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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

All About Reality

I have written before about my perception that there will be no easy settlement in the culture wars in the US. Unlike others, I don't see Muslims as being the problem. Muslims in the west are merely a proxy for the cultural abyss which separates adherents of two opposing philosophies.

The first philosophy is grounded on the idea that absolute reality does not exist, and the second philosophy is grounded on the idea that absolute reality does exist, and that this absolute, objective reality logically makes imperative claims against the individual.

See Dr. M's excellent post in which she describes expressing her support to a military officer she encountered on a Disney cruise:
Then I said, "You know, don't believe what you read in the newspapers and hear on the news. We Americans are behind you 100% and believe in what you're doing. We are so thankful. So, thank you."

I was a little embarrassed to say something. Soldiers must feel like celebrities these days. He was on a ship for much deserved R/R after two tours in Iraq. I didn't want to bug him. But I wanted him to know, you know?
Yes, we know. That is, those of us on this side of the philosophical abyss do. Dr. M continues to ponder the bizarre attack on the American military, which is by far and away the most successful institution in our society and instills in military personnel ideals of justice, equality, duty, self-sacrifice, honor, not claiming more than your due, and self-restraint:
Because of the Left's own unresolved authority issues, they cannot, will not ever embrace power used to enforce an action. They hate the military. They hate soldiers. They hate authority. They hate the notion that there is a right or wrong. They hate the notion that the U.S. might be the enforcers of right and wrong when so many injustices are imbedded into the fabric of American society. Really important things like the pushback against Gay Marriage and Abortion, for two examples. Wrong takes on such important social issues prove, without a doubt, that average Americans are stupid rubes intent on killing anyone who doesn't see things like them.
This, I think, is accurate. The bulk of the military is constituted of those who literally live out the second philosophy, because their purpose and guiding rule is to defend and serve the greater life of our nation, even at the cost of their own lives. Naturally, the exponents of the first philosophy detest them. They detest them personally and as a culture. They fear them, and they revile them.

The NY Times is an example of a cultural institution dominated by the adherents of the first philosophy. Those who adhere to the first philosophy don't believe that an external reality to which we must conform exists. On the contrary! They believe that every individual has the right to make claims against that reality when it impacts the individual, even if it is the individual's own actions that have created the individual's poor circumstances - because it is unfair that life should treat them that way! As an example, you will still find leftists blaming Ronald Reagan and the Pope for AIDS.

Betsy Newmark wrote a post about the NY Times' ombudsman's admission that the NY Times made a mistake when it publicized the program to trace terroristic financing this summer. Betsy aptly skewers the explanation for the mistake:
...there still haven’t been any abuses of private data linked to the program, which apparently has continued to function. That, plus the legality issue, has left me wondering what harm actually was avoided when The Times and two other newspapers disclosed the program. The lack of appropriate oversight — to catch any abuses in the absence of media attention — was a key reason I originally supported publication. I think, however, that I gave it too much weight.

In addition, I became embarrassed by the how-secret-is-it issue, although that isn’t a cause of my altered conclusion. My original support for the article rested heavily on the fact that so many people already knew about the program that serious terrorists also must have been aware of it. But critical, and clever, readers were quick to point to a contradiction: the Times article and headline had both emphasized that a “secret” program was being exposed.
by citing Daily Pundit's response:
You let your ingrained hatred of everything not nakedly leftist - including the Bush administration - govern your thoughts and actions, as do almost all employees of the New York Times.

This is an especially telling admission from the Times "ombudsman," who, in theory at least, is supposed to be the most objective journalist in the Times organization. But a "vicious criticism" (what? did GWB forget to call you the world's greatest newspaper?) is enough to warp your objectivity enough to print a story that did major damage to the safety and security of the United States?
Exactly, and let's not forget that the weapons being used to fire into Israel from Gaza, the West Bank, and Lebanon, to detonate bombs among the civilian population of Iraq and to attack our soldiers and the Iraqi soldiers cost money! The NY Times put itself squarely in the enemy camp with this one.

Why? Why does the NY Times consistently serve as a stage for enemy propaganda? Because it hates the enemies of this enemy, that's why. That's the only reason. There are plenty of people with leftish and libertarian views, like Nat Hentoff, who are perfectly able to criticize the administration and make their political points without feeling the need to become the Pravda of Hamas, Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda. As David of Photon Courier wrote in response to Betsy's post:
Note his phrase "my instinctive affinity for the underdog." In reality, of course, The New York Times is a powerful corporation. Its editorial policy is set by people of considerable inherited wealth, people who appear to consider themselves as members of some kind of permanent ruling class. Underdogs?

