Monday 20 October 2014

Using common sense arguments against politically correct Leftism is worse than futile: the secular Right, and Neoreactionaries, need to ask themselves *why* the modern West does not apply common sense, and ponder the strength of anti-common sense adaptations

So many of the major hazards of modern Western life - whether the Ebola epidemic, of one of the chronic problems of the economy, crime, education, mass migration... - could simply be solved by the simple application of simple common sense.

And the secular Right are the party of common sense, and within the secular Right Neoreaction is the party of hard-nosed engineers who know how to fix things - and both and delight in explaining that the problems of modern Leftism are caused by insufficient common sense, and could be cured by the application of more common sense.

Indeed the bulk of secular Right and Neoreactionary discourse is precisely the use of common sense to ridicule the Left. 

But they fail to ask why common sense is not, in fact, actually applied.


This is the 64,000 dollar question.

Any explanation for the triumph of the Left which is fundamentally rooted in the history of ideas, has to account for the ability of propaganda (per se) - but in this instance emanating from a small, localized, fluid, and far-from-cohesive (mutually competing) elite - has been and is is able to overcome common sense - a psychological attribute which is solidly located in everybody, does not change, and is the default state.


The more that the secular Right/ Neoreaction expose and mock and dissect the ludicrous incoherence and inefficiency and ineffectiveness of Leftism - using a baseline of common sense evaluation - the more extraordinary the continued existence and dominance of Leftism becomes.

The weaker its common sense basis, the stronger must be the real strength of Leftist ideas; else they would not have won. It is he source of the strength of Leftism that needs to be known and analyzed, not their weaknesses - which are clearly irrelevant!"


The basic fact is that Leftism does in practice, and now, overcome common sense arguments - so it is futile to try and use common sense as a knock-down argument against Leftism.

Indeed, it must be that Leftism feeds-off common sense arguments - otherwise Leftism could not have grown-up and thriven in a context of universal common sense - therefore common sense arguments are worse than futile -

Common sense analysis actually fuels the engines of Leftism.



Davidstanley said...

Surely the main drawback with expressing common sense is it is banal and dull. In society we discriminate against those who cannot detach themselves from a single ideology or viewpoint. High status displays ironic detachment.
The only successful strategy against the left is scorn and ridicule .

Bruce Charlton said...

@Ds - The first point is valid, but I disagree that "The only successful strategy against the left is scorn and ridicule" - I don't rule-out S&R but it is clearly inadequate and would lead merely to a nihilistic and embittered hatred.

What is needed is 1. to inspire people 2. with the truth. Only inspiring truth will displace evil in a way which is good (inspiring untruth is just another kind of evil).

Anonymous said...

My theory-

-the Reformation roughly led to the replacement of an aristocratic, military elite and a moral elite with a new moral elite that claimed to be more moral than both, and thus having the right to rule.

-This led to continuous revolution in the English-speaking world of superior moralities, approximately Puritan, then Quaker, then Methodist, paralleling with this Unitarian then transcendentalist, then secular.

-Moral behavior always has some cost, but you can cherry-pick from the Sermon on the Mount that moral behavior should actually be self-destructive or it's not really moral.

-Common sense is never self-destructive, so it's immoral.

-The idea that the west is suicidal or self-destructive is incorrect. The moral elite never suffers for the self-destructive behavior they demand from others, they keep themselves insulated from it.

Matias F. said...

Maybe Leftism lives mostly as a vulgar religion of progress, where technology delivers continuous development and progress and eventually the fulfilment of all wishes. This is a religion of consumerism, which has delivered salvation to hundreds of millions of people in the last decades.

In the social sphere the doctrine of this religion is that all social relations are malleable and this corresponds to the experience of most people because they have seen how reality responds to television shows (e.g. Barack Obama became president, same-sex marriage became reality).

To members of this religion, publicly espoused common sense arguments would the indicate the presence of wreckers. This means that there is ever more need to proselytize and demonstrate the possibilities of social engineering.

