This is my philosophical rant for the week. Slightly off topic from the usual local or national economic issues that I like to discuss but every so often you need to get your philosophy on especially when it seems to be a field so often neglected. I also apologise for this article is a little longer than the standard post. I have to also add here that the original title for this post was “Inadequate Conceptions of the Inadequacy of Human Understanding”, but due to its length and wordiness, I decided to replace it with the much less thought-provoking and much more click bait worthy “Why the West will Fall”.
A wise man once said that common sense, of all virtues, seems to be the most equally distributed, after all, when was the last time you heard of anyone in want of more or even less of it? Of all the critiques that you can direct at a man, no one has ever said, in any form of seriousness, that another possesses too much common sense; rather the common critique is that someone does not possess enough with the standard of the sufficient quantity almost always being oneself. It is astonishing that although we can consider our ourselves to be maturing or progressing in many virtues, it is almost always assumed that no real progress is needed in maturing in common sense. What’s more, if all observers are interacting and commencing in dialogue on the basic assumption that their own reasoning and intellectual capacity is adequate, then a number of observations regarding the nature of dialogue can be made and I believe that this pervasive belief of the observer’s own maturity and near perfection of common sense, ultimately must stem from three presuppositions. The first being: the belief that the universe is logical, the second being that this logic is attainable, meaning the observer can correctly observe, assess and understand this logic, and the third being that the observer can act, to some degree, in a manner consistent with that understanding. From this, when we fall into the trap of critiquing the degree to which another possesses or lacks common sense, we are ultimately deciding that in some way, their ability to correctly either observe, assess or live out that assessment is in some way inferior to our own; while implicitly holding utmost confidence in our own ability to correctly reason and understand the causal nature of the universe around us and live accurately according to that realisation.
The first of these premises, that the universe obeys causal laws, is ultimately a premise that I believe everyone, including the most avid postmodernists and relativists, accepts. But unfortunately, in the realm of debate many philosophers and couch philosophers alike pretend to abandon this premise for what can only be assumed as an act of defiance against the status quo of modern scientific thought. While many of us from time to time slip either willingly or unwillingly, into a state of magical thinking, that is assuming that the causal world is subject to unrelated ‘magical’ forces, most of us fully accept the premise that cause and effect need to underly all other presuppositions. On a philosophical level, without this basic premise, all science and philosophy has to fall into chaos and all claims to knowledge are ultimately absurd including the claim that causality does not exist; to deny this premise, as far as I can reason, is to ultimately deny the grounds on which we can deny the premise. What we are left with is an existence so absurd that it would simply not exist except within the imagination of Dr. Suse. But more than this, on a day to day existential level, we are all aware that life ultimately turns to ruins if this basic law is rejected or ignored. The fact that people brush their teeth, go to work and put fuel in their cars, are all testaments to the fact, that of all facts, causality is by necessity, one of the most widely accepted.
When engaging in debate or dialogue this first premise is assumed if, by nothing else than without it being assumed, the activity of debate would be absurd and meaningless and because of this we won’t dwell on this premise any further. No the fact that debate is an endeavour undertaken at all, I believe is built on one of three assertions being: that the other party has either not, 1. Correctly observed the required data to build an accurate understanding of reality 2. That the assessment of the causal nature is flawed or 3. The other party is acting in a way which is inconsistent with that assessment, this would mean any attack on these grounds would be more of a rebuke and then becomes debate if disagreement on the legitimacy of this rebuke occurs moving the discussion back to the aforementioned assertions 1 or 2. The most pressing problem that arises with engaging in any form of a debate so as to win over the other party, is that since we are only finite creatures with finite time and ultimately finite capacity, knowing all relevant data or even assuming our own infallibility in either attaining, assessing or living consistently with the realisations from that data is, simply not possible. That is, we engage in debate with another on the belief that they are fallible, and their fallibility has led them into error but just as this belief of another’s fallibility gives reason for the debate our own fallibility robs us of the assurance that we can have that we ourselves aren’t the ones who are erred. And while we can be so dogmatically sure of our own intellectual superiority in the heat of an argument deep down I believe we are all aware that we live in a state of constant cognitive dissonance, hypocrisy and inconsistency exemplified by the fact that motivational speakers and comedians are both employed. Employed not because they so much as tell us what we don’t know, but, much more than that, they tell us what we already know and what we constantly live in denial of. So just as the fallibility of humanity gives us reason to engage in dialogue to correct our fellow man when we believe that others are wrong, the fallibility of humanity also robs us of any absolute assurance that we ourselves are unquestionably always correct.
