Taking steps toward a freer society means, first, that the minds of people must be freed. The first step in this direction is to restore reason to the debate.
What has made for the West’s singularly outstanding achievements is the “balance of rationality, morality, objectivity and passion,” also the hallmark of the classical – and most productive – period of ancient Greece and the Enlightenment.
Then came Postmodernism.
The trend started in the late 20th century with a deconstruction of literature and art, and moved to disassemble everything. Postmodernism has meant that certain uniquely Western tenets have been turned on their heads – the very foundations of reason have been undermined.
In the shadow of postmodernism, truth is not considered ascertainable. Instead, truth is seen as a social construction. What follows, in the words of psychologist Professor Marilyn Bowman, is that “each personal, particular and subjective interpretation of an event, a text or an observation, is considered equally valid.”
A scorn for the idea that a reality independent of the human observer exists has led to the junking of clarity, reason and standards of right and wrong in all cultural products. If truth is entirely subjective, if it is nothing more than crude perspectivism and if all perspectives are equally valid, then why bother to refine observations? What good are acute insights?
In such a climate, discourse is debased. From news, to film, to art, to literature – our cultural products reflect and exalt emotional extremes, lack of inhibitions, exhibitionism and assorted grotesquerie. (“Gay” pride, transexualism, and fetishisms are no longer private proclivities, but are considered lifestyle choices, as well as an essential part of the person, to be celebrated, often on the public purse.)
There are other aspects to a society in which ideas don’t count, but the titillating and sensational prevail.
In the introduction to F.A. Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom,” economist Milton Friedman puts his finger on the backdrop to the growth of collectivism: “The argument for collectivism is simple if false; it is an immediate emotional argument. The argument for individualism is subtle and sophisticated; it is an indirect rational argument.”
Curricula in schools emphasize the non-analytical. The media convey emotionalism. Religious institutions junk doctrine for feel-goodism, and what goes for compassion is really sappy sentimentality. This contempt for reason throughout society jibes with the proliferation of superstitions, new age beliefs, and communitarianism. Americans are becoming increasingly infantile, less individualistic, and more reliant on the State. And the State is loving every moment.
“Return to Reason” articulates this trend and offers trenchant retorts.
If mainstream opinion is harping on whether Martha Stewart violated securities laws, “Return to Reason” explains that the law is unjust. “To their dubious credit,” I demur, “legislators have come up with ingenious ways to forcibly suppress natural advantages.” Unless one supports the equal distribution of intelligence and beauty, how can one justify the distribution, by force, of information in the marketplace?
What’s next? Compulsory plastic surgery to make beautiful people give up their “unfair” advantage? To the extent that the SEC’s laws force people to relinquish their edge, they are guilty of “information socialism,” or so I write.
In the case of child killer Andrea Yates, the witch doctors had the upper hand in the cultural discourse. I explain how, when “crimes are too horrible to comprehend,” mainstream opinion intuitively replaces moral with medical concepts, resorting to “psychiatric voodoo” in the process. Contrary to mainstream writers, I introduce the reader to a startling fact: There is no “peer-reviewed evidence for the organic basis of aberrant behavior.” Talk about “bedlam”!
Mainstream conservatives went all out for school vouchers. “Introducing market principles to the pedagogic Gulag,” I write, with reference to the public schools, “is not the route! Tweaking a system that is founded on moral quicksand is not the answer!”
In “Return to Reason” you have a blitzkrieg, a solvent for prevailing mythology.
The less stern and preachy readers did not conceal their amusement at this description of Halle Berry’s Oscar speech: “For a good few minutes, we watched the glistening insides of Berry’s mouth, as she slobbered, salivated and gave The Heil Halle – a kind of catatonic, repetitive salute in the air.” When it comes to the author of the “Vagina Monologues,” I suggest that, “In an orifice, women like Ms. Ensler have found a suitable interlocutor.”
True, the moral and aesthetic order has been inverted. Good stuff – Bach or the traditional family – is uncool. Bad stuff – “Piss art” and sexual exhibitionism – is hip and progressive. Still, as you see, documenting the decay of the Zeitgeist has some very funny aspects.
© By ILANA MERCER
July 17, 2002