I think the real underdogs here are the Americans, Iraqis, Israelis, and others who may be killed or crippled because of tne NYT's irresponsible posture.
Exactly, although "irresponsible" is putting it too lightly. A person very close to me just spent a week at Fort Benning training, and came away grieved by the painful reality that, as he put it, "We are sending the very best we have to die, and no one cares". But we do care. We care. We grieve over it. But while serious people may disagree over whether the deposing Saddam Hussein was the right policy, serious people cannot disagree that we must oppose this wave of Islamic totalitarianism just as we opposed Communism's rapid mutation into a vicious, destructive ideology and we opposed the fascist conquerors in Europe. Some philosophies simply are incompatible with each other; they cannot coexist. Nor can people put on the hat of humanism and justify ignoring oppression and mass murder in Iraq, Darfur, North Korea and multiple other countries.

The NY Times' philosophy is incompatible with the nation's philosophy, and it knows it. It views the guiding philosophy of the American people with far more fear and distaste than it does the Islamists who burn, bomb, torture and kill with divine assurance. The NY Times represents a decadent, self-destructive American elitism at war with the life of this country.

In "Of Gold And God", SC&A takes on that elitism directly:
Our own cultural biases towards non belief are the result of the secularist notions. Freedom from religion is preferable to freedom of religion. Secularists will argue and point to an unforgiving and oppressive God- exactly the kind of God that no longer exists in the Judeo-Christian ethic (it bears noting that the Islamic fundamentalist idea of Allah is exactly like the kind of religion to which secularists are so opposed- violent, malevolent and oppressive. That said, there are few is any progressive secularists that will confront that reality). It is precisely because the Judeo-Christian belief system is so unlike what the secularists believe, that religion is thriving. They cannot ‘argue’ a believer out of his or her faith, so they resort (to) a legal system that accommodates their biases against religion.
Why? SC&A answers the question:
Non believers would argue that belief in God is a kind of crutch- and it is in that argument that we can see that they do not understand the meaning of ‘faith in God.’ In fact, real faith is assuming a burden, obligations that would otherwise be ignored. The Jewish notion is particularly illustrative- it is one of assuming ‘the yoke of Heaven.’

With real faith there is no respite from those obligations. In fact, the obligations and ‘ascent’ are unrelenting. There is a never ending field that must be plowed so that who follow the believer will find spiritual nourishment and meaning. There are no vacations from the obligations believers assume.
Exactly. This is the philosophy, the essential stance, that the NY Times finds so dangerous. It concentrates on destroying this idea, which their philosophy finds terrifying. They do not fear the bombers and the destroyers - they fear us. They fear those who believe that there is an absolute, external reality which has the right to make individual claims upon us which will mandate self-sacrifice. Traditional atheism in the American culture has denied the existence of a God, but not has not denied the existence of an external reality or the concept that recognizing an external reality imposes obligations on us individually.

The new philosophy of "secularism" has come to adopt the idea that reality, if it is uncomfortable, can be changed. Of course, it cannot. And of course, reality will often be very, very uncomfortable. Yet it will continue to exist, and the sum of our individual inabilities or abilities to recognize reality and to respond to it well ultimately governs the life and success of all cultures. This new secularism is also at war with traditional American atheism.

SC&A's post merits reading and rereading, but for now I want to cite a comment in response to the post from one Ryotto:
Life is not meaningless to the secular tribe. In fact, life on this earth is what matters most.

Unlike the religious tribe, who will mindlessly vote for anyone who wears his religion on his sleeve, no matter how disastrous his policies are, the members of the secular tribe are concerned about what kind of place we will leave to future generations. Will we leave them an overpopulated, polluted Earth which is dominated by the greed of big business and has little regard for the individual, or will we leave them an Earth which is better than the one we were given?
For some secularists, Ryotto's point is true. These are the traditional atheists who do recognize duty toward others. But it is obvious that Ryotto doesn't recognize this duty, because the first duty of all those who do believe in external reality is to recognize that reality as well as they can. When Ryotto must continue on to describe the "religious tribe" this way...
To the religious tribe, it really doesn’t matter, as long as they can spend eternity floating around in some kind of imagined paradise.
... it becomes obvious that Ryotto has a problem with reality. It takes a stunning amount of willful blindness not to realize that the commands of faith are almost purely directed toward our obligations toward other human beings, and not to recognize the historical role that these commands have played in the life of our nation. Abolition, emancipation of women, child-labor laws, the progressive era fighting for just compensation for working-class men and women - all of these movements were initiated by religious people. The churches and synagogues spawned the hospitals, nursing homes and charities then, and they still do now.

