"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Friday, September 8, 2017

You Can’t See What You Refuse To See–The Idealism Of True Believers

Belief in America is strong, proud, profound, and essential; and defines us as a nation. Religious faith is a profound, inerrant belief in God, his works, his wisdom, and his salvation.   Despite millennia of war, civil strife, internecine conflicts, family fights for wealth status, and position, belief in a better world is the foundation of progressivism.

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Belief in the natural order of things as expressed and explicated by science or the Bible is essential to both secular and religious belief. Belief in America is the pillar of patriotism from which exceptionalism and a better future is heralded. Belief in the rightness of causes, the righteousness of children, and the goodness of community underlie American communitarianism.

It is not surprising, therefore, to see how America became a nation of true believers, committed not so much to fundamental spiritual or moral principles but to a unique political idealism borne of both but also the historical imperative of immigrants. There was no stopping Manifest Destiny, Westward Expansion, and both laissez-faire capitalism and local entrepreneurism.

But the expressions of true belief are even more interesting; and the words of Thoreau were particularly apt to describe the young America:
If anything ail a man so that he does not perform his functions, if he have a pain in his bowels even…he forthwith sets about reforming — the world.
It wasn’t so much that early Americans had a belief in progress and a better world.  They were committed to assuring its realization.

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The legacy of Thoreau, Jefferson, and the early Americans continues.  We are no less committed to idealism, belief in perfection, and commitment to reform and social betterment than we were over 200 years ago.  If anything we are even more invested in the idea of progress and the American exceptionalism that will show the way.

The Founding Fathers would have been perplexed at today’s understanding of the principles of Independence and the Constitution.  Jefferson was perfectly clear that individualism was the foundation of the new Republic; and that community was its necessary but subservient handmaiden.  Individual enterprise, based on faith and patriotism would provide the strength and will of America.

Yet today, a significant segment of American political society thinks just the opposite.  Community has been invested with a higher authority, a greater good, and a higher purpose. Far from the original concept of universal inclusion – i.e. caring for the less fortunate as part of the American enterprise – today’s progressive politicians have raised community to a higher, more sanctified status.  There is an absolute good in community, they say, and an even more absolute good in the actions and investments of its citizens to promote a more ideal and just society.

All well and good.  There can be a legitimate difference of opinion on the fundament of American society and its moral course.  Progressives consider human society to be perfectible and positively influenced by the committed interventions of  well-doers.  Conservatives believe in the permanence and immutability of human nature and consider social reformists no more than fanciful idealists. But is this an absolute reason for division and conflict?

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Yes.  Yet those families, friends, and colleagues now skirmishing in political scraps and squabbles never consider this difference; for if they did there would be no grounds for contention.

Such a profound philosophical difference – the perfectibility of man vs his unchangeable, ineluctable, permanent, and absolute human nature – cannot be discussed.  There can be no winners or losers.  There are no nuances, subtleties, or degrees of interpretation.

A believer in human nature – that is, that human society has not changed since homo sapiens, homo erectus, and well up the human phylogenetic tree – cannot possibly, responsibly, and logically accept the premise of human perfectibility.   A believer in human progress, invested as he must be in divinity, and the spiritual evolutionary order of things, can never accept such a defeatist, secular, and nihilistic idea.

Again, all well and good.  Except for the indisputable evidence of human history. Ever since man descended from the trees and the apes, he has been aggressive, territorial, self-interested, and expansionist. There can be no debate about a permanent, innate, human nature; nor about its historical expressions.  Where has the premise of perfectibility ever been positively tested?  Where has the model of harmonious, peaceful co-existence ever been shown?

Other than Margaret Mead's Samoa (Coming of Age in Samoa), challenged by some as a highly subjective expression of idealism and progressive hope rather than science, no one has ever discovered an aberrant society - i.e. one in which members act first in the interests of society and community and second only to promote individual interests - let alone a major one. Human civilization from the Paleolithic to the brutal 20th century has always been characterized by just the opposite.

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American progressives, although they dismiss religion and eschew its influences, are profoundly Christian in outlook.  Where else  but in Scripture can one find such idealism and irrational hope?

American conservatives, although they profess fundamental Christianity, are very secular in their nihilism.  The world may have been created by God, but once he set it in motion, his influence for the good has been seldom seen.

The problem is this.  While a belief in the absolute permanence of human nature in all its aggressive, territorial, self-centered glory need no proselytizing or evangelism – it is self evident and obvious – the assumption that humanity is on an upward path needs promotion, explication, and sadly public relations.

Which is why Black Lives Matter, A Woman’s Right To Choose, The Fight Against Global Warming, and Save The Planet are so much more visible.  Progressives intuitively know that their message is built on flimsy historical and philosophical grounds, so they must  hype and promote it in all quarters to compensate.

But what about the individual progressive who, faced with irrefutable historical evidence that human progress is a phantasm, still clings to his unfounded beliefs?  How long can he hold on to disproven theories? For how long must he believe in marvelous, happy notions? When, eventually and irreducibly, must he face facts?

Facts, truth, and history are only constructs, subject to interpretation and open to belief and hope, so progressives say. But at some point they must admit that their idealism has colored their vision - deceived, but by a willing suspension of disbelief. 

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