A priori reasons to doubt the Judeo-Manichean narrative

Put simply, the Judeo-Manichean narrative is that Jews have always been blameless victims and their opponents and critics always wrong and wicked.  In my experience, Christians are actually more hysterically committed to the narrative than Jews, not because (as Kristor claimed a while back) Jews are particularly prone to self-criticism, but because Christian partisanship on their behalf is so over-the-top it would be hard for anyone to match it.

It’s impossible to overstate how simplistic the narrative is.  In my infamous now-deleted Orthosphere post, I tried to exaggerate the narrative to highlight its internal tensions and implausibilities.  I got a hundred comments telling me how wicked it is to doubt the narrative but I don’t recall one telling me that I had oversimplified it.  Here was the core part:

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Cross-post: One God, many peoples V: Propositional peoplehood

Allow me to wrap this up.

Universalism, we’ve seen, goes way back.  The ideas of universal brotherhood, a universal natural law, and even of a single ultimate God were known to the pagans.  Far from a sign of spiritual advance, the separation of God from one’s people and social order has often marked spiritual decline.  In Voegelin’s terminology, the compactness of the world, the sense that local rituals and duties connect to ultimate reality, is lost.  The world’s Axial Age, and Israel’s Prophetic Age, were the time when people started to intuit God’s transcendence but didn’t know how to handle it.  They could no longer see God’s presence in the ancient theocracies and vaguely imagined Messianic kingdoms in which this tension could be overcome.  In the moral order, the question was how one could justify particularity in light of this new universalistic perspective.  Having mentally “risen above” the tribe, how does one get back down?

Christianity did not create this problem.  Christianity is one proposed solution, the most adequate on offer, in my opinion.

What is the other solution?  Imagine the predicament of man who loves his tribe or country but has come to accept that this love, loyalty, and piety are rationally and morally indefensible.  His highest moral principles condemn his noblest sentiments.  In fact, you don’t have to imagine this–you’re living it–but I’ll get back to that.  How can he live with such a spiritual wound?  The problem, as he misconstrues it, is this:  how, from a universal perspective (shedding, as he imagines he must, his own “empirical ego”) can it be justified to favor this group in particular?

The group must be special in some absolute, objective sense.  The only quality that really matters is morality, and the heart of morality (as he understands it) is universalism.  And here is the solution!  His group is the one to have discovered universalism.  That doesn’t, of course, mean that they own it, that they can hoard this treasure for themselves.  Quite the opposite!  They have a duty to spread their light to those still in darkness.  This is, indeed, the very essence and reason-for-being of the group:  to spread universalism.  A group dedicated to the abolition of groups.  A universal, a propositional people.  So our man lays down his natural loyalty, and in return he is allowed to pick up a new unnatural loyalty.  His new love, for an idea rather than a concrete people, is a cold and inhuman thing compared to the love he left behind, but it is the only thing his cold and inhuman morality of universal brotherhood will allow him, so he makes due with it.

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Speaking of hackers: the real Anonymous

The day after declaring that fascination with hackers was just a nineties thing, I’ve come across a new article about them linked at Arts and Letters Daily.  We’ve mentioned the group Anonymous before in connection with their declared intent to out all of us thought-criminals.  (By the way, I haven’t heard about this actually happening to anyone.  They must not be as great hackers as they make themselves out to be.)  The cognitive dissonance of it is truly breathtaking:  “We’re bold rebels against the status quo, so we’re going to give the names of our ideological opponents to journalists and employers so they can lose their jobs and be socially shunned.”

I think it will surprise no one to learn that these Leftist crusaders are really just a bunch of sadistic cyberbullies:

Lulz is a major aspect of Anonymous’s subversive political potential, as Coleman tells it. Lulz, a corruption of “LOL,” is essentially an evil laugh at someone’s expense. It is a holdover from Anonymous’s birth on 4chan, when trolls claimed that they harassed and attacked victims not because they were horrible people, but “for the lulz.” It was a sort of game: the bigger the reaction provoked, the bigger the lulz. Typical lulzy behavior includes spamming a teenage car-crash victim’s memorial page with gruesome photos of the accident scene. I first encountered the lulz when I wrote a story for Gawker about how Anonymous had harassed an 11-year-old girl into police protection “for the lulz” after she had recorded a YouTube video that annoyed them. Even as Anonymous has evolved into its current do-gooder phase, the mischief and deviance of lulz remains an important cultural lodestar.

