Wednesday, February 10, 2010

More on the real counter culture

In one of the Emmaus Road Initiative talks I gave from 2007 to 2009, I quoted a stunning and extraordinarily important remark by Philip Rieff, and this morning I happened upon an echo of it in a book by Hans Urs von Balthasar. So I thought I was pass them along.

Philip Rieff writes:
Here we now see, with startling clarity, how little our established political distinctions between left and right, conservative and radical, revolutionary and reactionary, matter nowadays. Rather, any remaking of political distinctions will have to ask, first, whether there is in fact a discipline of inwardness, a mobilization for fresh renunciations of instinct; or whether there is only the discipline of outwardness, a mobilizing for fresh satisfactions of instinct. Such a distinction will divide contemporary men and movements more accurately; then we shall find fashionable liberals and fascists on the same side, where they really belong.
And from von Balthasar this: “The road to authenticity demands the renunciation of immediacy -- that is, it demands ascesis. No great life can reach maturity without ‘great sacrifice’.”


Gordon said...


That's a haunting template. Can you also pass along exactly where in von Balthasar that second quote came from?

Gil Bailie said...

Here it is:
Hans Urs von Balthasar, Romano Guardini: Reform from the Source, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010), 59.

Cheers, Gil

Doughlas Remy said...

“...then we shall find fashionable liberals and fascists on the same side, where they really belong.”

Gil, I’ve thought of myself as a social liberal for many years, and yet Philip Rieff seems to be saying that I am on the same side as the fascists. At home, I keep on my wall several sets of principles that I try to adhere to. They come from various organizations that I support in one way or another. I just reviewed them. I don’t see anything in them that a fascist would agree with.

Here are just a few examples from one of them, from the Council for Secular Humanism, which I assume you would regard as a liberal organization:

We believe in an open and pluralistic society and that democracy is the best guarantee of protecting human rights from authoritarian elites and repressive majorities.

We are concerned with securing justice and fairness in society and with eliminating discrimination and intolerance.

We believe in supporting the disadvantaged and the handicapped so that they will be able to help themselves.

We respect the right to privacy. Mature adults should be allowed to fulfill their aspirations, to express their sexual preferences, to exercise reproductive freedom, to have access to comprehensive and informed health care, and to die with dignity.

We attempt to transcend divisive parochial loyalties based on race, religion, gender, nationality, creed, class, sexual orientation, or ethnicity and strive to work together for the common good of humanity.

Do you see any similarity between these principles and the ideologies of fascist regimes? You can be frank. Do you think I am holding back on my true beliefs, and that I secretly believe in book burning or extermination of Jews, homosexuals, the handicapped, and gypsies?

I think your readers may need a little help with the quotation from Rieff.

Doughlas Remy

Doughlas Remy said...

Gil, I think you will find the following list fascinating. It is from a document by Umberto Eco, called "Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt." I only have space for the 14 list headings and, in some cases, some very brief elaborations, but can supply Eco's entire text for any of them that are not clear to you:

1. The first feature of Ur-Fascism is the cult of tradition.
2. Traditionalism implies the rejection of modernism. The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense, Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.
3. Irrationalism also depends on the cult of action for action's sake. (Thinking is a form of emasculation. Universities are nests of reds and effete snobs. The liberal intelligentsia has betrayed traditional values.
4. The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. Disagreement is treason.
5. Disagreement is a sign of diversity. [Fascists fear difference, diversity]
6. Ur-Fascism derives from individual or social frustration ... resulting from economic crisis, feelings of political humiliation, disentitlement, etc.
7. Ur-Fascism tells people who are deprived of a clear social identity that their only privilege is to be born in the same country. At the root of [this] psychology is the obsession with a plot, possibly an international one. Enemies are without and within.
8. The followers must feel humiliated by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies.
9. For Ur-Fascism, there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle. Pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. Life is permanent warfare. There must be a final battle, after which the movement will have control of the world.
10. Militaristic and aristocratic elitism are coupled with contempt for the weak.
11. Everybody is educated to become a hero. The cult of heroism is strictly linked with the cult of death. ("Viva la Muerte!" was the motto of the Spanish Falangists.)
12. Since both permanent war and heroism are difficult games to play, the Ur-Fascist transfers his will to power to sexual matters. ... Machismo, disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality.
13. Ur-Fascism is based upon a selective populism, a qualitative populism. [Citizens are only called upon to play the role of the People, and the People is a theatrical fiction.]
14. Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak. (Orwell, 1984, War is Peace. Liberals are Fascists.)

Athos said...

Gil, wd you also give the citation for the Rieff quotation?

It is apropos of the recent Dawn Edena and Wm. Doino article here. Thanks

Rick said...

