an actual argument against, the repeatedly demonstrated incoherence of liberalism. Any pretense to symmetry here is just that: mere pretense.

Notice the sneering tone he adopts. I have often wondered why he seems incapable of simply discussing the logic of the argument rather than resorting to ad hominem attacks. In my mind this calls into question his true motivation behind refusing to see what most people would consider obvious. It seems very clear that he has some other ax to grind.

He then attempted to refute my argument in greater detail:

The rhetorical method is obvious to
anyone not stuck to the tar baby:

1) Observe that two actual countries are different.

2) Observe that some of the features of one country are preferable to some of the features of the other.

3) Label those preferable features – and only the preferable ones – “freedom”.

4) Completely ignore the substantive reality of what liberalism actually is. Discount the fact that both countries profess liberalism. Etc, etc.

5) Completely ignore the substantive criticism of liberalism itself. Avoid at all costs actually addressing the argument.

6) Fog up the discussion with maximum virtue signaling and ad hominem.

If one can look past his sneering comments, his six point analysis is actually quite helpful for me in that it demonstrates the specific parts of my argument that he seems to be incapable of understanding. This allows me to provide him with the information and reasoning he seemingly lacks.

As to point 1 – We are in agreement that the United States and North Korea are different countries specifically as to the amount of freedom each country allows its citizens to enjoy.

As to point 2 – Yes, the first amendment of the United States constitution states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

To my knowledge, the citizens of North Korea (with the possible exception of the elite class) are not allowed the freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press nor the right to peacefully assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Yes, I believe the situation in the United State is better and so does everyone else (I suspect including Zippy). Why else would people flock to the United States and not to North Korea?

As to point 3 – I agree that the situation in the United States is preferable, but not for some arbitrary reason as Zippy seems to imply. We are talking about the basic freedoms that all people aspire to. This is proven by the petitions made not only by the European and American revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries but also by Tienanmen Square and the Arab Spring movements. It is not as if one could equate the freedom of speech with the right to eat ice cream while walking on one’s hands. I suspect any reasonable person would agree as to this point.

As to point 4 – North Korea does not have the rule of law. It has the rule of Kim. Therefore it does not matter that it’s laws or official statements profess it to be a liberal regime. It’s laws are meaningful to the extent the Kim regime wishes to enforce them. For this reason we cannot look to its laws in order to determine whether it is liberal or otherwise. We must look to the way the state acts. For this reason it cannot be said that North Korea is a liberal regime even though it professes to be so because in action it clearly does not prioritize the freedom and equal rights of its citizens.

As to point 6 – Zippy was the first one to cross the ad hominem line. It seems that Zippy wants to present the fact that I have called him out on this to be a worse ad hominem than his original ad hominem which started all of this. To me this seems like the whining of an adolescent rather than a man taking full responsibility for his actions. I don’t doubt that his echo chamber will view it otherwise.

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Talk About Daddy Issues

The argument I made in my last post “The Legitimate Liberal Process” elicited a strong reaction from certain circles both in its comment section and on other blogs. One reason the counter argument to the liberal system of government seems flimsy to me is because it only (as far as I have observed) attempts to poke moral and logical holes in liberalism. It never provides an alternative system as a replacement. It is fine to say that government which prioritizes the freedom and equal rights of its citizens (i.e., liberalism) is a bad form of government for this or that reason but doing this alone merely boils down to at best intellectual masturbation and at worst nonproductive whining and complaining.

One important aspect of liberalism that is often overlooked or dismissed is the adherence to the rule of law. The rule of law is important because if we are to temper the direct and arbitrary rule of men with legal structures in which they can become rulers and according to which they can rule it is necessary that these legal structures are respected and adhered to. Of course it can be argued that there are always instances in which these structures are violated in various ways. But as long as the legal structures provide an authentic system for dealing with and rectifying these irregularities then the system will hold together and maintain its integrity.

One argument made against this legitimate liberal process was that rules and regulations cannot replace actual authority. Specifically it was argued:

Rules, procedures, and written law are not capable of becoming transubstantiated incarnations of authority itself.  The crafting of positive rules, the writing of text onto paper, is not a sacrament. Bureaucracy … and formal decision procedures cannot become a substitute for kings.

I find this argument unconvincing. I assume the person making this argument includes legislatures, courts and executives (e.g., Presidents, Prime Ministers etc.) to be sub sets of the “bureaucracy” category. If this assumption is correct, I do not understand why democratically elected people in authority (limited in power by laws) cannot be adequate substitutes for kings. Clearly there needs to be people in authority to enact, interpret and enforce law. What difference does it make whether this power is defused into different branches or that the person in authority received their authority from the ballot, inheritance or a strange lady lying in a pond distributing swords? Come to think of it, no monarchy in history (to which I am aware) existed without a bureaucracy to carry out its will. It was the king who invested the bureaucracy with the authority to carry out its will in the same way that a modern electorate invests its elected officials with their authority who in turn invest the bureaucracy under them with authority. As long as there remains faith in the legitimate authority of this bureaucracy I fail to see why one system is any more or less valid than the other.

But the argument continues:

[T]he modern mind … desperately wants to believe that a politics with minimized authority is not merely coherent, not merely possible, but is the only moral state of affairs.

The argument as to whether a government can coherently limit its own authority has been debated previously and there is no reason to revisit it in this blog post. To argue whether such a government is possible seems to reflect a confused perception of reality. Self limiting government has existed (at least) ever since the Magna Carta. Not only is limited government possible but it has out competed the older forms of government which I assume this person believes were established on a more coherent foundation. As for the morality of limited government I would not argue that it is the “only moral state of affairs”. It it simply the overwhelmingly preferred moral state of affairs in the modern west.

As appears to be the case with a great deal of anti-liberals they are seemingly incapable of making an argument without launching an ad hominem attack against their perceived enemies. For example the same person went on to say:

Ultimately though reality doesn’t really care about the daddy issues of modernity. Pervasive commitment to an incoherent conception of authority doesn’t make authority go away as a feature of reality: it merely makes authority sociopathic.

The implication here is that a person who prefers to live under a liberal system of government is somehow anti-authority in general which in turn reflects an unresolved and maladaptive psychological hang up related to the person’s father (i.e., the familial authority figure). This seems to be a bit of a stretch to me. First of all, a person who prefers to live under a liberal system of government is not anti-authority but rather pro-authority of a specific type. Liberal authority however limited is still essentially authority. Second of all, it seems to me that the person who cannot seem to make an argument without attempting to shame someone who might disagree or question him is the one with “daddy issues”. As when a person is shamed by their parent they tend to want to vent this shame on those he perceives to be weak or incapable of defending themselves as in blogs, comment sections and the like. To project his own daddy issue on to his opponent seems entirely psychologically consistent and is certainly no substitute for a civil and reasoned debate.

 

 

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