Rebirth of Reason

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Post 0

Friday, June 24, 2016 - 6:59pmSanction this postReply

Excellent article, Joe.


I agree with the points you made about altruism - that seems to be the base of the moral cowardice.


I came up with some other observations that are related - although probably play a smaller role and around the sides as it were.


Secular progressives may want to stay away from the word 'evil' because they associate it with religion and because they adopt moral relativity in place of good or evil.  That would make them less comfortable with the word 'evil'.  I suspect that some conservatives who are willing to call a terrorist or rapist evil may have in their mind some kind of theological connotation related to Satan that I have a hard time understanding.  Having to posit the devil to explain evil is like the ultimate conspiracy theory and so unnecessary.


Another minor tendency to stay away from the word 'evil' might relate to how progressives see American as being wrong and a colonial oppressor, and those who 'threaten' us are, therefore, to a degree, justified and not evil.


I also think that there are some deep-set emotional issues involved - a kind of syndrome where the possibility of violence or conflict leads to a fear that must be appeased by mentally blanking out the threat.  Treating the threateners as evil would get in the way.  You mentioned that.  It also shows up in a way I have yet to understand fully where progressives do seem to have an emotional attraction to thugs.  Difficult to call them evil if you have some strange, background emotional hard-on for the violent, want to appease their political demands, and send them money.


And, there is the basic cowardice that has to do with being unwilling to make any moral judgements.  It is as if a person is careful to never make a committed thought or utterance that it will keep them from being wrong.  And this is not just about thugs or tyrants or terrorists, but to even declare one idea right and another wrong.  One could suspect that moral relativism was invented to make this unwillingness to make a judgment seem like an intellectually superior position.

Post 1

Friday, July 1, 2016 - 4:00pmSanction this postReply

Thanks, Joseph.  You got my vote, of course.  On that basis, allow me to offer some perspectives, not in disagreement but as alternate viewpoints.


Foremost, the affection for the supposed underdog is a consequence of Christianity. Make no mistake; make no compromise. The meek shall inherit the Earth.  Nietzsche flogged this horse. Ayn Rand was attracted to his context, but realized that in specifics, he was greatly lacking. Nonetheless, the fact remains that Christianity is the common theme that unites supposedly secular socialists with their kith and kin on the religious right.  


It was not always so.  I do not remember the specifics of name and place, but in Thucidides's history of the Peloppensian Wars, is the story of Athens against a small island city. In the wake of Athens's victory over the Persians, she established a hegemony. Other cities paid tribute to her. Eventually, one of them balked at forking over the silver. Athens sent an army.  In Thucidides you will find the story. The city fathers call upon justice and natural rights.  The Athenian general replies that it is just and naturally right that the strong should rule the weak, and that their cries are like the cries of the rabbit in the talons of the eagle.  


Objectivism is beyond "might makes right" but is clearly not aligned with "lack of might makes right."


Secondarily, those who are touted as underdogs, often are not. The Nazi Germans portrayed themselves as victims as their justification for launching aggressions against their neighbors.    Moreover, often, those aggressors - the Nazis, the communists, ISIS now - often sell themselves as the wave of the future. They claim strength. Admittedly, it is a strength that they lack, but, nonetheless, they do not portray themselves as weak and helpless.


As you note, though, others prefer to see them that way.  That ties in to the Christian ethos, which is common across even secular socialist bands in the modern political spectrum.


But is it not limited to the Left.  In a criminology class, the textbook and discussion were all about justifying rap music as a consequence of oppression. I pointed to heavy metal and white supremicism as a counter-example.  "You think that it is hard getting a job when you are Black, try getting one with a swastika tattoo on your hand."  I condemn them both. They are both racists. But they both claim to be underdogs, oppressed minorities. They do not say - as did the Communists, and as does ISIS - "we will bury you."


Your deeper  - and I admit, perhaps intractable - challenge is "When is a threat a threat?" I do not know.  Like you I know one when I see one, but I do not have a universal rule that subsumes all possible examples. I have no conceptual solution. Like you, I can only take specific cases: This one feels like a threat; that one does not.  


