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War of Ideas: Pomos v. America
by Steve Rittenberg
15 November 2002
Doctor-HorseFeathers.com - Fighting Folly, Ignorance, and Cant
we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of
Bishop Berkeley's ingenious sophistry to prove the nonexistence of matter,
and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that
though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to
refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered,
striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded
from it -- "I refute it thus."
ideas are so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them."
While the tactics and weapons are different, there is nothing fundamentally new about our war with utopian Islamists. Islamo-fascists are just the most recent variety of fanatics, the 21st century successors to Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and various 20th century utopians. Since utopia, in this instance a perfect Islamic world, requires the elimination of those who contradict perfection, scapegoats are required: Jews and Christian infidels must be killed. The quest for utopia always runs aground on the shoals of reality. But what if, as per Bishop Berkeley, there is no reality? Or what if reality is merely a subjectively constructed fantasy? The quest for Utopia is undergirded by ideas, and here’s where our Postmodern professors lend a hand. Deploying the combination of a vulgar misunderstanding of Heisenberg’s principle of indeterminacy, with a dumbed down version of psychoanalytic modes of thought, they conclude that reality is “constructed”. There is no objective reality: all is subjectivity. None of this is new. What is novel is the alliance between these sophists and the Islamo-fascists and their friends. Attention has been paid to such academic luminaries as Noam Chomsky and Stanley Fish, the high priest of the Pomos. Critical assessments of their ideas have been met, not with counter arguments, but with cries of Mc’Carthyism. Fish begins his self defense with a blatant appeal to false victimization in the interest of stifling intellectual debate.Those of us old enough to remember debates with defenders of Stalin will be familiar with this mode of argumentation: instead of discussing the points raised, intimidate your interlocutor by questioning his motives.
Marxism as an ideology may have receded with the collapse of Communism, but Marxist modes of thought and argumentation live on under the rubric of Post-Modernism, an ideology that permeates the academy and radiates out to the rest of us in the form of Political Correctness. Like Marxism, it sees all relationships as determined by hidden motives. What we benighted fools think of as ‘reality’ is actually a false reality foisted on us by the patriarchal power structure. Subjectivity renders the very notion of reality problematic. We construct ‘narratives’ which we stamp as real, but alternative narratives are just as valid. Somehow, the Pomos escape this subjectivity to offer their objective and true diagnosis of the rest of us.
One of the leading proponents of this new version of Bishop Berkeley’s denial of reality is Judith Butler. While not so well known to the blogosphere as others, she is regarded with reverence in much of the academic world. According to alt.culture, she is "one of the superstars of '90s academia, with a devoted following of grad students nationwide". (A fanzine, Judy!, was published in 1993). Over the years she has devoted herself to assaulting the archaic notion that there is a reality independent of our subjectivity. What has made her immensely influential is the particular reality she has chosen to assault: sexual difference . She claims that ‘male’ and ‘female’ have no underlying reality or intrinsic meaning; they are merely changeable “narratives”, “social constructs”, designed to hold us in thrall to the hegemonic capitalist patriarchy. Years ago it was likely that seriously arguing for such views would, at the very least cause one to be dismissed a la Bishop Berkeley, or at worst get one a quick admission ticket to Bellevue. Now, however, university tenure is the more likely outcome.
All of this might be cause for mild amusement, or rueful concern about the value and cost of a college liberal arts education. But something quite sinister happened after Sept. 11. The Judith Butlers deployed their talent for “problematizing” reality in support of our enemies. She delivered herself of an assessment designed to show that we had created a self-serving “narrative” of the events of that day and that other “narratives” were equally valid. Our narrative---claiming we were barbarously attacked by Islamo-fascist terrorists---was created to avoid facing the reality of our own barbarism. Here is a representative passage:
“Our own acts of violence do not receive graphic coverage in the press, and so they remain acts that are justified in the name of self-defense, but also justified by a noble cause, namely, the rooting out of terrorism. Recently, it is reported that the Northern Alliance may have slaughtered a village: will this be investigated and, if confirmed, prosecuted as a war crime? When a bleeding child or dead body on Afghani soil emerges in the press coverage, it is not framed as part of the horror of war, but only as a critique of the military's capacity to aim its bombs right. We castigate ourselves for not aiming better, but we do not take the sign of destroyed life and decimated peoples as something for which we are responsible, or indeed understand how that decimation works to confirm the U.S. as performing atrocities. Our own acts are not considered terrorist. And there is no history of acts that is relevant to the self-understanding we form in the light of these terrible events. There is no relevant prehistory to the events of September 11th, since to begin to tell the story a different way, to ask how things came to this, is already to complicate the question of agency which, no doubt, leads to the fear of moral equivocation. In order to condemn these acts as inexcusable, absolutely wrong, in order to sustain the affective structure in which we are, on the one hand, victimized and, on the other, engaged in a righteous cause of rooting out terror, we have to start the story with the experience of violence we suffered. We have to shore up the first person point of view, and preclude from the telling accounts that might involve a decentering of the narrative "I" within the international political domain. This decentering is experienced as part of the wound that we have suffered, though, so we cannot inhabit that position. This decentering is precisely what we seek to rectify through a recentering. A narrative form emerges to compensate for the enormous narcissistic wound opened up by the public display of our physical vulnerability. Our response, accordingly, is not to enter into international coalition where we understand ourselves to be working with institutionally established routes of consensus-building. We relegate the United Nations to a second order deliberative body, and insist instead on American unilateralism. And subsequently we ask, Who is with us? Who is against us? As a result, we respond to the exposure of vulnerability with an assertion of U.S. "leadership," showing once again the contempt we have for international coalitions that are not built and led by us. Such coalitions do not conflict with U.S. supremacy, but confirm it, stoke it, insist upon it, with long- term implications for the future shape and possibility of global cooperation.”
Thus is the reality of what occured on Sept. 11 “problematized”, and the United States inculpated as a terrorist country—exactly the position of those who openly proclaim their wish to destroy us. How courageous of her to narrate a story that transforms murderous barbarians, including Palestinian terrorists, into hapless victims of brutal Western imperialist violence. From her utopian vision of a world where sexual differences are eliminated, it is but a short distance to a vision of a world in which no differences between good and evil exist, no difference between civilization and barbarism; in fact no differences at all. In such a utopia there would be no cause for conflict. There's just the small matter of getting to utopia which, regrettably, requires the slaughter of all who stand in the way. How fortunate that our President and Secretary of Defense don’t sit up nights reading PoMo treatises on multiple narrative truths, nor do they direct attention to the scorn heaped on them by the likes of Judith Butler. How fortunate for the ungrateful Judith Butler that our soldiers, under the direction of the President and Secretary of Defense are willing to die to protect the rights of Judith Butler and her fellow Pomos to publish endless outpourings of cant, thus making their contribution to what Dr. Johnson called "the epidemical conspiracy for the destruction of paper."