Thursday, November 09, 2017


That peril is that the human intellect is free to destroy itself. Just as one generation could prevent the very existence of the next generation, by all entering a monastery or jumping into the sea, so one set of thinkers can in some degree prevent further thinking by teaching the next generation that there is no validity in any human thought. It is idle to talk always of the alternative of reason and faith. Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all. If you are merely a sceptic, you must sooner or later ask yourself the question, "Why should ANYTHING go right; even observation and deduction? Why should not good logic be as misleading as bad logic? They are both movements in the brain of a bewildered ape?" The young sceptic says, "I have a right to think for myself." But the old sceptic, the complete sceptic, says, "I have no right to think for myself. I have no right to think at all." 
There is a thought that stops thought. That is the only thought that ought to be stopped. That is the ultimate evil against which all religious authority was aimed. It only appears at the end of decadent ages like our own: and already Mr. H.G.Wells has raised its ruinous banner; he has written a delicate piece of scepticism called "Doubts of the Instrument." In this he questions the brain itself, and endeavours to remove all reality from all his own assertions, past, present, and to come. But it was against this remote ruin that all the military systems in religion were originally ranked and ruled. The creeds and the crusades, the hierarchies and the horrible persecutions were not organized, as is ignorantly said, for the suppression of reason. They were organized for the difficult defence of reason. Man, by a blind instinct, knew that if once things were wildly questioned, reason could be questioned first. The authority of priests to absolve, the authority of popes to define the authority, even of inquisitors to terrify: these were all only dark defences erected round one central authority, more undemonstrable, more supernatural than all--the authority of a man to think. We know now that this is so; we have no excuse for not knowing it. For we can hear scepticism crashing through the old ring of authorities, and at the same moment we can see reason swaying upon her throne. In so far as religion is gone, reason is going. For they are both of the same primary and authoritative kind. They are both methods of proof which cannot themselves be proved.
G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

A while ago I got a chance to read Stephen Hicks's, Explaining Postmodernism, after Jordan Peterson tweeted out its praise. I thought it was good and for those seeking a brief introduction to the subject it's definitely worth a read.  For those who are interested, here is a review that I think is quite good.
I'm not really interested in providing a critique of the book but am more interested it's subject matter and in the implications it has on the wider culture.

At it's most basic, Postmodernism rejects the notion of an objective truth and insists on the notion that truth is socially "constructed". Right from the outset we can see that Postmodernism is opposed to Rightism, whose metaphysical fundamental premise is the existence of an objective truth. Furthermore, the way that Postmodernism sees the "truth" is as relative view point, used to assert and maintain power by the Right. Postmodernists may deny the reality of the truth but implicitly they affirm the reality of power, and their aim is to assert it on their terms.

I don't think that many Rightists fully grasp the malignancy of this concept, especially when debating the Left within the current cultural context. Whenever the Left presents some outlandish idea, there is no doubt some Rightist who sets about trying to prove them wrong, but what the Rightist fails to understand is the game he is playing and the game they are playing are totally different. Proof is irrelevant when there is no truth. Arguing against the Left using empirical facts and reason is pointless when your opponent denies the legitimacy of these things.  Which brings us to the subject of free speech.

Our current notions of free speech, based as they are on the classical liberal tradition, are premised primarily on the notion that there IS an objective truth.  They are also premised on the notions that people, especially those in power, may have erroneous ideas, and that reality calibration is only possible through the free exchange of ideas sifted through the mechanism of honest rationality, considered from a variety of viewpoints. The other implicit assumption going on here is the power is expected to yield to the truth when shown to be wrong. In other words, the classical liberal advocacy of freedom of speech was premised on several prior assumptions with regard to ontology, reason, and the rights of power and truth. The other premise is that your opponent was meant to argue in good faith. How do you argue with a person who denies these fundamental premises? More importantly, what's the point when Postmodernism asserts that is no such thing a "right opinion" or argument in the first place.

Academic freedom is likewise premised on the notion that academics should be free to pursue their studies in whatever direction they wish in the search for truth. However this concept gets turned around on its head when it comes to Postmodernism with its assertion that there is no truth.  Postmodernism effectively undermines the whole Western academic apparatus. As Chesterton said it is the thought that destroys all thinking.

Our reflexive and unthinking advocacy of freedom of speech and academic freedom has given a milieu for Postmodernism to thrive. It has advocated the very undermining of the institutions whose protection it seeks whenever it is challenged. Ultimately postmodernism about power, particularly its own, and it spreads it in an environment that that it has sworn to to destroy. I'm normally loathe to put any restrictions on the freedom of speech or academic inquiry but when I comes to Postmodernism I quite happy to provide an enthusiastic exception. The old Church fathers would have recognised it for what it was, a poisonous heresy and would have stamped it out.

I'm all for doing the same.