Why do I get the feeling that "reproductive freedom" has 0% to do with reproduction, 100% to do with protecting an imaginary belief that it is your right to murder the unborn if you feel like it and that no one will notice.

Unknown said...

Well said, Ricky. I'm sure the abortion statistics will fall to zero as millions simultaneously slap themselves on the forehead with an open palm and avail themselves of your self-righteous, all-knowing wisdom. How could we have been so callous and morally degenerate? Thanks again! I left a little plate of food for you right next to the cat bowl. See you tonight! Oh, and please don't kill anymore of my rabbits.

Rick said...

I rest my case.

Unknown said...

Thank you, William Jennings Bryan.

"Rest" is the operative word. As in give it some. Or try providing solutions that work without demonizing everyone who thinks differently, or is confronted with agonizing choices which you have the liberty to revile but will never, as a man, actually have to make.

Rick said...

I see you have no qualms about demonizing me – a person, I can assure you, who you barely know, yet demonized at least twice. I’ll have you know I struggled with this issue for most of my life. And yet, according to your fine example, I should be so careful about demonizing anyone else. I agree, in fact, and that is why I did not do that. If you’ll read my lengthy comment up there, all 5 or 6 lines of it, you will see, without inserting your imagination, that I simply reject the use of the term “reproductive freedom”. I do this for the simple fact that the use of the term has nothing to do with reproduction or protecting or encouraging anyone’s freedom to do so. A five-second internet search using the term “reproductive freedom” produces numerous websites for businesses and organizations whose main purpose is to make abortion easier. Period. This is fraud.

Since we are all about freedom, I will remind you that I have a right to free speech which must certainly include coming to my own conclusions and expressing my opinion even if you don’t agree with it. I understand there are consequences to these expressions and that if you must demonize me and call me names in order to convince others and me that I am wrong, then so be it. Demonize away. This has no effect on the truth.

Unknown said...

Doughlas in his post listed among his principles the following: "Mature adults should be allowed to fulfill their aspirations, to express their sexual preferences, to exercise reproductive freedom, to have access to comprehensive and informed health care, and to die with dignity."

You pounced quickly on the term "reproductive freedom" which you appear to see as nothing more than euphemistic language for murder. You also lifted it from its context. Part of comprehensive and informed health care is knowing about your rights under law, and more importantly, about potential risks to the life of the mother by giving the patient as full a spectrum of options as possible. Whether an individual believes that God condemns or supports their actions is at the heart of the equation of free moral agency and individual conscience. Accusing someone of murder is a very harsh judgment, unless of course you're God. Just as you rightly declare that I know nothing about you—your motivations, your conduct, or your inner life; neither do you know anything about the majority of those whose rights you deem imaginary because they make choices that you presume are axiomatically wrong and that you would never make under the same circumstances. But there's the rub. You wont have to make that choice. Ever.

So how about lending a little empathy, compassion and prayer for those who do? It will, as you say, have no effect on the truth, but it may ultimately make it more attractive to those whose abuse under its name makes them leery of rushing into its embrace.

Rick said...


First, I should say I do not concern myself with whether I am meeting your standards of compassion. I don’t find particularly compassionate the opinion that pregnant women (mothers already) should be deceived in their time of distress with notions that their unborn babies are just lumps of flesh to be discarded or not; to be made more comfortable with the idea. I’m very concerned with the souls of both persons. The one without a voice and the mother especially.

I simply see the term “reproductive freedom” clearly; as the perversion of the English language that it is. You are projecting other images onto me that you don’t like because you don’t like what I am saying. You don’t want to hear it. You remind of the Tahitian Chief in Gil’s book who does not want to hear another “word”.

There is a reason why this perversion of language is being done. It is to cover up an ugly truth. And those who coined the term know why they did it, or they wouldn’t have coined it. Their services won’t attract if they say what they really are. I find the term especially repulsive as it attempts to paint the exercise of the so-called freedom as something almost noble.

As far as the level of compassion you claim I lack for women facing very difficult choices, you are right about my way of speaking being inappropriate for all audiences at all times. I certainly wouldn’t speak so to a woman in distress or to a child. I can assure you as a faithful and loving husband and father of many years I have some compassion for others, especially women. But since I am only speaking to a fellow, mature man in an intimate setting, I think I can speak my mind and heart freely: I do not consider the taking of the most innocent and most vulnerable of human lives to be an acceptable option in almost all situations.

