Saturday, January 20, 2007

Post-modernism's fallacies (III)

Here's the third and final instalment of my list of post-modern problem areas. I use the term loosely, as some fallacies can be attributed to relativism, while the sources of others can be traced back to other miscellaneous pseudo-philosophies of the Enlightened variety. Liberalism, long considered the sole victor in the fight with communism, on this lonely height is beginning to show its limitations. As with all good things taken to extremes it has started turning into its own opposite, or a serpent that is swallowing its own tail: a dictatorship of radical liberal relativism; an oxymoron that typifies the cultural confusion of hot air, empty sophistry without wisdom. The assertivity of radical Islam calls yet for more tolerance of the relativist type, the very last 'remedy' we need, as we shall see.

9. The Intolerance of tolerance and why it is no longer fun to have a debate.
Tolerance means, allowing others a different opinion than your own. What it does not mean emphatically, is that all opinions are equally valid. The post Relativism's Three More Sins Against Reason: The Tolerance Trick was particularly rich as far as confusion, fallacies and their consequences were concerned. We saw how Greg Koukl showed us the inherent inconsistencies in the relativist world view.

He also showed how tolerance in the classical sense of the word means: to have respect for the person, when attacking his ideas and/or behavior. As is done in conflict mediation, the person and his ideas or position must not be confused. Greg Koukl explained how the modern definition of tolerance turns the classical meaning on its head: egalitarianism about ideas and elitism in relation to persons: the ideas have become sacrosanct, the person is fair game. The Passive-Aggressive Tolerance Trick supposes that every one's view has equal merit. No-body's ideas are ever wrong and to say so, is considered the height of disrespect and ... intolerance.

In practice this relativist definition has a number of serious consequences:

- Critique isn't a done thing; it isn't socially acceptable anymore. This is a development which is highly undesirable. First of all it means that nobody, whatever his of her fault, will ever stand corrected. People may commit a fallacy (which in philosophy is an easy thing to do, as Parmenides of Elea can attest to [1]) or develop a socially unacceptable habit - without ever hitting a corrective barrier. This has consequences for the person involved and for society as a whole: we don't develop the capacity to accept and absorb corrections and in doing so, grow as a person or improve our knowledge.

- It is also detrimental for the already virtually non-existant concept of authority, which is exclusively understood to mean somebody "more" or "better", to be cut to size for his airs instead of a person who by education, intelligence or experience has gathered a particularly rich and deep knowledge about a certain subject and we can become better and wiser people, if we listen and learn, making their knowledge our own. (Contrary to popular belief this does not involve any genuflecting, crawling or any other abject physical activity.)

- It is entirely acceptable to criticize and debate somebody's ideas and behavior, while simultaneously respecting him or her as a person. True tolerance dictates we have in the end to accept that his or her idea may differ from our own, but we can try to persuade him otherwise in a debate, without violating his person, verbally or otherwise. David Klinghoffer in an article "The Limitations of Liberal Pluralism" published on the Discovery Institute site describes in a hilarious way the interaction with a public of the "Jewish liberal species". David Klinghoffer obviously hasn't met Greg Koukl yet.

- Since relativism maintains there is no such thing as objective truth, it is regretfully not possible to talk about anything other than personal opinions. You like red, I like green. You can talk until you're blue in the face, it doesn't get you anywhere beyond that. That's why debates nowadays are so frustrating and can easily develop into shouting matches. It is not a search for truth, but an useless tug-of-war about personal preferences.

- Frustration chips away at good manners and respect for others. Considering that we have no longer recourse to mitigations, like the appeal on tolerance in the true sense of the word, or an attempt at conflict mediation - which also has become a meaningless exercise in the absence of objective truth - it becomes apparent what we are left with is a real social and cultural problem.

How then can we find our way back? Let's first convince ourselves that there is such a thing as objective truth and real falsehood. We must learn to trust our senses and logic again as the ultimate sources by which we can gain first hand knowledge, the way to truth [2].

Once that confidence is restored, we must re-learn the art of debating.

- We get to a position - a thesis if you wish - by gathering arguments: the scholastic or dialectic method works as follows:
1. posing (formulate) a working hypothesis or question,
2. listing the arguments from both sides (for and against),
3. weigh both sides for an answer to our question,
4. finally the thesis is checked for practical and/or moral objections that must be taken into consideration; if there are any, we re-take our steps. Elementary, really.

- When considering the merits of somebody's position - are they true or false, what is the weight of the argument - we can do this by the same method. It is as good as fool-proof and keeps the subject matter central to the debate, not the debaters.

- Since true tolerance means, allowing others an opinion other than your own, this presupposes that there are at least two parties in the debate. This makes it important that both have come to a certain conclusion, by the dialectical method, or otherwise. In the absence of which we are again dealing with personal opinion and the result isn't tolerance as we now know, but anger or indifference, another thing altogether. But debating is fun [3] once you get the hang of it. And it will take us out of the vicious circle of the Passive-Aggresive Tolerance Trick.

10. The tolerance of intolerance.
Last on this list but not least, we have the reversal of the above, just as common and pernicious: the tolerance of intolerance. If we cannot empathize with one another and conflicting ideas are deemed equally valid - as relativism maintains - how then can disagreements be settled? As the pattern of conflicting behavior is supported by the basic philosophy, whatever of Harvard's conflict resolution techniques may be applied, all will prove futile against the lack of objective truth.

In the post The Impossible Made Possible: the Dictatorship of Liberalism we have seen that by uncritically accepting the Islamists perspective that Westerners are "Christian Crusaders", the Archbishop of Canterbury unwittingly accepted the legitimacy of the consequences of that view, namely the massacre of Christians. He adopted a morally inconsistent and therefore morally wrong position: the tolerance of intolerance.

In the next few days I'll come back with some more bemusement about the consequences and affects of modern sophistry. The last has not been said yet.

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