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Sunday, April 9, 2017
The War against Reality
Reality is a formidable opponent. It never loses. Sometimes the victory is immediate; in the political, cultural, and economic domains, it may take a while longer. In any human confrontation with the intractable facts of life, physical or historical, the outcome is never in doubt. Ignorance is a serious liability in any transaction with the real world. Denial is ultimately lethal.
The most succinct definition of reality I know of is the deceptively simple dictum of the pre-Socratic philosopher Parmenides in his fragmentary poem "On the Order of Nature": "Whatever is is!" Human error and ensuing catastrophe consist in the unfortunate propensity for believing that "things that are not are." The modern update of the formulation is Ludwig Wittgenstein's "Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus," where we read, "The world is the totality of facts" (Proposition 1.1). A lie is also in itself a fact, but it is not a part of the structure of reality – that is, in the philosopher's words, it does not satisfy the criterion of its "unalterable form." A lie is a "negative fact," pointing to the "non-existence of certain states of affairs."
Lies, like imaginary objects, are protean; they can shift, change, recompose. Reality is what is "unalterable": 2+2=4, the Archimedes Principle, the gravitational law of inverse squares, the Coriolis Effect, Ohms Law, the force of entropy, and so on. One cannot violate or deny these facts with impunity. They simply are. The same is true of historical facts, for example: over-taxation depletes a country's resources by impoverishing its productive classes; a falling reproductive ratio leads in time to national decline; military adventurism creates domestic turmoil, but "peace in our time" is the harbinger of war; magical ceremonies do not cure serious diseases; hyperinflation can "Weimar" a loaf of bread; public entitlements cause personal dependency; and so on. Pretending otherwise, and acting on the pretence, is a recipe for an empty larder and a house in disarray.
It is much easier, of course, to reject or dismiss facts or truths where the damage is not immediate, to conflate "things which are not" with things that "are," if the harm is deferred to a later date. One can deny sexual dimorphism, for example, and posit 32 different genders or gender identities along with a welter of ludicrous pronouns before the result of such folly becomes evident in cultural degeneration and social collapse. One can refute the fecund marriage of a man and a woman – that is, the family, as the historically validated foundation of a robust, viable, and productive society before social and cultural disintegration inevitably set in. One can suppress the provable fact of differential climate change over the eons and replace it with fashionable and scientifically untenable theories such as man-made global warming before the inevitable economic effects reduce a nation to increasing financial hardship.
Similarly, one can use language to obscure experience or modify facts or name something other than what is demonstrably nameable for the purpose of ideological deflection before eventually suffering the malignant consequences of prolonged evasion. The descriptive fallacy can be, and generally is, fatal to human happiness. The world remains the world no matter how stubbornly we may try to reconfigure it to accord with our yearnings or presuppositions. One can argue for the superiority of socialist and communist dispensations over free-market institutions until the advent of tyrannical rule, state violence, economic calamity, and social anomie prove otherwise – as has been the case in every historical instance we can observe. Facts always have their revenge, however long it may take. And the aftermath is never pretty.
This is why the cultural deformities beloved and fostered by the political left are doomed to failure despite their reigning prevalence in the social agency and intellectual discourse of our time. Political correctness; so-called climate change; wide-ranging policies favoring the "religion of peace," which is actually the religion of perpetual war; the distortions of radical feminism; the celebration of transgenderism; redistributive economics; open borders; no-fault crime; the dilution of educational rigor to promote the canard of "social justice"; the rejection of medical reason; the rampant slaughter of the unborn; the belief in human equality in the realm of talents, merit, and cultivation; the dogged quest for an egalitarian utopia; and many other such perversions – all such convictions and practices fly in the face of reality and will inexorably lead, sooner or later, to civilizational disaster. This too is a fact.
Culture may be defined as the human effort to reproduce, mutatis mutandis, in the social world a semblance of the order that operates in the natural world. Culture is the means by which we survive in a universe that is not a loving and nurturing mother, but hostile or indifferent to human existence. A functioning culture that serves the purposes of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" demands a healthy respect for how things work, a pragmatic recognition that reality does not take kindly to inattention or partisan obliviousness to its ground rules.
But since culture is a human phenomenon, it is prone to disabling complications, misguided objectives, and various forms of dysfunction. No political movement, philosophy, or culture ever succeeds in mapping the world in which it finds itself. Obviously, some do better than others, judging by the benchmarks of life span, health, general prosperity, and personal freedom. But leftism in any of its apparitions – juvenile Acadianism, eschatological fantasy, welfare statism, neo-Marxism, hardcore communism – is an ideological construction that mistakes the map for the world. Moreover, the map upon which it relies to chart its course is topographically skewed and does not coincide with the world as it is and always will be.
We see this deviation from time-tested norms and usages happening today in our own "Lifeworld" as the communal sphere we have taken for granted has begun to reformulate the axioms, values and customs that have sustained it. It is, by extrapolation, as if the natural world had abrogated the laws which render it coherent, predictable, and consistent. The sequel is chaos. This is the problem with socialism. A leftist universe – if one can imagine such a thing – would have expired a few seconds after the Big Bang. In the historical dimension, leftism is the political equivalent of an advancing breakdown in social and cultural continuity.
Socialism, then, is not only a political and economic system. It is a sign of the idealistic component in the human soul that can cut both ways – it can so easily go wrong – and, in its material manifestation, a palpable symptom of social decay. When the left is in ascendancy and consolidates its hold on a culture, nation, or civilization, we are remarking what Oswald Spengler called the paradoxical encroachment of willed darkness, the exhaustion of a way of life that unconsciously hankers for its own eclipse, that "wishes itself into the dark." As Arnold Toynbee said, "civilizations die from suicide, not by murder." Indeed, leftism in all its multifarious guises, as we chart its current trajectory and excesses, is not merely a political philosophy, it is the modern collective expression of a civilization determined to embrace its own extinction.
Another word for this aberration is progressivism. The method it has adopted to achieve its goal is to abjure common sense – that is, the acknowledgement of psychological, biological, historical, and physical facts, and to substitute a series of phantoms that consort with desire, not reality. The repudiation of the reality principle and the pursuit of one's own destruction are clearly a kind of insanity, the false idealism of profane perfectibility, self-hatred masking as self-love. Perhaps the temptation to defy reality can be to some extent withstood, relying on the quality of human resilience among those who know we cannot survive contra naturam, and who are able, as the psychologists say, to decathect, to resist the infatuations of the imaginary. Potatoes don't grow in Lysenko-land.
What we might call the leftist predisposition, the resentment of things as they are and the hunger for an Elysian mirage, will always be with us. But if we wish to survive and prosper, we have no choice but to respect the "unalterable form" of things as they are and to conserve what we have managed to accomplish thus far. To put it simply, we must work with, not against, reality.