All posts filed under: Philosophy

Arguing in America

Jacob Siegel’s recent essay for Tablet entitled “The New Truth” manages to capture something important about the current state of discourse in America. Essentially, the marketplace of ideas is beholden to a despotic elite, and is being used to proselytize a new moral order. This moral order is perpetually in flux and is subject to ongoing revisions from its adherents. The only constant is that current systems of morality have failed and are, in fact, perpetuating immorality. The important question of how we got here has yet to receive a satisfactory answer. Yes, clear and early warning signs about the growth of this new culture on campuses were missed or dismissed. Yes, the hard sciences are becoming increasingly politicized and pressured to accept that “other ways of knowing” are at least as valuable as the scientific method. But none of the existing answers properly explains how the national discourse has surrendered to the ascendant dogma of what Seigel’s Tablet colleague Wesley Yang has called the successor ideology. The successor ideology is what happens when ideas …

Neo-Totalitarianism and the Erasure of History

We are watching the era of the new iconoclasm take shape, no longer in the form of the destruction of religious icons, but in the demolition of historical memory via the toppling or desecration of statues and memorials across the West. While the removal of Confederate statues can be justified—though it should be accomplished by political consent rather than vandalism—it is clear that this new outburst of iconoclasm is in no way confined to the punishment of historical traitors. Most notably in this regard, a statue of Winston Churchill, perhaps the greatest anti-fascist of them all, was desecrated. Along with it, a statue of Ulysses S. Grant was toppled, despite his legacy as the man who crushed the Ku Klux Klan and fervently defended Reconstruction and human rights. What we are seeing, in other words, is not an attempt to force the past to answer to the present, but the emergence of something else. Over 2,000 years ago, Plato described it in part when he said, “Bad men, when their parents or country have any …

She Who Must Not Be Named

I’m writing a book about gender-identity ideology (if I scribble fast, it should be out in the middle of next year). And by chance, last week I was wrestling with the bit where I explain that across swathes of academia, and on the political Left, it’s become an article of faith that the word “woman” is fiendishly tricky to define. Indeed, I’d go further: In such circles the word is rapidly becoming taboo. And then J.K. Rowling shared an article on Twitter, entitled “Creating a more equal post-Covid-19 world for people who menstruate.” That clearly pushed the world’s most famous author past breaking point. “‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for these people,” she tweeted. “Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?” ‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud? Opinion: Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate https://t.co/cVpZxG7gaA — J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) June 6, 2020 Cue oceans of commentary, much of it indignantly …

Exploring ‘Other Ways of Knowing’: The New Religious Threat to Science Education

Following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer last month, an odd pattern has been playing out among major scientific institutions. In their public pronouncements, prestigious journals have not only professed their unqualified support for activists seeking to highlight the pervasiveness of racism in our society. They also have delivered fervent shows of contrition in regard to (usually unspecified) sins they’ve committed in the past and their “complicity” in racism more generally. The prestigious journal Nature, for instance, issued a dramatically worded statement to the effect that it would be joining a movement to “#ShutDownSTEM #ShutDownAcademia #Strike4BlackLives, an initiative of STEM academics and organizations pausing their standard activities to focus on actions to eliminate anti-Black racism.” It also published an editorial confessing to accomplice status in regard to wide a range of crimes: We recognize that Nature is one of the white institutions that is responsible for bias in research and scholarship. The enterprise of science has been—and remains—complicit in systemic racism, and it must strive harder to correct those injustices and …

When I Was in Love with a Comparative Literature Student

She said she did not believe there was such a thing as love—not because she was embarrassed by sentimentality, but because Jacques Derrida had convinced her that language did not actually refer to an external reality. I met her during the period she was reading Derrida’s Of Grammatology. Or maybe it was when she was reading Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time, which for weeks she kept open and in front of her at the campus coffee shop. At least once, she carried Heidegger into a bubble bath. The first time we hung out, we read together in an empty classroom. I was reading Philip Roth’s novel American Pastoral for a literature class. She was reading “The Concept of Irony” by literary theorist Paul de Man for fun. As in every classroom, there was a clock at the front of the room. The sound of the ticking, which I had unthinkingly accepted as an imperfect part of our environment, irritated her. She stood up on the table and flung the clock to the ground. She put …