The article is written by a Leftist at The Nation, who concludes that Anonymous is not really subversive at all, but is rather “Silicon Valley’s unwitting shock troops”.  I quite agree!  I wonder if writers and readers at The Nation realize that this is also true of all contemporary Leftism.  Feminism, anti-racism, and secularism are, after all, working to destroy all rival forms of organization to corporate capitalism.  Consider what’s happened to the word “social justice” over the past decade.  During the 20th century, calling somebody a “social justice warrior” would be understood to mean, basically, calling that person a communist.  Nowadays, socialism isn’t even on the radar.  In 1930, a moderate Leftist wanted to tax corporations heavily, and a radical Leftist wanted to ship the capitalists off to gulags.  In 2014, a moderate Leftist wants more female CEOs, and a radical Leftist wants more transgender CEOs.

Day of the nerd?

Is it really true that nerds are more popular than they used to be?

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Natural Symbols and the new science of political manipulation

Liberal academics writing about the more conservative beliefs of the populace seldom amounts to more than a venting of hostility–the emotional gratification of imputing every kind of vice and stupidity onto one’s enemies.  The best work comes from those working on the science of manipulating the populace.  Although done to assist the liberal elite, because it is interested in results, it must attempt to be accurate.  Hence the more perceptive works of Jonathan Haidt and now Dan Kahan.  I was interested in the latter’s work on getting people to obey climate scientists without triggering the partisan modules in their brains because of the use he made of Mary Douglas’ worldview/society taxonomy.  I reviewed her impressive but mostly-forgotten Natural Symbols here, and I’m glad to see these ideas getting more attention.

Braman also sent Kahan the work of Mary Douglas, an anthropologist who, several decades earlier, had developed a cultural theory of risk assessment. Social norms, above all else, informed how people judged risks, she said. The public divided along two spectra: one measuring their support of social structure, running from egalitarian to hierarchical; the other, their devotion to individualism or communitarianism. The scales combined for four essential “worldviews.”

Kahan looked past controversy over Douglas’s work—in particular, a 1982 book she co-wrote that attacked environmentalists (whom she saw as extremely egalitarian and communitarian, and motivated by contempt for industrial society)—and saw a powerful tool. He had already dipped into psychological research showing how we engage in “motivated reasoning,” shaping facts around our beliefs, especially in situations that threaten our identities. Perhaps the worldviews described by Douglas were shaping those biases and causing conflict? A believer in free markets might balk at climate change, given the predominant warming narrative aimed at curbing economic growth; an egalitarian-communitarian, meanwhile, would find the centralized authority demanded by nuclear power unbearable.

The big conclusion is that it’s easier to convince people to do something if you can frame it in a way that you’re not attacking their general worldview.  Put that way, it doesn’t sound like such a discovery.  But worldview attack is the reason liberals latch onto issues.  They only care about climate change because it’s somehow become a stick to beat their enemies with.  I tend to think that, being a fundamentally empirical matter, global warming positions didn’t have to become attached to ideologies, but there were many people, including I think many climate scientists, who wanted them to be.

In general, I’m not sure whether Kahan’s science of manipulation will be a good or a bad thing.  If ideology is irrelevant to an issue (as I think response to global warming is), it’s a benefit to us all if he helps politicians to bypass it.  Some “science” issues–embryonic stem cell extraction being one alluded to in the article–are really ethics issues, and work to keep them “technical” and “practical” will really mean inventing obfuscatory language to conceal the fundamental ethical problem.  From what I’ve read, I don’t trust Kahan and his collaborators to have the philosophical acumen to tell the one type of “science debate” from the other.

Danger of a Straussian revival

Modern man’s main intellectual vice is his complacency.  The elite consensus–atheism, utilitarianism, egalitarianism–he takes to be self-evident truth, and he dismisses all other views as “ignorance” unworthy of serious consideration.  A standing rebuke to this complacency is the existence of great minds in the past, of men who were unarguably wise or ingenious who weren’t 21st century Westerners transplanted to other times and places.  Now, suppose someone comes along to say that this is not true, an atheist Jew who has found the secret to reading the giants of the past “esoterically”, and, lo, he finds that they were all secretly pretty much atheist Jews just like him!  So in fact there is no reason to worry that intelligent men of the past believed differently than we do, because they didn’t.  Citing their arguments to the contrary just proves that you’re one of the suckers.  Plato may have written metaphysical and political works of great profundity, but that was just a smokescreen behind which is the real message, for elite consumption only:  there is no God, all authority is based on lies, all traditions are lies, all communities are founded on lies.  Beneath the wise man is the paranoid adolescent.  So there’s no point in bothering with the past at all, because once one starts reading an author esoterically, one is bound to read in one’s own preconceptions.

In this age of the smug new atheist, is not esotericism an idea whose time has come?  I’m afraid so.  In the above link, Damon Linker claims that Arthur Melzer’s Philosophy Between the Lines vindicates the Straussians.  You might say that Strauss himself was not quite that bad, and I haven’t read enough of him to dispute that, but really it doesn’t matter.  Once this esoteric principle is admitted, the modern mind has a shield to close itself from the wisdom of the past, to be able to read the classics without learning anything from them.

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