Why liberal assumptions don’t do us justice

The Damned Old Man has provided us with an excellent illustration of the inability of the liberal mind when confronted with nonliberal thoughts to deal with them fairly.  I hate to pick on someone whose done me the courtesy of reading my material and sharing his thoughts; we should all be humbled to think of how difficult it is to intellectually navigate on unfamiliar territory (and how seldom we do it).  Still, I think we and our moral code are not quite so contemptible as TDOM imagines, and it would be useful to consider the source of his error.

With regard to my recent post on suicide, he writes:

Damned liberals. Leave it to them to ruin the good Christian enjoyment of the sins of others. It’s not like growing old, sickly, and burdensome on others could ever lead to despair or the wish to end one’s life. We’re human beings after all, not horses and should be spared the mercy of death and forced to suffer to the bitter end. It’s the Christian thing to do.

I think this was more meant as an expression of hostility rather than a reasoned attack on my post (which itself was not a reasoned defense of my opposition to suicide/euthanasia, but rather presupposed it).  It has more in common with the liberals’ instinctive bullying, self-righteous “HOW DAAARRRE YOU!!!!” pose.   TDOM can certainly reason well with those he thinks deserve it, a group that obviously doesn’t include me or other Christians.  (As we’ll see below, he does in a later comment get to the heart of the matter.)  Still, the assumptions and tropes that come out when liberals are in sputtering condemnation mode are revealing.  Let’s look at them:

  1. It’s impossible, or somehow inconsistent, to sympathize with someone and yet not endorse their behavior, to say that you don’t approve of something but that you understand what drove someone to it.  This means you don’t really sympathize.  The liberal reads life through a rigid ideological lens, so normal human empathy without an ideology of permissiveness is inexplicable to him.
  2. If you prevent someone from using an illicit means to avoid suffering, you are causing their suffering.  Consequentialism is simply assumed to be true, with no argument for it deemed necessary.
  3. If you disapprove of someone avoiding suffering through what you regard as evil means, that means you are cruel and have no compassion.
  4. Dependency is degrading.
  5. There’s something perverse in condemning an evil act and yet appreciating literature where such an act is used as a plot devise.  As if people of all ideological persuasions don’t do this, and entirely legitimately!  Even before liberalism, there wouldn’t have been much literature without imagined sin.
  6. Appreciating fiction that contains depictions of immoral acts is a perverse “enjoyment of the sins of others”.
  7. All appreciation of literature is “enjoyment”.  Note how the Benthamite flattening of human experience has reduced everything to pleasure vs. pain.  Was the excerpt from Ovid above “pleasant” as opposed to “painful”?  Wouldn’t it be better to describe it as sad or touching, either beautiful or sentimental as its merits warrant?
  8. Because I don’t approve of suicide, I must not see how someone could be tempted to it because of suffering or degradation–even though my whole fucking post was about how I can appreciate this.
  9. The word “Christian” functions vaguely as a curse among liberals, the way “Freemason”, “communist”, or “Jacobin” do for conservatives.

I don’t think TDOM or my other liberal commenters actually believe these statements in the form I’ve written them.  But without them, they have failed to prove that I’m a heartless monster.

Later, TDOM does outline his position:

I see no one forcing anyone to commit suicide. I do see it as an acceptable option for those who choose it. Your religious beliefs should have no bearing on my choice and should not be forced upon me. My life is my own.

First, two quibbles:  by definition, no one can force anyone to commit suicide.  What people are doing in hospices right now is murder.  And who’s talking about religion?  I’m making my stand on natural law.  I oppose suicide for purely Kantian reasons.  TDOM certainly didn’t invent the idea, but somehow it’s become common wisdom that any ethics other than Benthamite utilitarianism is “religion”, therefore irrational, therefore unsuitable as a public motive.  When the hell did utilitarianism become the State’s established religion, so that only it gets to decide what’s forced on people?

We must credit TDOM with coming to the real issue, the central issue, in the end.  “My life is my own.”  That’s precisely where we disagree.  I say that our lives are not our own, and everything follows from that.  I expect that over the next decade, starting soon, he and I and everybody else will be arguing till we’re blue in the face about whether we do or do not own our own lives.

18 Responses

  1. What happened to this website? It used to be a fun fantasy website full of Merry Olde Politics and now it has become merely a place to bitch about the world. I have even noticed racism and anti-semitism creeping in. I used to like this website because the author seemed so level headed and reasonable (even if I disagreed), but you are starting to sound increasingly like a whiny, irrelevant curmudgeon,

  2. Hi David,

    Thanks for the half-compliment. I thought I was always a whiny, irrelevant curmudgeon. In fact, maybe you’re confusing the old me with someone more interesting, like the Mad Monarchist or Andrew Cusack. It doesn’t seem to me that the tone here has changed much. I admit that we truck in antisemitism here, but I thought I had turned pretty explicitly against biological racism here recently. Still, I’m planning on moving onto less grumpy-political topics for a while, so maybe that will help.

  3. LOL. Bonald is publicly journaling his intellectual journey among controversial and complex subjects…

    And you, David, are a dickhead troll. Congrats! haha, without even a blog of his own, apparently.

    If he is so irrelevant, why you are commenting on HIS blog! LOL thanks for the comedy relief, truly.

  4. The word “Christian” functions vaguely as a curse among liberals, the way “Freemason”, “communist”, or “Jacobin” do for conservatives.

    Hey! I’m choosy about my epithets, carefully fitting them to circumstances. And it’s “commie” not “communist,” thank you very much.

    Now, please get back to chasing David away with your thoughtcrime.

    But, if you want to indulge Davey with a fun-filled royalist rollick, please post on this fantastic video in which the rightful ruler of France, Prince Louis de Bourbon, makes a beautiful speech (translated by Galliawatch here to applause and a few cries of "Vive le Roi!" Heartwarming.

