Thursday, June 21, 2007

Intellectual Unilateral Disarmament

We have heard considerable discussion as to the alleged intellectual ascendancy of social conservatism and the supposed lack of ideas among those opposing it. Even now, after a mid-term election in which any Democratic Party ideas beyond "We're not Bush" were essentially beside the point, many people view both the new Congress and the upcoming presidential election with a sense of "So now what?" The problem, however, is not that the left lacks ideas, but that it has the wrong ideas. That is, those opposing the right have committed the intellectual equivalent of unilateral disarmament.

For instance, during the golden age of political correctness, those who considered themselves progressives exalted collective rights over individual rights and characterized individual rights as retrograde and even racist. The fundamental unit of society was the identity group, as though the individual were simply an arbitrary division thereof. The right had no difficulty appropriating that position and now presses for collective rights over individual rights, asserting that the fundamental unit of society is the family or the community -- again, something other than the individual. The right has pressed that position on areas ranging from same-sex marriage to reproductive autonomy to whether a Muslim member of Congress should take the oath of office on the Bible or the Qur'an.

The politically correct crowd has taken collective rights a step further by preaching the gospel of bigger government. Never mind that larger, more intrusive government has been our enemy far more often than our friend. The left has implicitly, and sometimes even explicitly, sided with the right against our right to make choices over our own bodies and minds in areas ranging from First Amendment rights to whether the government should permit (not fund, merely permit) the sale of home HIV test kits. Before Lawrence v. Texas, I was shocked to hear how often politically correct activists downplayed sodomy laws as an issue; after all, sodomy reform would empower us, but it would unequivocally mean smaller government.

That leads me, of course, to the shockingly reactionary prudery that so often characterizes the "progressive" left, with its attitude of "Since I am the measure of all things, whatever is not my cup of tea is ipso facto objectively immoral." Did anyone honestly not see how that would play into the hands of the right? I have too often seen the Falwellian right gleefully quote the Falwellian left to support their positions.

Another example is science. Postmodernists insist that science (unlike, say, deconstructionism) is irrelevant to our daily lives and that it is even the privileging of one social class's world view over another. Different identity groups have different narratives about the world around them, and none of them are more true than any others, right? What quarrel, then, could postmodernists possibly have with those who would teach "intelligent design" in public schools? Advocates of "intelligent design" see evolution as an elite view that has been privileged over their own and demand that schools "teach the controversy," as opposed to teaching that one side might be objectively right and the other, wrong. Indeed, postmodernists and young-earth creationists see eye-to-eye on science: They approve of it when they want medical advances, improved crop yields, or faster computing, but denounce it as a lie from the pit of hell the rest of the time. They also see as dangerous any scientific advance that calls into question their dogmas. Since science under-girds so many issues that affect our lives, from HIV to the origins of
homosexuality, we can ill afford to grant the right an unearned and unnecessary victory.

Yet another is the insistence on unquestioning acceptance of certain authorities. Progressives often treat their chosen authorities as infallible, even outside of their areas of expertise. Ironically, those authorities are often dead white males such as Freud or Derrida. How big a leap is it to "My church said it; I believe it; that settles it"?

The fundamental connection, however, and the root cause of all of the above, is that the politically correct left and the socially conservative right have the same view of the role of reason versus emotion, in political discourse and in everything else. Namely, both sides believe that since they are the elect, their emotions are an infallible oracle of Truth with a capital T, and the rest of us are powerless to use logic and fact to show otherwise. Their only difference is in the question of who are the elect.

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