Friday, September 16, 2016

Liberal Intellectualism At Its Terminus

     I have just one short piece today, as my other obligations are more pressing than usual and the “news” offers hardly anything new.

     A few short years ago, conservative commentators started calling the American Left “bookless:” a reference to the dearth of contemporary intellectual efforts (not to say achievements) by liberal thinkers and writers. The Left, the reasoning ran, had become unable to advance intellectually. Its tenets, long dubious under rational examination, had been refuted by history. Yet it was unwilling to abandon those tenets, which effectively crippled its powers of reasoning.

     This is easy to follow. Clearly, he who clings to an idea that’s been proved false will have a hard time evolving new ideas that don’t come “pre-refuted.” But that does raise a question: why would anyone cling to a provably false idea?

     The late Don LaVoie promulgated the idea that left-liberal thinking is moored to “sunk capital:” i.e., that those refuted tenets are so intimately married to other elements in the leftist psyche that they cannot be extracted. The phrase is pretty but as an answer it fails to satisfy. Why does a mind become so firmly attached to a set of ideas that they become unquestionable even as the evidence accumulates that they’re incorrect? What’s the mechanism?

     Perhaps we don’t yet know enough about the human mind to deduce a complete answer. But we do know this: when a chain of impeccably sound reasoning leads irreversibly to an incorrect conclusion, the fault lies in the premises. One or more of the premises must be wrong.

     Note that “incorrect” is not synonymous with “absurd.” To be called “absurd,” an idea need merely challenge existing preconceptions. At one time, it was deemed absurd to imagine that the Earth is any shape but flat. Many an “absurd” thesis has been demonstrated to be correct – and the preconceptions that opposed it incorrect – once the means to experiment – e.g., sailing ships that could circumnavigate the globe – became available.

     A good premise, serviceable and sturdy, must be grounded in a great deal of observation. In other words, it must arise from our common experience of the world, preferably over a long period of time. But left-liberal premises aren’t of that sort. Consider a few typical ones:

  • The rich get rich at the poor’s expense.
  • Under-representation indicates conscious discrimination.
  • Education can be divorced from moral and ethical values.
  • Benevolently intended government action cannot cause harm.

     Those propositions aren’t consistent with the evidence of history. Rather, they’re expressions of desire: wishful thinking. No matter how deeply felt those desires are – and I’m certain that many Americans who incline to the Left are wholly, benevolently sincere about their inclinations – the observable facts have always militated against them.

     There’s no small amount of substance to the contention that left-liberalism is really a species of religious faith. However, to endure over time, a religion must accommodate itself to discoveries of fact; religions that have failed to do so have been abandoned. This left-liberalism has failed to do, preferring instead to buttress its political stature with campaigns founded on envy, class division, and the fomenting of interracial and inter-ethnic distrust and hatred.

     There’s a considerable irony here. Left-liberals have made a habit of condemning the intrusion of religious convictions into public policy. Yet the religious convictions of American Christians, at least, are not disprovable, whereas the tenets of left-liberalism are demonstrably false.

     It seems inescapable that the tenets of left-liberalism, if unsound by the rules of evidence, must therefore meet some emotional need in him who cleaves doggedly to them. Perhaps they allow him to see himself as a “good person.” Or perhaps he maintains them because those he admires (and with whom he wants to associate) maintain them. Whatever the binding, it’s outside the domain of evidence and logic.

     If there’s a moral to this story, it would be the old saw – multiply attributed, including to Benjamin Franklin, Jonathan Swift, and G. K. Chesterton – that “You cannot reason a man out of what he never reasoned himself into.” If left-liberalism in its entirety is founded upon already-refuted premises that left-liberals will not abandon, reasoned argument against its positions becomes pointless. Indeed, it was probably pointless a century ago...not that the pointlessness of an argument has ever deterred persons who have one to advance.


Weetabix said...

I agree that an attachment to left/liberal thinking, for the well-intentioned, is rooted in desire or wishful thinking. I'd guess that they're intellectually or emotionally under developed. Like a child, they wish that everyone could be equal in all things - everyone could have the same amount of candy or the same amount of play. It's an admirable impulse to a certain degree, but the closer they get to adulthood, the less excusable it becomes.

I've always wondered if you could talk one out of it by questioning those premises, then leading them by questions to a method that will get closer to what they say they want.

Now the people at the top of the left/liberal pyramid, I believe, are wholly amoral chasers after power and wealth who lie and manipulate their useful idiots to obtain their ends.

Anonymous said...

Wishful thinking abounds. More than once when pointing out the risk/benefit of some proposed action that argues against what my own CSO wants I have heard the phrase, "Why do you have to be such a buzzkill?".
Multiply this by millions of people. Some of those will be in positions of power. Finally, don't forget to account for those who will gladly use violence and/or their power to stop us from being 'buzzkills'. A great example is the idea/attempts to criminalize or have listed as a mental condition being a 'denier' of global warming/climate change.
I predict this will happen unless things get to spicy before then.

Tim Turner said...

Excellent, Fran.

Linda Fox said...

Wishful thinking may be a part of it, but I think that the rootlessness of the Modern Liberal is a greater cause of his clinging to old ideas.

For these people, leaving their old thinking means breaking with everyone, and everything, they know. Their job, their relationships, their entertainment - all depend on their acceptance of Liberal/Leftist ideas. To question will expel them from their comfortable lives.

This is not unlike the complicated family structures in the Mideast that keep their young people tied to outdated ideas and cultures, forever. Amazingly, I woke up and decided to write about that here:

Jack Imel said...

...some good comments to another good post, Francis.

When I see rank liberalism, I see mostly immaturity;
from whatever the reason, failure to own up to
the duty of accountability. I know I harp on this thing
of improper parenting, but my own opinion is that
after the age of six or seven, that child has gone
into a different learning phase where correction must
have a solution other than some silly 'time-out' thing.
I guess I'm saying there should be accountability and
love in the parent, too. When it's there, it is so obvious.