“all silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility” – John Stuart Mill
The task of understanding all relevant data required to fully understand almost any conceivable issue being a near-impossible task, is simply the first and most obvious flaw in taking assurance in one’s own position. You could read to the depths of the most antiquated libraries and still never understand the most basic of character traits of a well documented historical figure, or work at CERN for several lifetimes to ultimately never fathom even the most basic principals of the laws that guide our universe. This argument is made evident by the fact that we believe that we can still, and do still learn with some of the most basic questions possessing some of the most elusive answers. Don’t for a second hear me suggesting that since we can’t know almost any truth truly, this is simply not the case. If we can’t know truth truly, that is truth that is truth regardless who the observer is, then we break the second premise that we can understand the logic of the universe and the first premise that the universe is logical in the first place becomes irrelevant, at least to us. More than that, the realisation of not being able to know any truth, would be a realisation of a truth and ultimately a contradiction. Rather, at this point, I believe we are left in the excessively humbling position that although we can believe with a degree of certainty to know true truth, we have to admit 1. We cannot know complete truth and 2. There will almost always be data that is important to forming conclusions that we have not factored into our conclusions. This then leaves us in a state where the only foreseeably correct way to think about reality, is as a set of plausibility structures and existentially this then implies that we can be certain regarding whether or not something is true, that certainty may be all true, false or partly true, but we can not have objective certainty.
There are multiple interpretations of history, to be sure, none definitive – but there is only one past. – Niall Ferguson, Civilization (2011).
It’s important to note here that to simply function we must not throw all knowledge in the bin of the unverified, rather at this stage we must come humbly to the realisation that underlying all truth claims is a measure of faith. Faith is almost a dirty word to use these days simply because it has become redefined, abused and misused, but the definition I refer to here is the definition from antiquity being “to be convinced of”. Historically speaking the word faith could be treated as synonymously with trust. That is, based on the evidence presented, I trust that … is true or false. For example, a judge would use the word when convicting a criminal, after all available evidence is presented, after all has been seen, even though the judge does not have absolute proof, that judge would declare the suspect guilty or innocent; while at the same time since the judge is not omnipotent and they would by law be required to assess new evidence that might make the judge reconsider their initial conclusions.
With a closer look at the notorious nature attempting to know true truth, it should be overwhelmingly clear that it is an extremely difficult task.
Quick Knowledge – Personal Morality
Despite this humbling realisation of the difficult nature of knowing anything with certainty and the difficulty in developing any sure conclusions, we seem to now live in a time where any depth of understanding in a particular field is undervalued with the average Joe becoming a couch philosopher, doctor, scientist, academic, economist, nutritionist or futurologist as the ability to quickly google evidence to support almost any position regardless of how absurd that position is, has become the norm. Today doctors aren’t revered for their 7+ years of study like they were even a decade ago, simply because an amateur is now able to gather a quick overview of the potential issue disregarding all underlying complexity and nuances.
“It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to fit facts.” – Sherlock Holmes
This new era of quick knowledge rather than deep knowledge has also pressed its way into our university system where students are no longer required to pour through endless literature in order to form well-founded opinions, instead the cramming culture has become the norm with students now spoon-fed answers and the combination of the internet and searchable PDFs has meant that quick ‘knowledge’ (regurgitated c**p) is only a few clicks away. Philosophy students now achieve degrees without reading all the great thinkers of antiquity. Aquinas, Descartes, Aristotle move from being loved and hated timeless teachers to simply headings within a textbook on the road to marks. Economic students aren’t dropped into the sea of economic thinkers of history and statistics and told to swim, rather they’re affirmed and shaped into the fashionable doctrine of the day, whether it be socialism, liberalism, conservatism or neo-whatever. What’s more, lecturers, instead of exposing to students the vast complexity of reality and the long process of slowly building deep knowledge, are pushing their own ideology and radical ideas on kids who haven’t the faintest idea of the real nature of reality. Zeal without knowledge has become glorified and the new norm. What’s more real-world wisdom, only attainable outside of the educational system, isn’t taught, meaning we have a distinct bias emanating from our young college graduates.