Instead I consider the seed of a human life placed in our care to be perhaps the most sacred of divine acts in which we are all asked to partake to one degree or another. It is a great disservice to women; to their intellect and spirit, to paint this great and unique responsibility entrusted to women (and men) by God, to be anything but of infinite value. To support or encourage the notion that it is not this, is not respectful of women or their divine gift. The news of a woman who has become pregnant should be regarded as good news, not a tragedy. It should be regarded as such by everyone because it is true. The problem is not the pregnancy it is with people’s thinking on it. We are blessed by two single women in our extended family who did not make this choice and have beautiful children they love, and who love them back. It has been very, very difficult all the time. One has twins. No one, least of all this mother, thinks she made the wrong choice when she looks at them and cares for them and holds them. These women are stronger, better people for it, no doubt. These woman did not think they could do it, don’t have much beyond this, and of course there are and will be women who do not have it this good. But their story should be spread a great deal more than the so-called alternative.

If we agree that abortion is bad, and that we want to eliminate it, and even eliminate the notion that it is a choice worthy of humanity, then we are not helping this cause by calling abortion something that clearly it is not or making it more attractive.

Gil Bailie said...

I'm sorry it's taken me so long to get back to you. The quotation is on page 30 of Rieff's "Charisma"
Cheers, Gil

Unknown said...

I feel prompted to ask you how you're sure you know what God wants? Because that's the tacit implication throughout your letter. I'm apparently covering up ugly truths that I don't want to hear. The bottom line seems to be that anyone who doesn't agree with your views is perverting language. So I need to know to which God you are referring who helps you account for these perversions? The one who slaughtered thousands and told his chosen to smash the heads of infants against stones and ravish their enemies women? That God? Or the more merciful, utilitarian God of the New Testament who doesn't do such things anymore but brings the dead back to life and knows you in the womb? And if he can bring the dead back to life, why is abortion such an awful thing? Isn't there a remedy to our foolishness through grace? Which of the God's that you follow has told you the truth about your moral responsibilities? The one who slaughters both the born and unborn in the thousands, or the newer, "gentler" version who drowns pigs and curses fig trees? You talk about the truth as though it were something you owned. (It's not lost on me that I must sound the same way to you). You declare unabashedly that you see the term "reproductive freedom" clearly. Why? Do you see the evolution of the very human conception of God clearly? The one who ostensibly aids you in drawing these conclusions? Do you embrace both concepts equally, or are you repulsed and torn by the contradictions they invoke?

I have no idea what you mean by "sacred". Worthy of respect? Consecrated? Venerated? Holy? These words are all pretty effusive. Semen is incipient life. Is is sacred, like Monty Python suggested? I've killed lots of incipient life, and so, I trust, have you. Galaxy's worth. Maybe that's why they call it la voie lactée—the Milky way. Is violence sacred? Do we do violence to ourselves when we masturbate? Or is it a sacred act? If it's "the seed of life" then it's much more familiar with Kleenex than it ever will be to an abortion doctor's knife. The point is that life is breathtakingly abundant and extravagant. Nature throws it away, and God doesn't seem to have objected. Well, except for that time with Noah when he did the same, but maybe he was having a bad day feeling he squandered his best work on a faulty project.

If life can be dispensed with so easily by the gift giver, and distributed at the same time in such seeming abundance, is the quality of its supposed sacrality diminished by its copiousness? How much gold renders gold less than a precious metal?

Let me tell you what I think is respectful of life. The problem as well as the explicit purpose with reverencing things is that we tend to distance ourselves from the things we reverence; to hold them at arm’s length. That doesn’t work very well with reproduction or its consequences. The liberal bias about sex is not, as has been suggested in the past that, “it’s no big deal”, but that it’s obtainable and approachable precisely because it is too big a deal to stay hidden, and therefore constrained into near oblivion by reverential awe. When it’s a fanciful mystery tightly shrouded in romantic idealism and liturgical enhancement, it becomes the biggest deal of all. Unfortunately, It also becomes frightening and formidable when it’s moved into the realm of theological and magisterial expectation. That’s not a favorable environment for an act who’s enjoyment is compromised by tension and anxiety. Women who are told (and believe) they can't abort, or that they are compromising their relationship with God if they use birth control, are not going to see sex as a sacrament but as a liability. Which may be why Florynce Kennedy said that If men could get pregnant, abortion would become a sacrament very quickly.

Unknown said...