When you must resort to lies to make your point, you have no point. Just as every atheist is not trying to avoid reality, it is fact that most religious people are responding to the reality that they see and experience, and that the Ten Commandments still have place in the life of this country because they still accurately tell us something about the results of our actions over time.

Does lying, stealing or cheating work? Does abusing or ignoring your parents work? Properly understood, "sin" in the Judeo-Christian tradition means denying reality with your actions, a.k.a. doing things that seem wonderful right now, but do not work out over the long term. Isn't "...punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me" an apt description of what we are seeing in our society from those who have romped off on the path of self-fulfillment while ignoring their responsibilities to others? Change "God" to "the real world", and can any atheist not at war with reality deny that these rules are still basic requirements for a workable society?

It is also a fact that the US press is dominated by an elite that has little contact with reality and wishes to preserve that circumstance, and that it represents the true life of the American people not at all. It is a froth destined to be swept away by the currents of history and reality. I will not mourn its passing.

Shrinkwrapped wrote in a puzzled fashion last year that he could not understand why he found many religiously-oriented bloggers more thoughtful and reality-oriented than the secularists. In "Talking 'bout My Generation" he takes another look at what the denial of personal responsibility has wrought:
Children who are raised to believe the sun rises and sets for them are loathe to risk their own comfort for anything that does not directly threaten them. After all, since the ascendancy of the left among the Western elites, the idea that there could exist anything more important than the attainment of one's personal happiness (usually confused with the pursuit of pleasure and material accumulation) has been accepted as the only sine qua non for a just society. The heightened Narcissism of my generation is the substrate upon which so many of our troubles rest, which is why I write about it so often.
Yes, SW, we've noticed. We've also noticed that Dr. Sanity seems to be banging the same drum. It does not surprise me that those who have chosen the profession of trying to help others live functional lives would end up squarely in the middle of reality. It does still surprise me that the NY Times would chose to connive at its own destruction rather than admit that a painful, personally impinging reality does exist, but it really shouldn't. After all, if God had to show up to explain:
A. Reality really exists, and isn't going to change for you, and
B. Doing the same thing over and over again is going to work out the same way over and over again, and,
C. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is insanely stupid,
then the human capacity for self-delusion is clearly a nearly overwhelming force in any human society.

The reason why monotheism became such a stunning force in human history is that appealing to G_d or gods is seen as a contract among humans. We appeal to powers or principalities in order to get reality to work out in a way favorable to ourselves, and when we must appeal to the same power, we must acknowledge that one and only one universal contract exists. Consequently, the contractural rules must constrain us all and be the same for us all. In this recognition, a society finds peace and prosperity, even if the individuals composing the society do not necessarily find escape from their personal devils.

Which brings me back to SC&A's starting point, as he quotes Dineesh D'Souza:
...imagine two groups of people — let’s call them the Secular Tribe and the Religious Tribe — who subscribe to one of these two views. Which of the two is more likely to survive, prosper and multiply? The religious tribe is made up of people who have an animating sense of purpose. The secular tribe is made up of people who are not sure why they exist at all. The religious tribe is composed of individuals who view their every thought and action as consequential. The secular tribe is made up of matter that cannot explain why it is able to think at all.
But Dinesh understates his case. The secularist tribe so exquisitely embodied by the NY Times is a tribe that denies not only reality but all possibility of developing any understanding of reality. In doing so, it becomes incapable of any rational thinking at all, as is demonstrated by the genuinely hilarious explanation of the NY Times' "reasoning" by its ombudsman:
My original support for the article rested heavily on the fact that so many people already knew about the program that serious terrorists also must have been aware of it. But critical, and clever, readers were quick to point to a contradiction: the Times article and headline had both emphasized that a “secret” program was being exposed.
Exactly, but one does not have to be "clever" to realize that the NY Times was and is idiotic and hypocritical. When you are driven by your private, unadmitted purposes to making a fool of yourself in print in this manner, you really cannot afford to be publishing wordy screeds about the problem with Kansas. To paraphrase someone important, first get the beam out of your own eye, and then you can see to remove the motes from the eyes of the citizens of Kansas.