Gone are the days where to be considered an expert on a particular matter you actually have to be an expert. Although despite all the fields of which couch expert Joe claims to be authoritative on, there is one particular field that almost always takes the cake, and that is religion, or to use a broader terminology, world-views. Almost everyone possesses an opinion on Christianity, Buddhism, Atheism, Hinduism and Islam, while the number of us that have made any real attempt to understand these core ideologies, that have arguably defined the world we live in, beyond anecdotal encounters, is astonishingly rare, especially since it can be widely assumed that assumptions regarding the existence or non-existence of God, karma, objective moral imperatives are undeniably tied to perceptions of morality and value. The meta-narrative that we believe or disbelieve, shape almost all our values and ultimately actions. While we’ve seen this shift in the west away from authoritative religious structures, and authoritative texts, to something less than a society of couch theologians (a move that was arguably an unintended by-product of the Protestant reformation) our society in many ways hasn’t become any less moral, or rather moralistic, at least not in any quantitative measure. Arguably, I believe we have observed what may be concluded as nothing else than a fundamental cultural shift. This shift from a “moralistic” Judeo/Christian culture to a more liberal, but just as moralistic, secularist humanist worldview usually with a twist of eastern mysticism. That is, we have shunned God from our garden, taken hold of the fruit and have assumed the position of judging right from wrong, good from evil purely based on the feelings within. The Modern man is truly now the measure. What’s more, since the measure of right and wrong have moved from external doctrines to the internal desires, any critique levied at those morals is usually met with hostility or just outright disregarded since in the actions of critiquing the morality that springs from the individuals core feelings we are in fact critiquing the individual; the individual’s feelings that through eons of Hollywood propaganda are elevated to the highest value. For, to argue against a theist about their values must end at an argument with how consistent that individual is to their own worldview, while to argue against an individual who has rejected any outside source of moral authority, the argument must by definition end at the individual’s core, the individual’s own moral ‘feelings’. While the existence of a God might be debatable, the denial of the existence of a God pushing humanity into the subjective moral framework is almost undeniable.
While the modern west now vilifies the moral proselytising inherent in Christianity, the age of conquest, and the rule of the old liberalism, the west has by no means lost its sense of moral authority. In the west we insist that all submit our version of basic human moral values, which are not based on any attempt at ascertaining an objective epistemological position, or rooting in traditional teachings (regardless of whether or not those teachings are fact or fiction) but rather overwhelmingly built on the gut which almost always defaults to a hybrid humanist-utilitarian perspective which for the time being this gut based worldview clings to remnants of the Judeo-Christian worldview. Preaching the so-called axioms which can be summarised as: “do to others as you would have them do to you” and negative liberty in which “we are liberated by the removal of boundaries rather than the establishment”. These axioms have become embedded in the modern western plausibility structure, meaning that they form bedrock assumptions within the culture that are rarely ever questioned. From this, it is argued according to the new universally imposed morality that moral transgressions exist when either of these “axioms” are infringed upon. Ironically, virtue, must by definition contradict the latter assumption and goes well beyond the simplistic establishment of the ‘new’ morality. We know that although these axioms can be admirable, I would argue that we are also emphatically aware that morality must extend beyond what these two axioms provide us with. We know that our very own definitions of morality restrict our will and not only restricts the will but often contradicts it.
The first axiom is invalidated on almost an every day basis simply shown by the fact that we have correctional institutions, not only do we see the violation of the first axiom by those who break the law, but ironically we also see it broken by those who uphold it. That is to say that since in our society a lawbreaker trespasses the confines of the first axiom, to then treat the offender as one who has forgone its protection in which we usually approve of punishments that we would never deliver upon ourselves demonstrates that our moral and legal system does, and must extend beyond these two axioms.
The second axiom, whilst being a cornerstone of modern western liberal society, we also hold both reasoned and arbitrary lines restricting the freedom of others beyond what directly affects others. Just as we restrict our own freedom by doing things we do not always want to do and not doing things we should not do, so we have formed as a bedrock of society restrictions on the will of others for the purpose of their own flourishing, restrictions that are embedded in the Judeo-Christian worldview, restrictions that are commended and adopted by Locke, that are now arbitrarily being replaced depending on what particular social cause is popularised by the media with little to no discussions of why these restrictions were established in the first place.
The issues with the new morality are vast and complex, to such an extent that to delve into them with any degree of rigour would require essays upon essays, not to mention the immense task of proving their existence and prevalence as the new morality. Despite the daunting task of standing on the edge of this arguably inconsistent and deep rabbit hole, we will address a few of these challenges but will at the same time take their existence and pervasiveness as granted.
This new moral code is in contrast to the ‘old’ freedom, the notion of ‘positive liberty’, in which people were freed to act in a way that is beneficial to themselves rather than freed of all constraints. The death of which has come with the death of God, a moral death (or shift) that Nietzsche himself has so accurately predicted.
Some Issues Presented by a Subjective World View
Despite this move to moral relativism, the vast social attitude in the west towards submitting to the new morality is one of totalitarianism, which as society un-anchors itself from the Judeo-Christian worldview it does not so much obliterate traditional virtues as it does redefine them with the traditional definition of tolerance being amongst the first causality.