Part II
The only force capable of successfully banning abortion is women. One pregnancy at a time. But since there is a decision involved each time, there is also a choice. That choice cannot be revoked because someone else considers the potential consequences to be intolerable. The freedom to do appalling things and mandate choices that serve our interests forms the very genesis of this country along with the infinite value of our little species. Just take a look back at the displacement of Native Americans so we could call their home ours by murdering them out of the way. Were they as valuable in God's eyes as we imagine we were when we mandated their destruction through the missionary zeal of manifest destiny? We can no more return America to its proper tenants, than we can overturn the right of individuals to claim their bodies as their own, even though someone else may be living there. At what point in history have we ever designed laws that were morally consistent with our ideals? Or that became so burdensome that we decided to do nothing and accept the religious status quo? Promote those ideals exclusively, and you insure that every moment of your life will be riddled with shame and self doubt, but that wont move anyone to the imaginary virtue of safe and unchallenged consequences or glorious sacrifices in the name of life. You're not going to get the answers from holy texts. You're not going to get the answers from biologists. These are matters of human concern. There are conflicting values and taken in isolation each of these values is quite legitimate. Choice is legitimate, preserving life is also legitimate. No one said it was easy.

Beneath the censorious attitude of traditional Catholic teaching about abortion, is the false parallel that insists not on prevention, but on abstinence as the only recourse for unwanted pregnancy, or unlimited fertility after marriage. If you can't measure up to this shining default standard of gracelessness, you're morally weak or disreputable in some way. The proof of your failure in point of fact, is nothing more than an unsustainable avoidance of reality by the church. A reality which contraception could go a long way toward challenging. Never mind that your sexual instincts are engineered to specifically and consistently resist and overwhelm such roadblocks in favor of far stronger survival mechanisms that have nothing to do with your best intentions. The fact that the majority of Catholics resist succumbing to these Manichean ideas in not a proof of their waywardness, but of the force of something too great to be ignored even when we are reduced to killing it: life.

I don't say any of the things I say to make abortion "attractive". It's not. Women don't seek abortions because someone made the language palatable to them. If the palatable language is offensive to you, how about this:

"….I saw a gorge in which the discharge and excrement of the tortured ran down and became like a lake. There sat women, and the discharge came up to their throats; and opposite them sat many children, who were born prematurely, weeping. And from them went forth rays of fire and smote the women on the eyes. These were those who produced children outside of marriage, and who procured abortions. Those who slew the unborn children will be tortured forever, for God wills it to so.— Apocalypse of Peter, circa 135

If thousands of years of the most vile and ugly crap like this has done nothing to change their minds, why would anything said in their defense do the same? They deal with the stigma of abortion because the alternatives offered to them are not reasonable and never have been.

Until the conversation changes to embrace the fallibility of our choices and give real and lasting options, I hold out no optimistic expectation that it will be eliminated much less reduced.

Jonathan Larson said...

to Doughlas
Mostly I want to comment on your apparent challenge as to how liberalism and fascism can be equated, all that has followed your comments I do not feel wise enough to answer.

these are all just thoughts and musings so don't take them too seriously. I have greatly enjoyed the push you offer so that I can push back.

First I wonder if you fit into Reif's definition of a fashionable liberal, since I have not read the book I cannot say, since you seem often to think very clearly and look closely at most things with a knife of analysis. These things are evidenced by your thought out and researched counters to the things Gil posts. In my opinion this would probably exclude you from the title "fashionable liberal" since would not think that title would go along with the way you do things. It seems you would more fit into the category "unfashionable liberal", not that I really know what that means. Since you question just about everything, even your own stances and opinions. In my experience with people such things do not make one fashionable.

So now on to the more interesting stuff.
I will mirror Eco to make things more easily comparable, since you made it so easy for me. thanks.

1. liberalism can take just as much part in the cult of tradition as any other human endeavor. By following an opinion long enough anything can become a tradition. This includes progressivism and liberalism. Traditions is simply following what is perceived to have always been the case. You posting your sets of principles has in a sense become a tradition for you, if you do not allow them to be fairly challenged, as Gil and I often do. so while your principles do not on the surface appear at all fachist, they may well become so in practice, i.e. your opinion of them as principles for governing life.

2.Any set of beliefs or principles can be held irrationaly, even if they promote reason. they question you must ask is whether you can reasonable prove reason. some people have thought yes and some no. Your listing of principles in no way tells me whether you came to them reasonable or not, therefore I cannot assume that you did.

3. to this I cannot think of any response off the top of my head, maybe a liberal desire for rights for rights sake and accuse others because it is what they always do. A current example could be the various flame wars that occur on this site, just because things have the guise of intelligence does not mean that they are not simply gut reactions to what someone else wrote. (I am not trying to accuse anyone here, I do not know you all)

4.liberalism can, like most other movements, hide distinctions with rhetoric. Looking at your list of principles, I cannot distinguish what they really mean behind all the fluff. look for example the discussion on what it means by reproductive freedom. you principles did not distinguish that for us, so we have an argument. another example, what is distinguished/clarified by saying for the good of common humanity, that I have no real idea what it means, it could mean almost anything. I think a good fascist could say just the same thing, in a nice speech to arouse the masses.