An alternative explanation as to how common sense analysis actually fuels the engines of Leftism: The people engaged in these arguments are detached from reality when they are studying Leftist thought and ideas. This detachment from reality weakens them and at the same time, the engagement with Leftist ideas makes them want to find a compromise so that their work would not be irrelevant.

Joel E. said...

Most people (right or left) only appear to be reasoning beings. They put on a good show, but when you plumb their arguments, you find that they are only parroting. They have learned a set of instinctive reactions from the news that they watch and read, and they use those reactions as an alternative to thinking.

Were you and I to hear "there are children starving in the country of X," we might be interested to hear more about what is probably a very complex issue.

The average Turing simulation of a human being that is the everyday voter, however, hears the same, and immediately begins a mental lookup for the appropriate outrage / blame / whatever response to display in reaction to the news. He has seen the appropriate response a million times before in school and in the media, and he knows what is socially expected of him. In fact, he will even appear to others as a thoughtful and philosophical fellow. (Pl. Resp. 514a–520a).

This has always been bad and now it is worse. One of the basic problems of democracy, I think, is that it is a mass system of people pretending that they have power. This drives people to develop social responses to problems rather than real responses, because what matters is never what they have to say about an issue -- you would be foolish indeed to actually believe that a vote is equal to any real power -- but what their friends think of what they have to say. This means that we have a society of mass pretend. A false sense reality at any scale is dangerous enough. At this level, it can be monstrous.

Bruce Charlton said...

@dl - Your analysis seems braodly correct - except "The idea that the west is suicidal or self-destructive is incorrect." - I think you need to look a bit harder at the kind of things going on. At the macro-level, the elites are destroying their nations - which their children will inhabit; and they are also destroying their economies. At a micro-level they are sacrificing their children on the altar of political correctness. An example which struck me was that some very large proportion of the elite young women who go on Voluntary Service Overseas are subjected to serious sexual assaults and rapes - yet this is just accepted, because the consequences of acknowledgement are unacceptable for PC. So, what is striking to me about the elites is that they are harming themselves and their children - and this self-directed hatred is what I find terrifying.

jgress said...

My own scientific expertise is limited to linguistics, but there I can make a case for caution when it comes to relying on common sense rather than science. Many languages have superficial similarities that may look to the untrained eye as evidence of some kind of historical relationship, but when the comparative method is applied rigorously, these similarities turn out to be chance resemblances and nothing more.

A good example is the following pair of words: German haben, meaning "have", and Latin habere, which also means "have". Common sense would say the words must be related in some way, either by common inheritance or later borrowing, since they sound almost the same and mean the same. However, we know all the sound correspondences that relate German and Latin and can safely conclude that these two words are not related at all. The similarity in sound and meaning is purely fortuitous. Cognates of each word do exist in the other language, but they are less obvious: the Latin cognate of haben is capere 'take', and the German cognate of habere is geben 'give'.

This doesn't apply to all such correspondences, of course. Sometimes related words have a very obvious similarity, e.g. English three and Russian tri 'three'. The words sound almost the same and mean the same, and the comparative method rigorously applied reveals that they are in fact related by common inheritance from Proto-Indo-European. So sometimes science does confirm our intuitions based in common sense. Just not always.

There are enough counter-intuitive but well-established scientific discoveries (e.g. a heliocentric solar system, or a round earth for that matter) that make many people cautious about privileging common sense above the conclusions of science. The problem as I see it is simply that neither method is 100% reliable: our intuitions are fallible, but so are the results of the scientific method. This is because our own process of reason is fallible, and also because we don't know and can't know everything.

I don't know what the solution to the conundrum is. When it comes to the more foolish policies of the Left, though, I'm not even sure it's about common sense. Many leftist policies are based in anti-scientific wishful thinking and can be rejected on those grounds alone, e.g. the doctrine that all humans are equal in every respect. Many leftists even admit that their beliefs about human nature are axiomatic and not testable; indeed, it would be "racist" or "sexist" to even think about testing them.

JP said...