It should be no surprise that the new morality is still attempting universal enforcement as this needs to be the case. Morality by definition has to be universal, that is ultimately the difference between values and morality. Your personal values don’t necessarily have any bearings on another’s values, however, your morality, on the other hand, is only morality if it is something that you believe others should be submitting to. That is to say that although morality is no longer tied to a moral lawgiver, whoever or whatever that once was, the next assumption would be that we see the death of morality as each individual simply starts living by their own preferred values, that is if there is no authority that can dictate what the moral code of life is, there is no one to ultimately call actions done in public or secret to account and hence the old saying “if only for this life we live, then ultimately anything goes” rings true. That’s not to say that there mightn’t be particular benefits to living by a moral code for both the individual and others, but ultimately to live consistently within a moral framework requires sacrifice. Hence one would assume that it is ultimately beneficial for individuals to pay these values lip service, to prescribe them to others, but ultimately not personally live by them. On the realisation of this, you would expect that the grounds to enforce certain moral codes to become eroded, but this is not the reality that we’ve seen in the west, instead, if anything, the imperative with which the new morality is imposed on others is just as dogmatically authoritative as any previous moral code as theo-cracy is replaced by demo-cracy/mob rule and from this it could be assumed that the greatest triumph an individual could attain, would be to enforce a code on the masses that you, yourself would not have to live by, and this seems to be the natural conclusion of democracy regardless of whether it is a predominately socialist or capitalist in nature as disparity of power ultimately must lead to some degree of autocracy, oligarchy or plutocracy.
Ideas of Good and Evil get pushed to the realm of fiction and discussions move from what is moral, to the seemly more relevant question of ‘what is legal’?
Since the old morality of the Judeo-Christian worldview is still recent in the pages of western history, any ‘progress’ that our society has made in changing the moral code seems to completely reject the old. That is, what society currently holds as virtuous, will eventually be considered archaic if the major societal world view changes, the result being ‘what was once condemned is now praised, what was once praised is now condemned and those who do not praise are condemned’. No longer is it considered a justified position to disagree, yet tolerate other position. No, the new morality demands absolute agreement with any dissent being treated with absolute hostility and as we untether the vices from traditional views what has become evident, is that we have also untethered the virtues. No longer is it acceptable in this new morality to “agree to disagree”, no longer is it okay to hold any “hateful” views or to express them. Simply holding a value of the old morality is seen as a transgression and with this we are seeing the death of tolerance, the death of freedom of thought, freedom of expression and freedom of speech which is giving way to “freedom not to be judged” unless it’s, of course, judging those who judge by any old moral standard; we are seeing the death of tolerance through the same movement that purports to hold “tolerance” and “compassion” above all other virtues. That is, the new morality insists on judging, but only judging directed at the old values. The value of truth and tolerance have given way to the value to feel self-vindicated, wrongfully disguised as “compassion”, the value of freedom of speech has given way to the value of never being challenged and from this, we are creating a future generation that is wrapped in cotton wool of censorship. Not the censorship of the old days which protected human decency, sexuality, faithfulness but rather censorship of thoughts and ideas that are more fundamental to our freedom than the thickness of our wallets, the health of our bodies or even our feelings.
All tolerance must have borders and boundaries and where the past understandings of tolerance insisted that coexisting with those of differing perspectives and views was a necessity to have a civil society which became one of the founding tenants of the west, the “new” understanding of this virtue holds that having differing opinions, or at very least expressing differing opinions is counted as a breach of tolerance. That is, our definition of tolerance has shifted from what the word actually means, that is to ‘tolerate opposing views/people/things’, to one which means the exact opposite, that is to be tolerant in the modern west you not only have to tolerate opposing views, but you must also accept them. This is a key example of one of the core virtues that underpins western democratic nations has eroded and changed.
“The modern world is not evil; in some ways the modern world is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues. When a religious scheme is shattered…it is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage. The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus some scientists care for truth; and their truth is pitiless. Thus some humanitarians only care for pity; and their pity (I am sorry to say) is often untruthful.”
― G.K. Chesterton, “Orthodoxy” (1908)
Under this banner of the new morality we have redefined virtues and vices, and like the passionate law fresher, we have boycotted nuance, complexity and any thought to the old fences or why they were built in the first place, but rather uprooted what we could and zealously charged down the line of our own social causes usually in the name of one virtue, that, for some reason hidden in pop culture, become the ultimate virtue, all the while demanding that others conform to this perspective and authoritatively asserting that any speech that disagrees with the new morality, is ultimately hate speech, the word used to describe modern blasphemy.
