"POST-MODERNISM TAKES A FUNDAMENTAL SOCIAL INNOVATION OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION, BLOWS IT OUT OF ITS LIMITS AND CONTEXT INTO A MORAL IDEAL, THEN USES MORAL JUSTIFICATION TO TEAR DOWN THE SOCIAL INNOVATION...."
HOW POST-MODERNISM PERVERTS WESTERN SOCIAL INNOVATIONS
PUBLISHED: 30th May, 2018 | By BILL JOSLIN
During a recent interview on the Liberty Machine Unleashed podcast, Richard asked me how Post-modernism is destroying the West. There are many answers to this question as it has a long and multi-varied history. Stephen Hicks in Understanding Post-modernism gives a thorough and accessible assessment of its multi-faceted attack on the West.
In the interview I alluded to the agency-structure relationship in which post-modernists reframe liberty as emancipation. They present social norms and institutions as “structure” which oppresses “agency” and therefore to be truly liberated one must, by definition, stand in opposition to and break free from the boundaries and definitions imposed upon us by our social norms and institutions.
This allows for post-modernists to dismiss and invalidate an opponent’s counter-argument as nothing more than the effect of “structure” expressing through the mind of an oppressed opponent. The opponent is not a thoughtful individual with a point to be considered but rather an automaton programmed by “white privilege”. Michael Dyson equating Jordon Peterson’s views as “white entitlement” that Peterson is “not even aware of” demonstrates this very dynamic.
What I didn’t go into in the interview, which I think is extremely important, is an operational assessment of how post-modernism works like a cybernetic loop where its opponents end up fighting for post-modernism unwittingly. An operational exploration of how post-modernism appropriates and reframes the concepts of the Anglo-enlightenment reveals how post-modernism has defenders of the West fight for its enemies.
Below are two new examples of restacking concepts which, when compared, reveal a common tactic which underpins both.
If looking at the history of common law, it becomes clear that the organic and incremental progression of social innovations resulted in greater human flourishing. Equality represents one such social innovation the West has developed.
Out of the turmoil leading up to and throughout the Glorious Revolution in England, the notion of equality-before-the-law (isonomy) began to emerge as presumption of innocence, the rights of the accused to a fair trial, etc. It doesn’t appear all at once within legal doctrine but slowly progress until Beccaria argues its case in On Crime and Punishment.
The point here being, equality as a key social innovation of Western societies exists within a real world context, this context being law.
Isonomy has a number of social benefits. When law is applied differently to different people, law becomes unpredictable. One person might get a slap on the wrist for theft, the next lose a hand. Oddly, unpredictability actually increases lawlessness. It becomes a gamble. “Maybe a day in the tower instead of a day in gallows” the thief says to himself when weighing the cost-benefit of stealing a loaf of bread. In operant conditioning this is called a “varied schedule of reinforcement”. By varying, unpredictably, the reward for behaviour actually reinforces the behaviour. Because law addresses negative behaviour, unpredictable administration of law increases lawlessness.
If law is applied differently to different groups of people, resentment between groups increases which erodes social trust and public peace. We need only look to our own times to see this in action. Bankers fleece the public of billions and walk away scot-free. “The system is rigged” we say, “Government protects the banksters”. The result is a loss of trust in the system.
Isonomy was later drawn into social spheres as equal treatment from power to the powerless and this too made its way into law. An employer couldn’t play favourites; a mother must love all her children equally, etc. But the context does not change even if broadened.
Equality was a hard-earned lesson of Anglo-common law and Western Civilization. Power must be administered equally if it’s to be considered fair and just. It is the step away from the arbitrary, discretionary whims of a monarch or powerful minority toward limitations on power – limitations of the state.
If isonomy is to be achieved, law must be blind to group membership and circumstance. This leaves only one option, to address the individual only, to see only individuals. There is good reason for this. The only non-arbitrary relevant measure to decide legal matters are the actions taken by the accused. Did he do it or not. Isonomy gives a clear unit of measure based on the agency of the accused.