5. Do you fear people who think differently from you? (i.e. me) What do you think of people opposed to your liberal ideas? do you support them in their thought, or try to change them? do you think they are intolerant scapegoaters?

6. I can't think of anything

7. Maybe the the only privelege of an enlightened liberal is that they were born in a place where they could be an enlightened liberal. national social movements are in some ways a thing of the pase with increasing globalization and the speed of technological communication. what was country is now online community.
(to be continued)

Jonathan Larson said...


8. Only maybe liberals feel humiliated by all the good the the Church has done in its history so they seek to strike back against it as the evil enemy. Secular humanism is embarrassed by all the humanitarian wealth of good deeds by the Church, therefore it tries to surpass them and claim that the Church is opposed to justice and fairness, as well as all the other slogans of secular humanism that are mostly stolen from the Church anyways.

9. I don't have anything because I don't feel I understand Eco well enough.

10. liberalism often has subtle contempt for the "weak" i.e. religious people who have not thrown off the bonds of religion as they themselves have.

11. Nothing

12. this only sort of fits. Liberalism had disdain for the nonstandard sexual habits of Christians (Liberalism successfully has change the definition of standard sexual habits (to this i think they are wrong)). they then seek to use the masculine power to promote their sexual habits, for examples look back through Gil's blog posts, you will find many.

13. the call to common humanity, is a call to people to become a People. it is not a call for individuals to become fully persons within community. Liberalism looks to the collective group to change things i.e. Democracy. Christianity looks to the individual Christian to change things. Look for example to the parable of the good Samaritan.

14. see 4. also in your principles you equate justice and fairness by saying both should be sought. this is an example of newspeak Justice - that people get what they deserve. Fairness - that everyone gets the same thing.

Well such ends my thoughts, feel free to refute me, it will just allow me more time to think through the issue and clarify my words, because i know I can make myself clearer, so I would appreciate the opportunity.
Thanks all for the discussion and argument.


Unknown said...

This is fascinating.
I’d been taught that left-aligned labels are preferred, to support the prototypical F-shaped eye-tracking heatmap of web browsing. The idea is that it supports easy vertical scanning.

online learning

Doughlas Remy said...

Hi Jonathan,

Thanks for your thoughtful response.

Gil's quotation from Philip Rieff does not stand very well on its own. It is not clear what he means by "fashionable liberal" or "instinct," but he seems to have little regard for either of them. His demotion of "instinct" seems to suggest he views human nature as basically evil and in need of correction by a "discipline of inwardness." This is of course a theological perspective, and it may not necessarily map to anything in the real world. I tend to distrust writers who don't define their terms (when those terms are inherently vague) or who use terms in unusual ways that only they and a select few can understand.

I was struck by Rieff's observation that established political distinctions between left and right don't matter nowadays, followed later by his claim that there is no difference between "fashionable liberals" and fascists. But if distinctions between left and right don't matter, then why compare fascists only to "fashionable liberals" and not also to "fashionable conservatives?" Rieff does not use the term "fashionable conservatives," however. Is this because he believes conservatives are immune to the enticements of fashion? If they are, how are we to explain the Sarah Palin phenom? Or, indeed, fascism itself? Isn't fashion just mimetic contagion?

Notice, also, his pairs of opposites, which he finds less opposed nowadays: left and right, conservative and radical [!], revolutionary and reactionary. Isn't that second pair a bit peculiar? "Radical" would seem like a restrictive term applicable to either "conservative" or "liberal," but he's presenting them as polar opposites in the conventional understanding. And then he gives us the zinger that he's been preparing us for: [Fashionable] liberals are really on the same side as fascists.

If he had just started by saying that, someone might have thought he was Glenn Beck or Sean Hannity.

Having just claimed that there is no more difference between left and right, why does Rieff single out liberals--only liberals--as being on the same side as fascists? The sudden asymmetry tips his hand, in my view.

I wouldn't agree with Rieff that distinctions between beliefs no longer matter, if that is what he is suggesting. However, I would maintain that the labels, "liberal" and "conservative," are unreliable and that we must constantly exercise caution in using them. Even if we could supply hard definitions of those terms, we would still find that almost everyone has tendencies in both directions, even when severe cognitive dissonance is the result. And then there are historical anomalies and anachronisms. Like you, I would probably consider myself more liberal than Thomas Jefferson, because he owned slaves. But, knowing that Jefferson was a Deist, you might also consider yourself more conservative.

(More to follow...)

Doughlas Remy said...

