The Clare Spark Blog

January 24, 2013

Culture wars and the secular progressives

Marianne, symbol of the French Republic

Marianne, symbol of the French Republic

Walter Hudson has written an essay for Pajamas Media ( http://pjmedia.com/lifestyle/2013/01/15/whose-morality-is-it-anyway/) touting religion as the sole building block of social order, the only belief system that prevents “evil.”  Hudson, like many other believers, holds Communists (and by implication, “secularists”) responsible for wanton killing and mass death, perhaps of the kind we have seen at such locales as Newtown, Connecticut, or in the underreported incident in Albuquerque, New Mexico, as perpetrated by Nehemiah Griego (the fifteen-year-old killer, whose father was a local pastor and reportedly  liberal).

It is true that communists have inveighed against religion as “the opiate of the masses” that holds workers in bondage to a fantasy at best, or terrorizes them at worst (with threats of eternal hell), but Hudson’s privileging of religion as the sole source of morality is repugnant to me. I am one of the dread secularists, which puts me in the same category as those who drafted the U.S. Constitution and the First Amendment, that forbade any established state religion. It is cultural pluralism that has enabled diverse immigrant groups to come to America, and protected them from forced conversion to a state religion. Has Hudson forgotten that “equality under the law” was a salutary innovation that protected all of us from murder and from what Hudson regards as “evil” in general?

But worse, Hudson’s essay negates the Enlightenment, which removed truth, absolute authority and “virtue” from Kings and established Churches, instead investing knowledge, power, and (potential) virtue in the People and their political institutions.  This disestablishment of monarchs and clergy was laid at the feet of the rising bourgeoisie (themselves the children of the French Revolution), who were then attacked by both the deposed monarchists of the ultra-right and future hard leftists. The new popular freedoms were associated by the ultras with the Cult of Reason (symbolized by Marianne), cannibalism, and a host of other horrors, including parricide and deicide.  And so Mary Shelley wrote her famous Frankenstein;  or the Modern Prometheus, while Herman Melville fretted about his own Promethean impulses throughout life. (For more on this theme see https://clarespark.com/2013/01/26/decoding-call-me-ishmael-and-the-following/.)

Much of what Hudson has written is directed at Ayn Rand, her followers, and “Objectivism” in general.  I conclude that it is the “atomized” individual (along with free market society) that is his target. This so-called “atomized” individual was also the target of the moderate men, the Progressives who hoped to stave off Red Revolution through a compassionate welfare state, that would stop just short of turning the world upside down,  and would co-opt religion in the service of those buzz-words “social cohesion” and “political stability.”

Not all moderate conservatives believed that modernity and capitalism would lead to widespread mayhem. See for instance the social thought of Charles Sumner, the anti-slavery Senator from Massachusetts, whose moral code embraced all of humanity, and most particularly slaves and then the freedmen, while his bosom enemies sought to return the freedmen to new forms of bondage after the Civil War. (See https://clarespark.com/2009/10/05/charles-sumner-moderate-conservative-on-lifelong-learning/, or https://clarespark.com/2012/01/03/the-race-card/ )  Sumner was a visionary, and for his sacrifices to humanity at large, he has been assailed as a carrier of Jewish blood by his major 20th century biographer.

guillotine

If Walter Hudson and those who agree with him want to improve morality, he should come down on the authoritarian family and all those institutions that fail to educate their children to the obligations of citizenry, or those families who believe in demonic possession as the explanation for mental illness. We need more science in our thought patterns, and less regression to pre-capitalist forms of authority, authority that cannot be made legitimate through any appeal to Reason as embodied in the laws, laws that men and women of all colors fought for and formulated out of an abundance of experience.