(Edited by Michael E. Marotta on 7/01, 4:02pm)

Post 2

Friday, July 1, 2016 - 4:46pmSanction this postReply

BTW -- I just watched the two rap videos for "Hayek vs. Keynes."  Hayek is portrayed as the underdog who is robbed of the victory he earned.  Just sayin'...  this is pretty deep within our culture...

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Post 3

Friday, July 1, 2016 - 8:03pmSanction this postReply

Foremost, the affection for the supposed underdog is a consequence of Christianity.


There is another source of affection for the underdog - a source that isn't about altruistim or Christianity.  There is a strong emotional pull for the person who pulls themselves up and succeeds by their own efforts and skills.  This is like the theme in some of the boxing movies, the Rocky films or The Million Dollar Baby.  Here there isn't a sacrifice made, or a form of redistribution, or rules that handicap ability.  There aren't changes in the rules to favor an underdog.  It is merit based.  It is about opportunity and possibility. 


Christianity and altruism would be some kind of handicapping where the greater your ability the more points you would have to give up and so that a person without abilities would have a chance to win.  Very different.



...the fact remains that Christianity is the common theme that unites supposedly secular socialists with their kith and kin on the religious right.  


Not so much Christianity, which, by definition the secular socialists are NOT.  It is altruism that is the common theme between socialists and the religious right.

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Post 4

Saturday, July 2, 2016 - 1:01amSanction this postReply

Somewhat on this topic is the current news about Bill Clinton meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch.  Some have argued that this is completely inappropriate.  But the counter argument is that nobody can definitely say whether something untoward happened during the meeting, so we can't judge them.  Obviously partisan politics is a significant driver of who is on which side of the debate.  But if we look at the argument that there is no clear evidence of impropriety, we can see the same kind of moral standard that I mentioned in the discussion of threats.  It doesn't matter how obviously inappropriate it is, or how obvious the motivations of the participants are...unless there's a smoking gun, we aren't supposed to judge.  But even the definition of a smoking gun is flexible.  We still hear people talk about Benghazi as if there's no proof that the administration lied about it to the American people to promote Obama's reelection.  Even when they found smoking guns where they privately agreed it was terrorism, told other world leaders it was terrorism, told their families it was terrorism, etc., etc., people claim there's no smoking gun.


As I mentioned, it's obvious that partisan politics is a big factor here.  But these arguments are expect to win over a more general audience.  What does it say about a culture when it's viewed as a legitimate argument that any doubt, no matter how ridiculous, is a sufficient rebuttal to clear and overwhelming evidence?  And what is the underlying cause that makes that kind of argument seem reasonable?

Post 5

Saturday, July 2, 2016 - 11:48amSanction this postReply

...what is the underlying cause that makes that kind of argument seem reasonable?


If you start with philosophies that claim reality isn't actually real, and then go on to say that man couldn't actually grasp reality as it is anyway, then it is a pretty short step to saying the only moral absolute is that one shouldn't make moral judgments (because they might be wrong... not based upon evidence, but that no one can have certainty even with evidence, and besides that aspect reality under discussion isn't necessarily real no matter what it was.)


If political operatives adopt Alinsky's guiding rule that the only goal is increasing political power and believe that end justifies all means, then any argument that works and that you can get away with, regardless of truth, is the one to use.  And if you are indoctrinating young minds in college, you inculcate doubt, encourage moral cowardice, then provide an exception... an area where one can act as if they had no doubt, and could make blistering moral judgements: the Social Justice issues.  If you don't care about truth, or even consistency, then you can use those philosophical systems of doubt to manipulate discussions, stunt thought, and steer by doubt.


The founding fathers, as they discussed the best structures to limit federal power, were concerned about one thing that they saw as being toxic to their plans: factionalism.  They saw it as obviating rationality and they counted on rationality as a mediating factor in their engineered adversarial system where different aspects of the structure (the press, the legislative body, the voters, etc) balanced one against another in a dynamic process.  What they called factionalism is what we have today and call partisan politics.