Zeal without Knowledge is Dangerous
I doubt that anyone can criticise zeal based on truth, but with careful consideration, I’m sure almost everyone would condemn misplaced zeal. Zeal ultimately founded on the unfounded subjective grounds rather than on founded objective truths. The norm in our culture is to charge headstrong into battle without carefully considering the cause. The reason for this is almost self-evident as black and white, broad brushstrokes, are easy and quick. We can smash down one article, book, paper, news headline, meme or youtube video and polish our swords and shields before we have had the chance to engage in the countering side even though experience testifies to how fickle we can be and how true it is that the first argument sounds right until the counter is heard. Despite the immense challenges of arriving at a sure and accurate conclusion on almost anything as outlined at the start of this blog, let alone social or political issues which are subject to interpretation, the youth of today have no second thoughts to jumping onto political or social bandwagons. What’s more the roles of media and even the education system have seemed to praise this rash procedure. Within this social shift, we see the transition to the new morality, the untethering of the old virtues, the social definition of tolerance shifting to something that is actually by all old measures intolerant. That is, all tolerance towards race, class and appearance is rightfully glorified but with that glorification, we have lost the more important tolerance, and that is the tolerance towards differing opinions, not that these new tolerances are any less important in any qualitative sense, but rather the grounds for which these new tolerances have become standards were through the solid foundation of the old tolerance. It is only through the tolerance of differing views, that we could have the abolition of the slave trade, the civil rights movements, the development of universities and the feminist revolution. Tolerance in the old definition, although it didn’t immediately rectify all social maladies, over time it acted as the catalyst in which the movements could be born. To remove the old tolerance, we may well be removing the best safeguard that we have against society going wrong.
The reality is this new definition of tolerance is by no means tolerance at all. That is a common expression of modern ‘tolerance’ is for corporations to display the vast range of ethnicities present in the corporation, ironically to express tolerance by having different ethnicities within a workplace is only tolerance, if you first believe that it is in some way wrong to have differing ethnicities within a workplace as to first tolerate something, you first need to disagree with it. It is not tolerance if you actually believe that there is nothing wrong with it. By definition, you cannot tolerate something that you already agree with. Given how fickle and partial our own understanding can be, tolerance of opinion and from that the defence of freedom of speech, need to take the mantle in society’s virtues. That is if society desires to be virtuous at all, freedom of the speech is the mechanism by which the exercise of all other virtues and vices can be critiqued including the right to freedom of speech. The new definition of tolerance does away with the value in difference of opinion and hence does away with the very mechanism through which the tolerance that it actually glorifies, is eroded meaning that any progress in tolerant thinking is placed in the hands of the few who can shape public opinion.
Although it must also be noted these recent changes in what society considers moral is in one sense not new at all, rather every generation at least in its youth struggles to understand the systems and codes of the old which at times lead to great overthrows of evil and at times leads to social downfall. As it is the error of every new generation to consider themselves as more enlightened morally and intellectually then previous generations falling into the infamous trap of chronological snobbery while at the same time it seems equally erroneous for older generations to look back and think of their own generation as superior. This is ultimately built on the belief that our own common sense is the standard and as each new generation re-writes the definition of virtues, we lose what may well make them virtues in the first place.
If you had one summarising virtue to describe the west, or at least the old west, one would be hard up to say any other word than tolerance. That’s not to say that the west has been incredibly intolerant both now and in the past, but rather it was the appeal to the intrinsic value in this virtue that guided the west to abolish the slave trade, that paved the way to the feminist revolution, that guided democracy and elevated the importance of a man or woman regardless of race, class or birth. It’s the virtue that the western architect Locke held so highly, it’s the very foundation of the 1689 bill of rights and the very first amendment to the American Constitution. The very movement that attacks those who hold to the old tolerance, the old view that all views matter and that progress isn’t made by silencing dissension but rather exposing it in public forum, is the movement that will ultimately destroy their own foundation as a threat to any freedom of speech, is to threaten the freedom of speech even of those who are trying to threaten it. It should be learnt from history that the greatest threat to all tyrannous dictators or governments, is dissension that starts in the minds, moves to the mouths and ends in the streets. The greatest tool that we have to ensure that society neither strays too far to either the left or the right, is the right to criticise these movements freely. As discussed earlier, treating any position as the absolute truth without entertaining or being open to rebuke is ultimate, a stupid position and one in which we promote and justify great atrocities.