(To Jonathan, continuation)

To comment on your points:

1. Cults of tradition insist upon tradition as a form of absolute authority. In discussing same-sex marriage with conservative religionists, I've been told time and time again that there was already a definition firmly in place and that it couldn't be changed because it's a tradition. End of discussion. Critical thought must not trepass beyond that wall, so we must not ask what the social benefits of legalized SSM might be. Rational discussions are deemed irrelevant, because tradition is an absolute. Orthodox Catholicism is full of traditions that no one may question. So are Islam and orthodox Judaism. The more liberal strains of Christianity have obviously questioned tradition, or they would not be where they are today.

This is not to say that liberals do not have traditions. But I don't think you'll find very many liberals citing tradition as a source of absolute authority, as though it were a god. My own principles--the ones I cited in my earlier comment--are of course open to challenge, and I want to know if they fall short in any way.

Secular humanists favor a scientific worldview. Science, as we know, is always overturning traditional ways of thinking.

2. To say that fascism is a form of irrationality is not to say that it is the only form of irrationality. Anyone can be irrational, and we all are at times. But Eco's fascism is mired in irrationality and does not seek to rise out of it. In fact, it derives power from irrational modes of thought and behavior.

You seem to be asking in point #2 whether I can know my so-called "rational" beliefs are in fact rational. No, I can't. But I know that there will be a higher probability of their being rational if I subject them to free and open inquiry, unfettered by tradition or other forms of authority.

3. Liberals aren't perfect. We're all flawed human beings.

4. Any writer, liberal or conservative, can use rhetoric to hide distinctions. In Eco's view, from what I gather, the fascist's dislike of distinctions is a matter of ideology. The liberal's lapse into indistinction is more likely a result of individual carelessness or bad faith.

5. I do fear some people who think very differently from me, but only if there is some threat of coercion or denial of rights. I would fear being in Uganda at the present time, because their government is persecuting homosexuals. I enjoy discussing ideas with people who have different beliefs, but only in an atmosphere of freedom from persecution.

7. While it is true that the new global economy and the Internet should have changed everything, the world is still plagued by tribalism of the sort we find in some Islamic countries and in the West. I recently complained on this site about an assertion, widely subscribed to by Catholics, that only believers were fit to administer the world. This, together with the view that there is no salvation outside the Church, are examples of tribalism, in my view. These views should now cede to a more universalist and inclusive worldview, and I believe the Internet may be a force moving us in that direction.

(More to follow)

Doughlas Remy said...

(To Jonathan, continued)

8. The Church has what one might call a "chequered" history of good deeds and bad ones, and even now its record is mixed. Secular humanists like myself are not shy about pointing that out, and some of us may even feel that the scales are even now tipped toward the negatives. I applaud Pope Benedict for his stance on global warming, but I believe his positions on same-sex marriage, homosexuality, birth control, condom use, sex education, and abortion are antiquated, irrational, and misguided. I find very little to like about the Church's encouragement of superstitious and irrational beliefs in, e.g., miracles, transsubstantiation, heaven, hell, resurrections, etc. When the irrational elements of Catholicism are stripped out, there seems to be very little of value that could not be offered just as well by secular institutions. Such a "secularization" will not happen until religious adherents move beyond dependence on the "sacred," i.e., mythical forms of thinking.

10. Regarding liberalism's "subtle contempt" for believers: First of all, not all liberals are non-believers. But those of us who do eschew religion often react adversely to being told we're going to hell or that there is no "salvation" (whatever that means) outside the Church. What sort of reaction should we have to such pronouncements? Furthermore, I don't assume that the "contempt" in question is directed toward individuals. Personally, I feel contempt for certain religious beliefs and practices, such as female genital mutilation, the withholding of medical interventions for sick children, institutional denial about priest sex abuse of children, and institutional opposition to condom use in Africa, where millions are dying of AIDS. I assume that the individuals who carry out these abhorrent practices are capable of more enlightened behavior.

Someone who read Umberto Eco's list remarked to me that he might almost have been describing orthodox Catholicism. Look at the categories again and you'll see: Cult of tradition, rejection of modernism, irrationalism, authoritarianism, entitlement, exclusivity, patriarchy / disdain for women, intolerance of homosexuality. When you look at the history of fascist movements in Europe in the 20s and 30s, there were a surprising number of ways in which Catholicism and fascism were "in phase" with each other, and in fact, they co-existed quite nicely in Spain, Italy, and Germany. Historically, the only book-burnings or persecutions of Jews and homosexuals that ever occurred in Europe were conducted by either Catholics or fascists.

The challenge for all of us now is to recognize where these same tendencies exist in our own culture, because they are in fact all around us. The Tea Party movement has been very "inclusive" toward the Patriot movement and the John Birchers and the Ayn Rand libertarians. And now many Catholics seem to be jumping on board. (See Gil's post, "Populist Constitutionalism.")