However I am quite sure that the NY Times will not be able to see it this way, and I am afraid that Shrinkwrapped was prophetic in writing:
If the Democrats win the mid-term elections, they are likely to cause great grief to our ability to fight against an implacable enemy. Yet, if they lose, again, I fear for their rage and despair. It is when the external world shows its indifference that the Narcissist is most at risk for existential despair.
The NY Times is now occupying that trough of existential despair. With every position cut, the elite becomes more desperate, vengeful and spiteful. You can look confidently to them for additional Fifth Column pro-terror wars of words. After all, they are pretty sure that Osama Bin Laden does want to kill Bush, and could that truly be a bad thing? Not according to the Grieving Old Hag that the NY Times has become, whose self-portrait is here.

A partial analogy that may be relevant to the culture split: Louis Gerstner said that when he took over IBM, he noticed that the only memos that showed real *anger* were those from one IBM group talking about another IBM group. None of the anger was being addressed to the external competitive threats.

(It's only a partial analogy, because I don't think it's necessary, or particularly helpful, to feel dislike of business competitors.) But it does demonstrate how--in an organization or in a society--internal conflicts can override the external threats to survival.
That's a superb analogy, David. And IBM's long decline should be a warning to the NY Times and their crew, but it won't be. They will continue on in the same vein, becoming ever more passionate about destroying the values and the ethos that preserve their existence.
If it weren't for the fault lines within our own society, then terrorism and other external forces (like the crazy NK dictator) would be serious but manageable. It's the attitudes of a significant number of people right here in America (and elsewhere in the western world) that make terrorism an existential threat.

See my old post An Incident at the Movies for other thoughts relevant to this discussion.
Yes, you are unquestionably correct. The west is the only serious threat to ourselves.

Since I live in an area in which there is high military enrollment, my bitterness at this group runs deep. Because of them, people I know will die.
Thank you for that link. It is painful reading given the current situation, but it is real.
God seems to be at the root of all this angst about real estate, culture, and the War in Iraq. Marx once said that "religion is the opiate of the masses." I would agree with that, only I believe we all have the right to our own drug, be it free enterprise, socialism, God, or whatever. The Left (AKA secular progressives, progressives, etc.) wants to prevent everyone from enjoying the drug of God; they stand for censorship of any conversation favoring a Supreme Being, even the possibility. The current "war" is quite simply over that issue and nothing else.
Howard...I don't think it's that simple. There are plenty of leftist moonbats who have some form of religious belief, whether conventional monotheism or the increasingly-popular forms of superstition (magical crystals, astrology, etc) and nature-worship.

I think it's really important to understand the factors that differentiate the present-day Left ("progressives") from the traditional Left. One of the most important is that traditional leftism was a child of the Enlightenment; a bastard child in many cases but a child nonetheless. Present-day "progressivism," however, is to a substantial extent a reaction against the Enlightenment, and is in some ways closer to 20th-century Fascism than to 20th-century Socialism and Communism.
Ah, David, I agree with Howard. The distinction is between "God" and "gods". The left feels that having gods is good, but that adhering to one God is bad. It really is that simple. And the idea of one God is so terrible that they contradict themselves in the same sentence when arguing why monotheism is bad, just as Howard points out by arguing in their terms.

And the reason why they make this distinction (which, granted, is an irrational one) is what I was trying to address in this post.

If there are many gods, I may switch my adherence at my leisure, and no god can make demands of me. If there is one, this is not so.

Also, I think Howard is correct in identifying this cultural tendency to deny reality as the basis for the real estate mess. How could so many people have been so clueless? How could so many people have so ignored any rational assessment of risk? Well, it was fun while it lasted....

But then, how could IBM'rs have ignored their common benefit? Once one decides that one can switch between realities at one's leisure, all things become possible for a time. Now, a good historian, a true objectivist, a genuine scientist, an effective businessman and a genuine monotheist all realize that that picking and choosing your realities based on your own temporary convenience is not going to be successful.
Hmmmm....well, Marxists and Objectivists are atheists, yet neither belief system encompasses relativism in the currently-fashionable sense.

Also, I don't think traditional polytheists--whether Greek, Roman, or American Indian--were relativists in the current sense. All these groups, for example, believed *courage* was a virtue, and I doubt if the average Greek, Roman, or Sioux would have been very impressed with the argument that courage is only a cultural vaue and that a culture could equally well adapt the "virtue" of cowardice.
A good point, but once societies reach a certain size you probably have to shift toward a more abstract understanding of solidarity and virtue.

At the tribal level, the degree of cohesion is such that aspirational focuses probably suffice for most purposes. However once you lose the personal knowledge of those with whom you are likely to come into contact, you do need a set of universal rules to make you behave as if the other person is someone in whom you feel a personal investment.
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