Due to the difficult nature of attaining knowledge, broadly dismissing another’s views as wrong and then working to silence these views can only be described as anti-truth. If opinions are wrong, or unfounded and we work within the marketplace of ideas to express these opinions, then two things can be assumed with a high degree of certainty, 1. those positions will ultimately be recognised as wrong by the debaters and public, and hence dismissed and 2. the portion of society who hold to those beliefs ebbed away under the weight of countering evidence, which I believe is what we have seen since the civil rights movements of the 50s with the portion of western society sincerely believing that colour determines value becoming an ever-shrinking minority. Very few could reasonably argue that western society is more racist or discriminating now than it was 60-70 years ago of which the evidence is overwhelming.
Despite this, certain loud minorities, technocrats, elitist celebrities have started to perpetuate the idea that the greatest threat to freedom, human rights and the fabric of our democracy has become freedom of speech although of course not using that language. No, those who fight against maintaining freedom of speech will never label it “freedom of speech”, since that would reveal exactly what the intentions are, rather they rage against the greatest of society’s safeguards from the grounds of ‘compassion’ making the false dichotomy between “freedom of speech” and “hate speech”, differentiating the two simply on the basis of what society deems appropriate all the while ignoring that the only time that freedom of speech needs to be defended as a right, is the time in which the other party is exercising that right in such a way that it causes outrage. That is, you don’t need to defend someone’s right to exercise the speech that others are affirming, the only time that you need to defend it as a right, is the time when it is causing outrage and being met with hostility. Speech that insults, offends and ‘triggers’ others is the same speech that lead to all the great leaps that our society has made in the social justices. Every great movement is based on what another will at some point label ‘hate speech’ or offensive. Yet the new “social justice” movement, above everything else, works to dismantle this mechanism of free open debate. The movement exercises the very right which it is inadvertently removing and this might work to the proponents agenda in the short run especially if they cannot stand against critique in open debate, but ultimately there is no justification that their preference for free speech will remain in society as the “non-hateful” speech, by which time they might not have the same luxury to critique this change that they currently have.
To then go on and restrict freedom of speech in the name of ‘social justice’ is ultimately to remove the legal tool required to ensure that those who set the laws in the society cannot go against the wishes of that society. The belief that future governments regardless of intentions will maintain the same values that you currently possess is not only naive, it is madness, to assume that you will always agree with those changes is proverbially wrong, wrong to such an extent that I would imagine that it would be impossible to ever demonstrate an example of being right, but despite this, western nations across the world from Australia, to the UK to Canada, to Germany, to the USA are introducing ‘hate speech’ laws. Blasphemy laws with pundits from the far left aggressively attacking anyone who would speak out against these moves on the same grounds which I’ve presented here. What’s more, the measure for what is considered hate speech and what isn’t, is being defined as what’s considered offensive. While this is problematic on many fronts, the most pressing and obvious issue with this is the issue of: who gets to decides what is offensive and what isn’t? Offence is purely a subjective measure determined by the recipient, and what’s more, to be offended is a choice. I would imagine that if I would to speak to an audience of 5 people about a complicated matter, the potential for one of those 5 to be offended might be present, but if I were to speak on the same matter to a group of 1000 people, then the likelihood that someone will be offended exponentially grows. Or to give another example, what if society ultimately deems that truths around a certain subject matter are offensive and thus should be silenced? How long can a society stand if it values the subjective feelings of certain citizens over the importance of truth? I would extend that suggestion by stating that the most offensive things in this world that can be said are simultaneously the truest things that can be said. To create legislation that silences any speech is to ultimately give totalitarian like power to politicians and the elite, that not only determines what can and can’t be said in society but also determines what reality is.
‘‘The further a society drifts from truth, the more it will hate those who speak it.”
– George Orwell
It should be evident at this stage, that knowledge based on truth is incredibly difficult to attain and even once attained it is even more challenging to be sure that that knowledge is in fact true. Combined the challenges of being in a culture that is decoupled from the old moralities and is currently rewriting the very definition of old virtues, you would expect the task of predicting the trajectory of society’s values to be difficult. But this could not have been further from the truth. The trajectory of our society’s values have not become more difficult to predict, but rather much, much easier. For the last century, save for a few brief moments, a historian would be able to accurately predict the future laws of a society based purely on hedonistic desires that lie in the heart of man.
With that naive view of the virtuous self and the demonising of externalities and ultimately the demonising of the elusive ‘others’, we have paved the way to building a culture that is devoid of trust, trust that is literally the bedrock of civil society, literally the bedrock of the fundamental institutions that hold our world together from marriage to money, every aspect of our society is built on a trust of others. We have exploited friends, families, businesses and governments in the pursuit of the glorification of self, distorting the concept of relationships as they have grown simply to feed our own ends. Work, which was once correctly seen as a necessity to provide for self and others has instead been warped as we have made it our god, the god who demands most of our time to build bank accounts, to buy the security that was once provided through relationships.