Umberto Eco's list, in my view, gives us a profile of fascism, and it is only one of many such lists. I think they all deserve study. When we label anyone as "fascist," I think we should have a clear idea of what that word means.

Doughlas Remy

Jonathan Larson said...

To Doughlas,

Just this, some thoughts in response.

1. The difficulty with liberalism and tradition is that since they see their opponents using tradition, they never want to use the word, so Tradition becomes disguised and the hidden assumption of liberalism. It becomes the an unseen framework and prejudice. I generally think that seeing and knowing ones prejudices is a good thing, I do not think tradition should be thrown off simply because it is tradition, but it should be recognized. It worries me more and not less to not hear liberals citing tradition, because it means they do not see it themselves, or they think that tradition in and of itself is flawed and weak. In terms of your reference to Science and Secular humanism, Science is something that is very steeped in tradition, but not willing to admit it. Simply looking at the scientific method one sees that it is has become a traditional mode of enquiry. As well Science, like Logical Positivism, cannot prove its founding principles within its own system. it always relies on other sources of authority first. With Science, this often looks to reason. my other difficulty with science is that it is inherently non-teleological, it cannot tell us what to do with the information it gives us. therefore I have never really figured out how secular humanists come to their principles based on science alone. Still with all this I have a high view of science, but I know enough to not elevate it above its place. I also do not always trust scientists to come to the right conclusions from the data they collect, because it is often steeped in their basic assumptions and prejudices about the world. As to science itself overturning traditional ways of thinking, I think you missteped in your assumptions, Science only overturns science, it cannot overturn faith/traditions. it is faith that overturns faith, just depending on faith in what. I put faith in God and look to science as merely a helper, (though often it does not help). as to your probable questions about what I think when Faith and Science conflict (Creation, Evolution or whatnot). I seek to hold both critically, looking at my own interpretations and the interpretations of others, knowing both might be wrong/in need of revision. Because I know that with the same data set two people can arrive at completely opposite conclusions. With the dataset being used well by both sides. I think of Nietzsche's critique of Christianity, he said that Christianity had introduced a slave morality on society that praised weakness, he saw this as a horrible thing, while me as a Christian looks at his dataset, and say that it is absolutely right, but what he saw a bad I see as good. So it is with science. Science can work within the world or work to change the world. There is only a very slim line between Science and Magic, (most of the old magicians were very much scientists, and I think the opposite is true today ( Read C.S. Lewis's book That Hideous Strength and you will see what I am talking about). Another problem with science is that it thinks it can be fully objective in its experiments and interpretations. This I think is patently absurd, because any supposedly objective phenomenon can alwasy be seen from another more "objective" phenomenon. We can't escape our subjective experience of the world, it always has a place. But still I do not then go as so many postmodern's go and therefor say that there can be no truth, but truth fully exists within the subjective, as that which it hold up. (See C.S. Lewis's essay Meditations in a tool shed) but I am getting much to philosophical and therefor away from my original point. To end I will say this, look closely at yourself, ask if there is anything that you hold up that you do not questions, questions even your asking the question, then you will see a world full of prejudices and traditions, not all of which are bad.

Jonathan Larson said...

2. For the most part I agree there are many forms of irrationality. However I question your rejection of tradition and other forms of authority because the past most of all can teach us our own blind spots and irrationality. If you claim you are unfettered, you are really just fettered of another sort, blind to your ability to rid yourself of tradition and authority.

3. Couldn't agree with you more, except that I think there has been/is one unflawed human being. but this I will not get into here.

4. I wonder here more whether it applies to the "fashionable" liberal as a matter of ideology, I know of many politicians on both sides that seem to have hiding distinctions as part of their hidden ideology.

5. -

7. I think the intenet is more a place for tribalism than for the free exchange of ideas. this because with the intenet's freedom people are not required to go out and deal with people who think differently from them. Lets abstract a bit, when people are given more choices to choose from they are generally less likely to go out as seek opposing opinion that will challenge their world view. Look at the cable news networks, Fox News will only attract people that agree with them or are so opposed to them that they are only looking for fodder with which to challange them. The internet does this to an exponential degree. On the internet the mob is ruler of its own little kingdom. (In this I am quite impressed with you having found Gil's blog, (though maybe you are just looking for fodder to throw back (I cannot know))). The internet is more dangerous than the previous media becasue there always exists the myth and illusion that one is getting the whole story, because there are a few who try to make it appear that way. The internet supports microculture, whatever you think or believer you can find people who think/believe the same thing as you do. -- Again I think you falter in your observance of your own views, you do not see the possibility that your own views could also be tribal views because you have the guise of "universality" which you support, when that universality, I think it utterly impossibly.