Post 6

Sunday, July 3, 2016 - 9:51amSanction this postReply

Thanks for Post #4 Joseph. As members of the general public, we know this only from news stories. We were not even close to the event. Nonetheless, I find it impossible to parse it any other way except as being inappropriate.  The simple fact of any unrecorded conversation with the spouse of someone under investigation is a first-order violation of impartiality. In fact, from the sociological or anthropological context, just acknowledging President Clinton's presence was inappropriate for Attorney General Loretta Lynch. That said, the coincidence of their arrivals may have placed her in an untenable situation, but, again, it was her duty to do as little as possible. I mean, what if the AG had chatted with the wife of a Mafia don under investigation? Were they exchanging recipes? It would be just plain wrong. As that should have been. But, as you note, for some the claim of ignorance excuses the moral transgresssion.


And actually is it not "ignorance" per se, but the lack of omniscience.


On another point, allow me to suggest a personal perspective. 


JR: "This all stems from the altruistic view of selfishness. Any potential benefit, no matter how small, is seen as totally corrupting a moral act. If you give generously to charity, but receive public praise in return, your actions are dismissed as trying to manipulate public opinion. The only possible moral act is one that is made at a complete and total sacrifice to yourself, with no possible benefit."


I accept the virtue of anonymous charity for several reasons. First, my goal is the giftee, not other peoples' opinion of me.  (But I had a recent exception, so I am not adverse to being known for it. It is just not the first thing that motivates me to give.)  The easy example is the Salvation Army Red Kettle.  Art museums and similar institutions have lucite money boxes at the front gate. Anonynous giving is part of living in society, as far as I am concerned.


The second standard involves the giftee.  If you watch enough John Wayne movies you get the point: you can help your neighbor, but it is wrong to make him beholden to you for it if he did not ask for your help in the first place. This was offered as an example to me by a socialist professor when he was lecturing on class distinctions.  You have some boys in college and the father of one of them dies. There's insurance and all that, but the pinch will be real for some time.  The middle class peers take up a collection and hand over an envelope. Those who inherited their wealth will go into his closet and put a hundred dollar bill in his pants pocket.


I saw the same sort of thing at a YAF convention when I was a teenager. After some event in the ballroom we were standing around in groups and bunches. One of the guys said something cogent and an old man nudged him and said, "I think you dropped that" and walked away. It was a twenty.  


I get your point. I think of the yelling that goes on over gifts to universities from the Koch Foundation or the BB&T Charitable Foundation. They are supposedly immoral for insisting that the money be spent on things that they approve of.  But what grant is not? You cannot get an NSF grant to study salimanders and then go out and study cosmic radiation. You cannot even study a different species for a different purpose than attached to the grant. What's the big deal?  Well, of course, the big deal is as you pointed out: disdain for the strong and affection for the weak.

Post 7

Sunday, July 3, 2016 - 10:34amSanction this postReply

Steve is right (!), altruism is the common theme that unites the secular left with the religious right.


Maybe I should have been more explicit or gone in to more detail.  While there was a time when the progressives ("scientific socialists") of the late 19th and early 20th centuries condemned religion for supporting the status quo as part and parcel of its superstition.  During the labor struggles "Long Haired Preacher" was a protest song. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ca_MEJmuzMM) The Sixties changed the left. After all, Martin Luther King was a minister and priests such as Philip Barrigan advocated for "social justice." It even became a "gospel" - social gospel Christianity.  


According to recent Pew polls fully 20% of Americans are non-religious from atheists to agnostics to just not going to church much any more.  It crosses all lines, though, granted you still find those on the political right more self-identified as religious than on the left.


But Christianity and Islam both derived from the Judaean religion. Jews have their war stories, certainly, but the mantle of "God's chosen people" made it possible to passively endure all manner of injustices.  That speaks to Joseph's thesis.


SW: "There is a strong emotional pull for the person who pulls themselves up and succeeds by their own efforts and skills." 

It is a point worth making, but I think that from the perspective of Joseph's essay, and as indicated by several of Rand's villains (Toohey in particular), that by their ultimate success, they lose the claim to underdogginess, and (to the altruist) the moral mantle of incapacity.

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