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November 25, 2012

The Tea Party and the Greens

American Progress, 1872

This blog responds to a blog on Pajamas Media, that has been revived today: http://pjmedia.com/lifestyle/2012/10/16/6-green-lies-threatening-to-starve-you/

Tea Party activist, Walter Hudson, has written a blog for Pajamas Media that asserts this provocative claim: “Government owns much of the land in the United States and therefore controls its use. However, government should only own that which it needs to execute its proper function, which is the protection of individual rights. Public parks and wildlife reserves do not protect rights, and the land which constitutes them ought to be sold to private interests.”  Moreover, Hudson makes it explicit that the protection of the wilderness by the national government, is the rule that makes all his other scenarios abhorrent, even threatening as the road to mass starvation.

(Hudson was first motivated to write his blog by an LA Times article that transmitted the agenda of the National Resources Defense Council, as follows:  Curbing global warming, creating the clean energy future, reviving the world’s oceans, defending endangered wildlife and wild places, protecting our health by preventing pollution, ensuring safe and sufficient water, and fostering sustainable communities, but Hudson foregrounds the wilderness as [non-sacred] space to be sold to private interests.)

While it is true that the Green movement of the 1960s and 1970s was taken up by hard leftists as a rational entry into apparently unrelated social movements, the wholesale rejection of basic science that Hudson’s blog and many of the ensuing comments demonstrates, is not only alarming to me, but if representative of the new direction of the Republican Party, would likely result in a permanent statist regime in the United States, for we defy the immutable laws of science at our peril.  Sadly, most of us do not even know what they are, and yet we vote for, or oppose, environmental legislation that will determine the future of our species and all of life on Earth, and the journalists and bloggers we read are rarely trained in the relevant sciences, but they do abhor the “nanny state” as an unmerited intrusion on individual rights.

I have long criticized the term “nanny state” as absurd and sexist, proposing instead the term “watchbird state” (see https://clarespark.com/2011/01/02/the-watchbird-state/). No one has been more critical of illegitimate state power than I have been.  However, it is also true that American power was initially built on 1. Relatively unspoiled Nature that would be ruthlessly exploited and abused by many settlers as they industrialized and moved on West; and, later 2. The European wars of the 20th century that left America as the only great power still standing.

Thus “American exceptionalism,”so defended by segments of the Right, has the possibility of arrogance attached, unless it refers solely to a rational Constitution that encouraged a meritocracy (along with protection of the general welfare), but keep in mind that the “self-made” millionaires in finance and industry of the 19th century benefited from the virgin land, a rapidly expanding population of immigrants,  and during and after the Great War, from the errors of American rivals in Europe and elsewhere.

There are branches of “ecology” that appeal to mystics and to the counter-culture, for the promise of interdependence and harmony that some ecologists, especially deep ecologists (Kirkpatrick Sale was one such popular publicist), is attractive to those who imagine Nature as an inexhaustible source of nourishment, with adherence to “deep ecology” as a permanent return to the Breast or Womb. These constituents will not agree with Herman Melville, who famously described beauteous Nature as concealing “the charnel house within.” Similarly, there have been upper-class primitivists who idealized the social relations of indigenous peoples everywhere, imagining, with Diderot, that their preferred natives enjoyed freedom from puritanical (i.e. mother-imposed) strictures that excessively restricted sex and aggression. The point is to avoid “splitting” the conception of Nature as either entirely benign or entirely threatening, for Melville was possibly influenced by his resentment of a domineering mother.

I have been reading right-wing publications for many years now, and sense that many of its constituents do not possess a rational assessment of any authority whatsoever. It seems that some don’t want to be pushed around, even if the pushing is for their own good and that of their children.  This is infantile conduct.

Reasonable persons can differ on the role of the federal government versus more local entities versus individual choices, or even on whether or not global warming is man-made and reparable,  but what cannot be neglected is a rigorous education in the sciences, starting from the first grades onward.  As long as education is held hostage to persons with an anti-science agenda, we are digging our own graves.

For a related blog see https://clarespark.com/2010/01/03/this-witch-is-not-for-burning-science-as-magic/.

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