Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Illiberal liberalism

I was going to write soon on Damon Linker's atheist hit-job in The New Republic, but the inimitable James F. Elliott delivers the goods.
In order to arrive at his conclusion [that the strident New Atheists are a threat to liberal secularism], Linker has to be rather mendacious. He accuses Dawkins of not owning up to the totalitarian impulse to outlaw religion as we’ve outlawed child abuse. Dennett, he says, wants schools to teach that “God is dead.” Harris, apparently, advocates pogroms. And Hitchens’ real crime, it appears, is that he’s an asshole. ...

Linker is essentially lying in order to arrive at his central thesis; he egregiously misrepresents his subjects’ actual views in order to make them seem more risible than they are.
Now, I'm as "liberal" (in the traditional sense) as anyone else. If someone disagrees with me, we can discuss the issue rationally. But my blood boils when people lie to make their case.

I expect mendacity, willful ignorance and outright hallucination from The National Review, Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, etc. ad nauseam. They're conservatives, they went completely batshit insane many years ago, and they're no longer capable of distinguishing fantasy from reality. Sad, but whatcha gonna do, eh? And I'll cut Sullivan and Hitchens a little slack: Sullivan is just stupid and shallow, and Hitchens is so obviously and so frequently sloshed that we overlook his stupid shit; when he's right, he's right on target.

But The New Republic? Robert Farley? Matthew Fucking Yglesias?

These are the guys we trust. We trust them to not only tell us the truth but to spot lies and bullshit at dusk from 50 yards. And they've let us down. Big time.

I think James is right to blame the rampant postmodern "tolerance as a virtue for its own sake" that's been pushed by a segment of the academic humanities and social sciences for the last five or six decades [the books to read are The Pooh Perplex and Postmodern Pooh by Frederick C. Crews]. I argued earlier this year that this attitude hasn't leaked into the political left, but now I have to admit I was wrong.

It's here, it's getting worse, and the Christian and Islamic theocrats are going to exploit this glaring weakness in modern liberalism. The liberals will defend the theocrats' "religious" freedom right up to the point where the theocrats march the liberals to the firing squad and gas chamber.

James experience with Saletan's article is telling. I'm convinced that the connection between race and intelligence is bad science. That's enough by itself, at least for me. But apparently many have elevated a rational, scientific point of view to the level of absolute, certain dogma. It's not enough that it's just not actually true — at least to presently understood science — to these liberal dogmatists, it must be that it cannot possibly be true, no matter what. And when a sensible, rational person detects the whiff of dogma, he can't help but investigate more closely. Why insist that something cannot possibly be true unless you're reasonably afraid that it actually is true?

I am old enough to remember a relatively popular conservative president, re-elected by a landslide, removed from office in disgrace in no small part by his own party for nothing worse than lying to the American people. Conservatives then had a very different moral view than liberals, but both had at least some commitment to the universal virtues of honesty, rationality and sensibility... enough at least to be embarrassed and ashamed about getting caught.

Today, rational, sensible people have been almost completely eliminated from the right wing. It's telling that the most rational conservative commenter is Andrew Sullivan, and the most rational conservative politician is either Arnold Schwartzenegger or Ron Paul. These three owe their position to not being completely batshit insane; they are, respectively, stupid, without principle, and garden-variety insane.

And now the purge of rationality begins from the left. It starts with the "militant" atheists. It continues with those who denounce Islam — because of a father's religiously-motivated murder of his sixteen year old daughter — themselves denounced and rejected for their intolerance, bigotry and racism.

I thought we were well and truly fucked when the conservatives were insane, the Democratic party weak and the liberal intelligentsia marginalized. I thought things couldn't be worse. I was wrong. Perhaps I'm six decades late, but I'm now seeing the liberal intelligentsia itself falling inexorably into the clutches of their own batshit insane dogmatic fantasy land. And why not? There's money to be made, power to be had, in pandering to irrational fantasies of both the right and left. And that, gentle reader, begins to erode the last, desperate hope of Western Civilization.

With all good luck, perhaps we won't wipe out the whole world as we slide into insanity, and — God help us all — the Chinese or the Indians will have their turn.

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