The False Presupposition
I would even go so far as to say that I can think of few societal law changes that go against the underlying pursuit of our hedonistic, egoist hearts. The biggest flaw in our societies proclamation of the new morality, is that at its core it exists on a false presupposition, that is that the heart/the core desires of man is good and that all that is evil in the world is due to external factors. Thus we have the reasoning behind silencing ‘hate speech’ at the same time as destroying freedom of speech, to crush economic inequality while we throw property rights in the bin, to perform full term abortions while pretending to value life. This is the morality that ultimately accepts no personal responsibility as it is assumed that the self is deep down admirable, that each individual is their own measure of reason, common sense and morality. With that, humility has become a vice and pride the ultimate virtue, the virtue that above all else, can never know peace.
“and then I smiled, comparing myself with other men, comparing my active goodwill with the lazy cruelty of their neglect. And at the very moment of that vainglorious thought, a qualm came over me, a horrid nausea and the most deadly shuddering. . . . I began to be aware of a change in the temper of my thoughts, a greater boldness, a contempt of danger, a solution of the bonds of obligation. I looked down; my clothes hung formlessly on my shrunken limbs; the hand that lay on my knee was corded and hairy. I was once more Edward Hyde.”
– Robert Louis Stevenson, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886)
At the core of this new morality, we have thrown out the belief of self-responsibility and accountability as all ‘evils’ in this world are now caused by externalities. Hence the new belief is that if society just eradicates these negative externalities poverty, bigotry, hate speech, the world will know peace and fulfilment. This new morality has made an old error and has forgotten what in fact a crime is, that attributing crime to economic situations is ultimately misunderstanding what crime is. The new morality links crime against humanity to wealth, when in fact wealth is simply symptomatic of crime, wealth disparities is the greatest testament that all humans are in fact fallen, evil creatures. The new morality has forgotten that “white collar” crime is still crime. Not only that, white-collar crime is ultimately crime that leads far more people to poverty, despair and suffering than what blue collar crime does resulting in more blue collar crime. What must be noted at this point is that while we are quick to judge social issues that can be described as “blue collar” crime, the culprit that creates the blue collar crime, is in fact the system that allows for the existence and flourishing of the far wider reaching and far more damaging white collar crime, and despite having the best education systems that the world has ever seen along with the worlds knowledge at our fingertips, the second fallacy that greater education can overcome social struggles has proven to be little more than a placebo. From the top down our society is formed in such a way as to maintain the preservation of the self interest, whether it be self-interest at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder or the top, with those who through wit, hard work, luck, intelligence or inheritance who manage to climb the ladder simply having more power to exercise their self-interest. More than that the very monetary and political system that the west now relies on, exploits the labour of the bottom of society in a way that resembles Animal Farm. Those who would usually stand against the systemic failures of our social, political and economic system are swooned and shaped into the systems greatest advocates and pinups as they transcend the economic ladder.
Western democracies, mixing a healthy dash of popular political representation with a big dose of capitalist economic structures, are extremely good at the most important driver of social stability: co-opting the more talented members of a mass society into the status quo system, bringing new blood into that top two percent socioeconomic club who might otherwise apply their talents in more subversive ways. Maybe not the top one-tenth of one percent on a purely financial wherewithal scale, but definitely the top two percent on a more broadly defined socioeconomic scale of wealth, stability, and influence. That co-opting process is the steam valve for Western societies…
– Westworld, W. Ben Hunt, Ph.D. 2017
While the loud few who can identify the symptoms of a corrupted system yet can’t comprehend the solutions, erring to politics where their stupidity and loudness is rewarded by the cheering of university freshers going through their “intellectual awakening” who suddenly need a cause to attach themselves to.
Although the youth might start off as radicals either to the left or the right, the process of being exposed to the nuance and complexities of life that rob us of our clear-cut black and whites must in an aggregate sense, at some stage start changing the very core values which were once held so highly. That is, the constant flow of life doesn’t remove our values, rather than expose us to the inconsistencies within our plausibility structures meaning that, as an individual ages they need to either: ignore these exposed inconsistencies and resort to a fundamental cognitive dissonance, accept that the issues are complex and throw the initial belief or value under question into the grey box labeled “too difficult to discern” or, recognise their own inconsistencies and start the difficult process of working to rebuild their own worldview; the initial value may or may not be discarded but to gain a new sense of consistency the reasoning behind the worldview needs to change.