  5. Hi Justin,

    Thanks for always sticking up for me. I really admire how fearless you are on tackling subjects on your own blog.

  6. I think I’ve fixed things. Thanks for the links.

  7. This issue has been around since I was at medical school 30 years ago, but is now very prominent in England. Assisted suicide is being pushed very hard, especially by the BBC.

    The reason would seem to be the increasingly top heavy population structure, with unprecedented numbers of the very old, and the baby boomer generation retiring – with their predominantly nihilistic and hedonic world view (if life is about maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain then *obviously* – to them – when pain outweighs pleasure then it makes sense to end life).

    On top of this is that medicine is casually extending human lifespan beyond its natural extent without even realizing that it is doing it – mainly by use of antibiotics (infectious diseases such as bronchitis/ pneumonia would usually kill people in the past – now they are kept alive by antibiotics defeating infections so people live on to become demented, get cancer etc).

    (My feeling is that Roman Catholics often get into an impossible position in arguments about euthanasia because they do not notice, or discount, this way in which modern medicine and social arrangements maintain people alive when, in ‘natural’ conditions they would die, and would be ‘allowed’ to die without active intervention. Artificial, technological methods of life extension are a human choice which was not much available in the past; but this *must* (somehow) be taken into account in these discussions.)

    So, the whole issue is one in which modern attitudes, societal pathologies and deficiencies come to a head, in particular the use of grey area thought experiments about rare or exceptional cases to push a radical agenda.

    Yet humans are simple souls who reason dichotomously, and cannot/ will not hold a middle ground. We can accept the historic idea that we should generally act to preserve life (but there will be gradations and exceptions to the general rule); and if we try to change this general rule into one which takes into account the state/ society/ the medical profession making judgments about when to sustain and when to extinguish life, then this general rule *will* (over a generation or so, as we have seen for sexual morals) FLIP – and we will have a general rule that people ought to be killed when they become decayed – with certain gradations and exceptions to this general rule.

  8. I think that’s a bit unfair, David. With all due respect to Bonald, his problem, if one sees it as a problem, isn’t that he’s whiny or a curmudgeon, it’s that he approaches the world as if it were the Summa Theologiae.

    And “whine” is one of those irregular verbs, isn’t it?

    I offer principled criticism of contemporary culture
    You have a fun fantasy website full of merry olde politics
    He whines

  9. That *is* a good speech. He looks a little nervous delivering it, though.

  10. “Assisted suicide is being pushed very hard, especially by the BBC.”

    Do you have the recent Pratchett programme in mind? I found it quite disturbing – I couldn’t watch the moment when the guy took the poison (my wife did – apparently, it wasn’t pleasant). It was particularly pitiful that the BBC then tried to balance up Pratchett by wheeling out Paxman and getting him to ask him crass questions about the issue – presumably a clumsy attempt to avoid a lawsuit.

  11. Hi Bruce,

    You’re right. This is, in a sense, a problem of our own making, in that we keep people from dying naturally until we want to directly kill them. Not intervening to fix up an aging body is not the same as killing someone. (Refusing to feel someone definitely is killing, though.) We’ve all got to go somehow, so it might be best for us to pick a class of things that kill us in not-too-horrific ways and just decide not to cure those. (And just for any single-minded utilitarians out there with weak reading comprehension skills, the accepted death trajectories must not include active murder/suicide by starvation, dehydration, or drug overdose.) It’s a real shame that all the medical ethicists are utilitarians, so I’m sure I’d disagree with whatever plan they’d come up with. I am very interested in the recommendations of Christians with the appropriate medical background (people like yourself).

  12. Hi Reggie,

    Thanks for defending my personality. I’m afraid I give its detractors too much evidence to work with.

  13. I’ve written about this a few times on the blog – starting with this one:


    So one ‘recommendation’ is that from (say) age 75 a person might choose to stop using antibiotics, and treat ‘palliatively’ whatever problems arise.

    As for feeding, yes of course – normal feeding, spoon feeding etc. But this does not include tube feeding, drip feeding and the like. They are just the upper part of a slope leading via total life support into the brain in a bottle.

    (See That Hideous Strength, CS Lewis)

  14. You’re welcome. Some other right-wing (and left-wing) bloggers could learn a lesson from you in courtesy.

  15. My friend, you are a model of civility. I usually just delete trollish comments like that.

  16. Assisted suicide is being pushed very hard, especially by the BBC.


  17. In what bizarro alternate universe is “I liked what you were doing with your blog before, but not so much now” trolling? In the real world it is called constructive criticism.

    Trolling would be, for example, calling someone a dickhead.

  18. This is one of the few areas in which I think the modern Church has done very well in its teaching office. You can read what the Catechism has to say here in paras 2276-2279. Or you can read Evangelium Vitae which, relative to the other things its author wrote, is good.

    What impossible position does this lead to?

    A comment is the wrong place to explain the teaching, but here are some example implications. You can turn off granny’s ventilator if it is clear she is never going to recover, but you may not do it for the specific purpose of killing her. You can combat granny’s pain (with her consent) by escalating doses of narcotics even if you know that granny is eventually going to die of an overdose as a result, but you may not administer an overdose to granny. These are distinctions without a difference according to consequentialism.

    The teaching is explained, briefly, in the Catechism’s section on the Fourth Commandment. And that is what the teaching is: the Fourth Commandment applied to this domain. Now, it’s hard for us moderns to get our minds around the Church’s teaching on these subjects, but that is because we are so utterly polluted with consequentialist morality that we have trouble imagining anything else. I often find myself struggling against the feeling that deontological approaches to morality are just rule-consequentialism in disguise, for example.

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