Reason, Faith, and the Struggle for Western Civilization—A Review

A review of Reason, Faith, and the Struggle for Western Civilization by Samuel Gregg, Gateway Editions (June 2019) 256 pages. The role of Christianity in Western history presents an interesting puzzle. Those who argue that Christianity has nothing to do with the success of the modern West need to explain why the scientific method, constitutional government, market economics, and the modern concept of human rights arose in Christian Europe rather than somewhere else. On the other hand, those who argue that Christianity is critical or integral to the success of the modern West need to explain why these developments did not occur until 12 centuries after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. For most of its history, Christianity didn’t seem to be making much of a contribution to freedom, peace, and prosperity. One interpretation which has gained currency is the “Athens and Jerusalem” argument, according to which, Western civilisation is based in a unique combination of Greek reason and Judeo-Christian faith. This argument was recently rehearsed, for example, by Ben Shapiro in …

COVID-19 and Liberalism

To survive COVID-19, we’ve had to adjust the way we live. But how much do we need to adjust the way we think? Some changes have already become necessary. We need to read about abstract concepts like “exponential growth” more than we ever thought we would. We also need to unconditionally accept—this time without “considering an alternative perspective”—some basic scientific facts about the spread of infectious diseases that have been known for centuries. But what none of us need to—or should—change is our individual value framework. For those of us looking to our political ideology as our moral compass in life, COVID-19 is just another bump on the road. Extraordinary problems require extraordinary solutions, we keep hearing, mostly from leaders seeking unconditional co-operation from their people “in these times of crisis.” But isn’t this firm distinction between the extraordinary and the ordinary an unbearably self-defeating conclusion? A tacit admission that everything we’ve ever believed about human nature under normal circumstances was wrong—if we can’t use it when we need it the most? The liberal case …

Seven Reflections on Isolation

From this moment I began to conclude in my mind that it was possible for me to be more happy in this forsaken, solitary condition than it was possible I should ever have been in any other particular state in the world; and with this thought I was going to give thanks to God for bringing me to this place. ~Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe As I read Defoe’s tale as a child, I imagined being stranded on a remote island. This, I believed, would be an unrivaled adventure. It was exciting to think of overcoming the elements, of sheltering, of creating a lean-to that I would improve daily, and of devising ways to harness the land and sea in the search for nutrition and sustenance. The thought of loneliness never entered my mind. I was too young to understand the native man Friday. I certainly didn’t flinch at Crusoe’s insistence on being called Master, for what did I know of the colonial world or of white versus the Other. But a part of me wanted …

Sickness and Stoicism

In less than three months, COVID-19 has changed from a peripheral concern, barely registering in presidential debates, to the greatest global crisis since World War II. We are living in extraordinary times, and there is scarcely an industry or country that has escaped the impact of the new virus. In the United States, the Federal Reserve estimates that the unemployment rate could briefly skyrocket to 32 percent—higher than anything the country experienced during the Great Depression. People have lost their livelihoods. Many others are scared about what is to come when they develop a fever or cough. Illness, financial hardship, and loneliness are, nevertheless, well-trodden paths. One man who can guide us along the way is Seneca the Younger, a Roman philosopher and statesman and contemporary of Jesus. Seneca suffered from asthma, and his condition sometimes left him bedridden and gasping for air. As he grew older, he even contemplated suicide because his affliction was so severe. Seneca’s lifelong illness, as well as his background in Stoic philosophy, gave him the insight he needed to …

That Elusive Feeling We Call Love

Every writer worth reading—from the good to the great to the canonical—has, at some point or other, explored the subject of love. Yet, despite some striking insights and equally striking metaphors, none of these writers has been able to answer the question of what love is. I don’t think anyone knows. I certainly don’t. But I know what love isn’t. Getting along is not love. Being married is not love. Being married for 30 years is still not love. Raising three kids together is not love. Having common interests is not love. Warmth, affection, and tenderness are not love (praiseworthy as they are). Duty and loyalty are not love. Sexual desire is not love (although, in this line-up, it is the only essential component). All of the above combined is not love. All of the above combined and raised to the power of 10 is still not love. It’s a relationship. A good relationship, solid relationship, long-term relationship. But still a relationship. And although the difference between love and a relationship is not in degree, …