Jonathan Larson said...

8. I agree but the the Church has a checkered past, but still I would like you to point to a human institution that has done better. As regards to what you think are the irrational beliefs of the church, let me pose another category for consideration. You split the world into irrational and rational, all beliefs are either one or the other. The category I propose is of supra-rational, that is beyond reason but nor directly opposed to it as irrational is. This is largely where Revelation fits in. Supra-reason explains that which reason cannot. Supra-reason acts as a foundation of reason, against which ir-reason can be judged. The other difficulty is that the nature of Christian faith is that it can only ever really be understood from within (Again see C. S. Lewis's Meditations in a tool shed). It is a question of foundational premises from which we develop reason (I guess I am somewhat of a foundationalist like Francis Schaffer). The Christian also relies first on a primarily "irrational" belief, the crucified Son of God. this is something that human reason/wisdom could never come up with, but it is none the less true. (If you are into philosophy, look up Jean-Luc Marion's Saturated phenomenon, it is here my basis).

On fascism, I forget who or where I talked about/heard this. the spectrum of politics should not be a line that extends towards infinity in both directions, but rather a circle, of Einstein's curved universe, the closer you get to the extremes the more and more you look like those that took the other way round, so radical conservatives look a lot like radical liberals in their behaviors, and the other way round also. But more that this I cannot expound, as I do not remember its context.

Fare Forward,

Doughlas Remy said...

Jonathan, I would agree with you that tradition should never be rejected simply because it is tradition. Traditions connect us with the past and provide continuity for our families through all the stages of life. I value a number of traditions, especially those associated with the change of seasons, births, marriages, and deaths.

But not all traditions are created equal. Some are healthy and others are not. If a tradition serves no useful purpose other than to bind community members together through scapegoating of some "other," then I think we can legitimately question whether that tradition should be continued. Similarly, traditions that privilege certain classes over others should be questioned. The Hindu caste system is based in a tradition that spans several millennia, but I think any rational person can see that it is harmful to millions of human beings. The Catholic church fosters a number of traditions that are similarly harmful, and I believe they should be challenged.

I do not see that the scientific method is bound by tradition, unless we change the definition of "tradition" pretty dramatically. The methods of science are still evolving, in fact, and scientists make their fame by successfully challenging existing theories. Certain scientific theories have become very well established, like the heliocentric theory of our solar system, or evolutionary theory, but any scientist that could disprove them would win a Nobel prize, at the very least, so the incentives to do so are huge. The fact that no one has yet done so does not mean that scientists are bowing to a tradition. It means that the evidence supporting those theories is overwhelming.


Doughlas Remy said...

(To Jonathan, continued)

Science doesn't pretend to be teleological in the sense you mean: it can't tell us what to do with the information it gives us. But rational thought (on which science is based) can help us distinguish between good and bad applications of that information. Any decision about whether an application is "good" or "bad" can also be informed by science and rational thought, but it is based on certain premises about what human beings value. Scientific inquiry can even help us determine what those values are.

Science does sometimes overturn faith. I think there are many instances of its doing so, and it certainly overturned my own faith. Science relies on evidence, while faith is a product of viral self-replicating memes, the most important of which tells you to distrust any challenges to all the other articles of faith. (This is "meme theory," which will soon, I hope, be integrated with Mimetic theory).

You are correct in saying that it is very difficult to escape our subjective experience of the world. But at least science tries and has a measure of success. Faith-based worldviews typically do not.

I agree that all of us are fettered to some degree and blinded to the truth. But I believe that we have a better chance of knowing the truth if we cast off the shackles of blind faith, authority, and tradition.

I agree with what you said about the Internet. In fact, people seem to be seeking out little enclaves of like-minded folks. But it does not have to be this way, and I believe the Internet has a tremendous potential for breaking down walls. Whether we'll ever get past our tribalism is anybody's guess. I'm a guest on Gil's site because I don't like talking only to people who always agree with me, and I think there are others like me out there.

Irrational and supra-rational? I don't see the difference. Your explanation, in my view, is completely personal and subjective. I have no way of getting a handle on it or responding to it. All I can say is that it is not persuasive to me, and not because my mind is "closed." If concepts like "supra-reason" are to be communicated, then ordinary language must be used, including the logical structures that it includes.

Your final point, about fascism connecting to liberalism in some sort of curved universe, would need a great deal more elaboration before I could possibly respond.

Nevertheless, I appreciate your response and your willingness to engage on these topics. I do believe we need more communication and less fear between people of different faiths, as well as between the faithful and the rest of us.