Are Things What You Think They Are?

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Since the more “philosophical” among our “progressive” fellow-Americans (please forgive me for having had to put two words in a single sentence into scare quotes) seem to believe that there is no such thing as objective truth, it is hard to see how our society, if it evolves much further in a progressive direction, will be able to stop short of complete lunacy.

Once upon a time Americans agreed in believing the central propositions of the Declaration of Independence: that all men are created equal; that we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

But according to progressivism, these are not (as they were for Jefferson and his friends) “self-evident truths.” They are man-made “constructions.” We are free to believe them or not. In general, we are free, not just to do what we like (as mere liberals, who are no more than watery progressives, have held), but to believe what we like. And it doesn’t matter whether our beliefs are true or false.

Why does it not matter? For two reasons, in the progressive view. First, because to insist that people may believe only what is true is to restrict their freedom; it is an act of intolerance; it is nothing less than tyranny. Second, all beliefs are “constructions.” Truth is subjective. What is true for you is not necessarily true for me.

But what about dangerous beliefs? What about racist beliefs? Should we be free to hold and to promote racist beliefs? “No,” say the current crop of progressives – though who knows what next year’s crop of progressives will say?

“But if there is no objective truth, how can we refute the racist?” And the progressive answers: “We don’t refute the racist. We shout him down. We silence him. That must be a universal rule. Realizing that refutation of dangerous opinions is impossible in a world in which there is no objective truth, we mustn’t waste our time in the tedious and useless work of refutation. Just silence the bad guys. Drive them out.”

That is precisely what has happened in the last few years at a number of colleges in the United States and Canada – including my alma mater, Providence College. Professors who have expressed opinions that are unpopular with campus progressives have not been given the courtesy of attempted refutation. Instead, they have been denounced as racists.

And since “racism” is, at least at the moment, the worst of all sins from the point of view of progressives and their liberal fellow travelers (but who knows what will be the worst sin ten years from now?), the professor who is labeled a racist is not likely to get much support from his colleagues and his college administrators, many of whom are themselves progressives. Nor is he likely to get support from the non-progressives on campus, since, cowards that many of them are, they fear that to give support will be to invite progressives to label them, too, as racist.

Lest my anti-leftist comments appear by implication to give a clean bill of health to those on the right, let me note that the tendency to bully one’s opponents instead of reasoning with them is not confined to progressives. It is found among anti-progressives as well – although the tendency is more fully developed among the left than among the right.

The Temptation of Saint Anthony by James Ensor, 1887 [Art Institute of Chicago]

If you want an example from the right, I give you President Donald Trump. During his presidential campaign and since, Trump has “refuted” his critics and rivals by means of personal abuse, not by means of reasoned discourse.

There is, however, a distinction between progressive anti-rationality and rightist anti-rationality. The former has a theoretical basis; it is an intellectual anti-intellectualism. It is a new treason of the clerks. The anti-intellectualism of the right is based merely on blind anger. The voters of 2016 who were delighted by Trump’s campaign of insults against Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Hillary Clinton were no theoreticians. They were angry and often unthinking men and women. I hasten to add that not all Trump voters were of that description. Many of them, probably most of them, simply saw Trump as the least bad of a number of unsatisfactory choices.

In the old days, anti-Christians – for example, the Deists of the 18th century and the agnostics of the 19th century and the Communists of the 20th century – believed in reason, and they used reason to attack Christianity. But nowadays anti-Christians, of whom progressives are the foremost in America, feel that they must attack reason itself. Reason must attack reason. Reason must destroy itself. Reason, in other words, must commit suicide.

If you wish to get rid of Christianity, you have to get rid of belief in God, for a residual belief in God leaves the door open for a return of Christianity. But to get rid of belief in God you will have to get rid of belief in objective reality and objective truth. For as long as the world believes in objective reality and truth, somebody may re-discover God.

And whoever re-discovers God may re-discover Christianity.

And whoever re-discovers Christianity may realize that abortion is very wicked.

And whoever realizes that abortion is wicked may come to realize that progressivism’s sexual paradise, the paradise we’ve been living in for the past half-century, isn’t as paradisiacal as promised.

And so for the sake of the freedom to fornicate, to commit adultery, and to engage in homosexual sodomy, we must deny the existence of objective reality. As a first important step in that direction we must affirm that boys can be girls if they think they are, and that girls can be boys if they think they are.

We can of course go beyond that in our progressive project of denying reality, but that’s a good start. Stay tuned.

David Carlin is a retired professor of sociology and philosophy at the Community College of Rhode Island, and the author of The Decline and Fall of the Catholic Church in America and, most recently, Three Sexual Revolutions: Catholic, Protestant, Atheist.



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