From these three options, the decision to rework a worldview in order to retain, clarify or even gain new values’ is by far the least common and I believe that that is simply because this is the option requires the most work. Of all the tasks presented to men that they might have to tackle, the task of critically reassessing their most fundamental beliefs is amongst the most difficult. However, to not be willing to rework a worldview in light of new data can only lead to one of two emotional responses. The first and most common response of course, is the desire to despise the antagonist, with the other response being simply to ignore them. Just as we teach our kids that the key task in growing up is to learn to do things they don’t always enjoy, feel like doing or find in any way rewarding/”empowering” (at least in the short term), that is to raise children to be rational, well-reasoned individuals, we need to also teach them to fight against these urges of intellectual laziness, to fight against the desire to despise the antagonist and rather relish critique, differing views and above all to value freedom of speech as the most important virtue. While teaching and encouraging the youth of tomorrow down the right path of intellectual rigour, the challenges facing the wider society will have to ultimately be fought through the battlegrounds that I believe are currently tearing our society apart, namely Hollywood.
It is the poets, not the economists that ultimately change a culture, culture which is the bedrock of society. It is the artists that are destined with the task of encouraging the right virtues and shaping the imagination and character of tomorrow’s society. It is the novelists that bring philosophy to the masses and the actors that compel us to think of things greater than ourselves or to simply think greater of ourselves. It is the creatives that change high-culture into pop. Yet as technology has matured in the west we haven’t entered into a cultural oasis, instead, we’re in a drought.
“We’ve turned honor into a cheap candy, shame into an existential identity crisis, and pride into a virtue.
No wonder hospital admissions for suicidal teenagers have doubled over the past ten years.
No wonder our girls cut themselves and our boys shoot themselves.
No wonder my Twitter timeline is, day in and day out, a dumpster fire.
No wonder our 2016 election was a Sophie’s Choice.” – Dr Ben Hunt
Instead of elevating what is noble and what is truly valuable (if anything is), we watch, listen to, read and consume; repetitive abstract nihilistic, hedonistic content designed to capture our attention for long enough so that some new idol fill our gaping mouths. Most pop music now only seeks to elevate youthful lies that rob us of deeper relationships, depth is replaced with a glorified shallowness, we have replaced books that challenge our beliefs with books that tickle our fantasies. Rather than making the movies that truly emphasise the value and impact of the noble, the beautiful, the old values, the value of human life, the glories of personal sacrifice for truths bigger than the individual, we have the 8th iteration of the fast and the furious with a storyline that is almost indistinguishable from the previous 6. The effects of which can be clearly seen in our mental health statistics as youth don’t cry out in the face of severe oppression and near unconquerable challenges, rather they cry out in the face of pleasure, ease, a lack of meaning that is clearest at our most joyful moments, from which they need to fabricate “new” oppressions, “new” maladies so to simply give their lives meaning. I’m not attempting to vilify all mindless, escapist entertainment but the unfortunate reality is that mindless, escapist entertainment has replaced all that was once considered virtuous with the result being that our population is left starving.
Ultimately, this has happened because our society isn’t too hard to please, but rather our desires are far too easy met. We default to mindless music, movies, books and meaning knowing full well that the more these take over our lives, the more we forfeit living. We settle for products that make us happy at the expense of the environment and at the expense of the workers. We settle for TV that holds no artistic or intellectual value. We consume movie after movie that are technical masterpieces of graphic design all the while they’re devoid of meaning. This doesn’t mean that the technical mastery is valueless but it in and of itself is empty. And since we have now allowed the degradation of our culture to go on for so long, since we have not reestablished the core values that have created the west, the west has now rejected not only the old but also all those who would seek to uphold it to the point that the mainstream has now absorbed the counterculture. But to those who truly value the old values, now is your chance to be self-sacrificial for a cause bigger than yourself for the long-term prosperity of our society. To the brave, your response needs to be to speak up when others are saying sit down, to defend freedom of speech and freedom of ideas even when it costs us, even when it hurts. To pick up a pen and start writing, to vote monetarily against pop-culture rubbish and instead elevate artists that generate something that is of real value.
Culture is ultimately the vehicle by which we generate or destroy a just society. It is the ship that leads the youth to things of real value, establishes a flourishing economy and leaves something for future generations. Why does culture have such a high standing within society? Because it is culture that shapes individuals. Society doesn’t really exist, it’s really just a concept that we use to describe the preferences, attitudes and beliefs of a collective of people living within a degree of proximity to each other. The individual exists because there seems to be thinking individuals, that is from one degree to another, and the way in which we grow, enlighten, encourage and shape individuals is, in the aggregate, through culture. If culture becomes infected with ultimately a perverse, and insufficient worldview, then ultimately society will revolt against that culture whether society realises it or not. We will all have to answer for the culture that we create and leave behind because we all have the power to shape culture.