What is needed is 1. to inspire people 2. with the truth. Only inspiring truth will displace evil in a way which is good

Common sense IS the truth. It is knowledge, logic and observation that is accessible even to non-intellectuals.

If common sense can't fight Leftism than truth can't fight it either.

But we already know this. Truth and facts just make them scream more loudly.

JP said...

Why is common sense not applied?

The short answer is DEMOCRACY.

You can get 51% of the people to vote for things that are untrue, destructive, and defy common sense - and that's all you need to do. You don't have to fool 100% of the people 100% of the time, just a majority of voters on election day.

This can continue, and has continued, because the engineers, sensible people, and productive people have continued to keep the system working. At some point (soon?), of course, we will reach a point at which the "makers" cannot keep the system working, due to too many "takers". Perhaps then we will see a return to common sense, but not before.

Leftism does not feed on common-sense arguments; such arguments do not make the Left stronger. But these arguments are ineffective to the extent that people (especially stupid people) vote on the basis of greed, fear, and envy rather than common sense.

It is necessary to make such arguments, even if they don't "work" politically. We may hope that future generations will take note of the fact that not everyone in our time was crazy, and that some did warn of the obvious consequences of putting crazy people in power.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JP - It is the inspiring that does the fighting - not the truth.

Matias F. said...

PC is empowerment and liberation compared to common sense, it liberates from the constraints of natural law. Suicide is the ultimate act of freedom & power over one's faith. People that contemplate suicide do not want to hear common sense.

Misanthropist said...

Part of the reason that leftism succeeds despite being obviously hostile to common sense is that leftists are skilled at employing pseudo-intellectual pretensions to disguise the underlying logical fallacies of that which they argue. Indeed much of the purpose of government schools, universities etc. is to train such cant instead of promoting genuine intellectual curiosity.

Besides, "common sense" is seen as too limited, pedestrian, banal and proletarian a concept to really inspire people. Remember William Hague's Common Sense Revolution? Much easier to believe that one has transcended simplistic notions of common sense than to acknowledge that one is really functioning on a childish level that has not yet even mastered common sense.

Bruce Charlton said...

@M - Yes, although "leftists are skilled " doesn't necessarily apply, since PC is implemented by hordes of minor officials and middle management drones.

"..."common sense" is seen as too limited, pedestrian, banal and proletarian a concept to really inspire people"

- I agree. And this is why Leftism can only be defeated by something inspiring - specifically an emotionally powerful 'religious' (preferably Christian!) revival.

JP said...

It is the inspiring that does the fighting - not the truth.

They are both necessary, because you can't inspire people with nothing.

If you are a non-Leftist, you can only inspire people to fight with truth, beauty, and virtue.

If you inspire people to fight with lies, ugliness, and vice, then you are a Leftist.

Bruce Charlton said...

"If you inspire people to fight with lies, ugliness, and vice, then you are a Leftist."

Yes - but fascism/ nationl/ist socialism can (in the past) 'inspire' (demonically?) a nation to displace the current cosmopolitan elite.

Anonymous said...

I've written a few articles on the subject. I directly attribute the issue to "over civilization." The same ideas come up over and over again in human history; always when a civilization is at its peak in material wealth. It's easy to have dumb "wouldn't it be nice" ideas when you're living an urban life of ease. The farther from actual material care people are, the more such ideas begin to prevail among the psychological and financial "have nots." From the decline of Rome to the Mazdakist cult to the Cathars in France: always the same.

Ted Hilliard said...

I just read Closing the Book on Santa Claus by Ron Chandler. This is a fictionalized narrative of why a Merry Christmas law is needed for our local schools. It is about a father who tries to save his daughter’s holiday celebration after it is cancelled at the local school. He organizes a rally at city hall, but unexpected calamity prevails. Mr. Chandler shows why character education is as important to children as the memorization of facts and figures. I would recommend this book to other readers. It also includes four additional stories that will brighten everyone’s holiday season. I recommend reading this emerging writer because he reflects the conservative values that we need in our society today.