When all arbitrary and irrelevant factors are eliminated, only the relevant and non-arbitrary remain. This disambiguates when and why legal force should be applied.
Equality leads into limitations of the state and away from discretionary rule; it protects the individual and results in an unperturbed self-organization of humanity by action alone. This results in market for merit.
The take-away here is this: equality-before-the-law pertains to limitations on power expressed as protections of the individual, not benefits granted to the polis.
When sovereignty has been obtained, no opposition to the sovereign remains; there are no natural limitations preventing the sovereign from using force any which way they may choose (whim, discretion). Tyrant may use this force to enslave the entire polis, or kill everyone in sight.
When a sovereign extends liberty to the polis, both parties accept constraints. The polis obtains liberty if and only if they behave within the law. The sovereign agrees to use force if and ONLY if a member of the polis steps outside of the law.
Acceptance of constraints on power by sovereigns represents a defining difference between the West and other cultures. Equality-before-the-law prevents sovereigns from arbitrary applications of force on a whim (discretionary rule).
In short, equality has to do with restrictions on power, not rights owed to the polis. The positive results are laid-out above, when people are free from discretionary rule, society tends to flourish. Equality provides a critical cornerstone of Western Civilization and remains one of her greatest insights.
What post-modernists have done with one of the West’s greatest innovations is to remove equality from within its limits, its proper context and elevate it to a moral ideal. Opposed to equal treatment, equality becomes equal value. As we see above, the benefits we gained from isonomy had little to do with the value of an individual and has everything to do with the application of power.
When equality has been elevated to an ideal it comes into conflict with nature herself. People are not equal, in ability or in intellect. Walking down the street one can witness people who are taller than others, stronger, smarter, and more attractive than others. To try to assert that individuals have equal value in all ways all the time attempts to command the tide not to rise.
This allows post-modernists to point at inequalities in the world as demonstrations of hypocrisy in Western Civilization’s values. If we truly held equality as a Western ideal, then why do people suffer? Why are some poor, others rich, etc? They then assert, by moral justifications, that if we truly value equality, then we must “level the playing field”. Some groups must have special protections, others must have affirmative action – the state must force its people to live to this ideal. The logical next step then must be inequality before the law.
This shifts the context of equality as a limitation on power to a justification to use force to grant unearned privileges, which has two effects. Firstly, those who hold Western values then tend to agree, “Yes, it’s the right thing to do” not realizing the Trojan horse they’ve accepted into the courtyard.
By not understanding equality-before-the-law is a social innovation which prevents discretionary rule, they join forces with those who would see the innovation destroyed and return to discretionary application of law. Secondly, those who feel a rise in resentment for those who obtain special rights begin to reject the notion of equality itself and subsequently blame the enlightenment and her thinkers for opening the door to thieves in the night. They then stand in opposition to a cornerstone of the West and wish for its destruction.
I’ve used the terms arbitrary and non-arbitrary, relevant and irrelevant as well as disambiguate above. Equality before the law, isonomy, allows for the non-arbitrary and relevant application of power. It disambiguates relevant factors in deciding how legal force will be used. Tolerance pertains to ambiguity, arbitrariness and relevance as these relate to high-trust social commons.
With the rise of religious variation of Protestants and their pursuit of religious freedom within North America along with Catholics seeking the same, a potential social pressure emerges. How do people with such variant backgrounds and values learn to live together? Well, they had a common pursuit i.e., freedom from religious persecution (protestants in France, Catholics in the UK, etc.) as well as common obstacles to overcome (forging a new life in hostile new lands).
This was achieved by acknowledging that the differences between people which are not relevant to peaceful coexistence should be tolerated. My eating of beef and your eating of fish has no bearing on whether we can a build a courthouse together. My blue eyes and your brown eyes are not relevant to whether we can trade at the market together.
Tolerance in early Canada was not a blanket ideal. It was to say, religious and ethnic differences do not need to be obstacles to peaceful coexistence as long as we share a common ground on matters which count, specifically matters of trust. We can be different, but not different in certain areas, namely civic values. If we share civic values we can live peacefully together, we can build commons together and call each other brothers.
Tolerance in this regard is better understood as tolerance-with-limits. The limits defining tolerance as a social good pertain to: tolerance of arbitrary and irrelevant differences, intolerance to differences which are non-arbitrary and relevant.
By doing this, Canada and the US were able to increase the franchise to more people in a way which increased cooperation, and maintain high-trust in the face of difference which in other parts of the world would prevent cooperation.
Tolerance with limitations creates variety of the common ground. With variety, social norms are able to borrow adapt and evolve. Qualities of a social fabric which are less successful than another variant are able to fall away and better, more successful habits adopted. Variants can merge and diverge incrementally improving the social fabric or addressing negative social innovations. As long as we share basic social values, we can be different and work together.
Post-modernism adopts tolerance, and again, elevates this to a social ideal. By raising any concept into an ideal this way, the limits and context with which the innovation exists are blown apart. Once the limits are removed the ideal can be reframed. Post-modernists then assert that tolerance trumps any complaint of differences even if those differences have a negative, non-arbitrary, relevant impact on social trust. We are told to be tolerant of child-brides or female genital mutilation when this presents an affront to our commonly held social values. Any talk about how a cultural or religious difference has a negative impact on our shared commons can then be reduced to an immoral position because it does not align with “tolerance” the ideal.
They then advocate for special rights (see above) which takes arbitrary differences and makes them legally relevant to others. It makes the irrelevant relevant. This encourages resentment if pushed too far.
This also has two logical responses, which greatly resemble the outcomes of equality as an ideal.
First, those who adopt the Western value of tolerance will gradually adopt or accept additions to the social commons which are an affront or damaging to social trust. Germany telling their women to stay arm’s length away from men or to cover their heads so as to not provoke hostilities demonstrates an institutional acceptance of social differences which directly and negatively impact social trust.
Secondly, those who see social trust eroding in the face of diversity then take a stance in opposition to tolerance itself. This encourages a breakdown of cooperation between people who would otherwise cooperate easily. It atomizes those who oppose the impacts of diversity. It divides social allies, and encourages conflict over irrelevant and arbitrary differences. The result is erosion of high-trust commons.
Western tolerance results in variety. Post-modern tolerance results in diversity. When Trudeau says diversity is our strength, he draws on the historical benefits of tolerance which resulted in variation, then attributes these benefits to diversity.
In both of these cases, post-modernism takes a fundamental social innovation of Western Civilization, blows it out of its limits and context into a moral ideal, then uses moral justification to tear down the social innovation. By doing this, those who find value in the Western innovation embrace it as an ideal and participate in destroying the innovation, or those who see the destructiveness of the ideal reject the innovation and participate in destroying it.
We have to stop fighting the enemies’ battles for them.
If we were to apply the two principles according to the social innovations – discriminatory laws would not identify certain “protected groups” but rather expand the protection to all (to preserve equality before the law). Laws which protect against Islamophobia or protect transgender rights would read very differently than they do in our system today. Such a law would better resemble this: No person in a position of power shall use said power to discriminate against another based on arbitrary and irrelevant factors of the interaction.
Those words again: arbitrary, ambiguous, relevant... see, the brilliance of the West distills down to a continuous disambiguation of relevant and non-arbitrary factors pertaining to people living together in large groups.
Post-modernism does the opposite. By elevating social innovations to ideals, it allows for the introduction of ambiguity into our thinking. In doing so, we lose the ability to distinguish between the arbitrary and non-arbitrary. When we lose this distinction, we lose the ability to calculate and decide. This results in return to a world run by the arbitrary, discretionary whims of petty tyrants and parasites - a new dark age.
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