Austin Meredith: Letter
We received your #29. Let’s talk together on these topics.
1. On page 17 you ask if Lord Acton, as a religious person, could have applied his famous remark to the concept of an all-powerful deity. If there is in this world an inverse correlation between powerfulness and purity, would not an all-powerful deity be the most utterly irresponsible and corrupt entity that could conceivably exist? Your question causes me to wonder if you have recently perused the book of Job, for this is precisely what the book of Job is about! Abraham, in Genesis 18:25, tries to shame God into conforming to our human grasp of the proprieties: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” but Job, in Job 13:15, knows that it is pointless to try to shame an all-powerful deity, and decides: “I will defend my ways to his face.” I am trying to assure you, in case you think you are being sacreligious and shocking in your comment, that you would only shock a lay person. Theologians talk this way among themselves all the time. A story made the rounds in Auschwitz, about a hasidic rebbe who commented that it is possible that the rebbono shel olam is a liar. A disciple protested that the master of the universe could not conceivably be a liar. The rebbe responded “If the rebbono shel olam should open his window now and look down here and see Auschwitz, he would close the window again and say, ‘I did not do this.’ And that would be a lie.” [Menachem Rosensaft, in Symposium on “Jewish Values in the Post-Holocaust Future,” Judaism 16 (1967): 294.]
2. On page 4: “The only escape is forward.” I would remind you of the clockwork “escapement” mechanism known as the ratchet. Demonstrating that there is no alternative to going forward is different, in interesting ways, from demonstrating that there is any safety to be hoped for in going forward. Suppose the captain of the Titanic had said: “These waters are full of icebergs and this tub’s got no reverse gear – so the safest thing for me to do is get this over with as quickly as possible. Full speed ahead!” The old “escape velocity” argument, so beloved of economists. If you work yourself into the frame of mind in which you are seeing escapement in a forward direction, then faster and faster is safer and safer because we get there all that much the sooner. As a corrective, remember what the “end” of life is – it is death. We should consider that dawdling is always one of our most viable alternatives. How do your reconcile YOU CAN’T GET THE TOOTHPASTE BACK IN THE TUBE with THE END OF WORK? Are these two pieces of writing on opposite sides of your bicameral mind?
3. Inside your front cover: “… ideas, consciously held… are only its visible tip… assumptions normally hidden from those holding them, affecting their beliefs and their behavior without their knowledge… deep assumptions tend strongly to occur in sets… ” On page 11: “… assumption… driven down below the level of awareness… ideological repression… latent level… ideology of two levels…. ” The suggestion I have about this is that you should be wary about allowing yourself to become too committed, too easily, to either the “fundamental unrecognized assumptions” school or the “unconscious mind” school of explanation, since both these schools are in the midst of their own intellectual difficulties and since there is no need to trouble your study of ideology with the troubles of either of these schools. The foundationalist school has been in deep water ever since the theorem of Kurt Godel, if not before, and has ever loved to commit the fallacy of affirming the consequent. Briefly, if p entails q, and if q is the case, p can be concluded to be the case only if it can be demonstrated that there is no alternative to p. However, if there is a possibility that there is something r, where r is not the same as p, which also entails q, then if q is the case we can infer nothing whatever about whether p is the case. In the context of your study of ideology, you can infer from the fact that people consciously have idea q to the fact that they unconsciously have “presupposition” p only if you can demonstrate that there is no other “presupposition” r that would engender conscious idea q. I will leave the nature of your proof to your own imagination, since you have not hinted at it and since it is quite beyond my imagination at the moment.
You can make your case, and make it batter better butter, without the use of any of this kind of fallacy-of-foundations talk and without the use of any of this kind of conscious / unconscious-mind talk. There is merit in recognizing that our explanations of our states of mind tend to be post hoc, which is to say that they occur, temporally, almost always some time after our states of mind have developed. Explanations aren’t often causes: quite to the contrary, ordinarily they are elaborations.
4. Which brings us to the remarks about evolutionary development on page 14:
… the explanation offered by systematic ideology is that they are the outcome of an evolutionary development. Beginning with the ways of thinking associated with the right this goes on to produce those of the left. It is distinct from biological evolution but has in common with it the feature that the earlier stages persist as the basis supporting the later ones. The ways of thinking characteristic of the left are no more likely to survive without those used by the right than the animal world without the vegetable kingdom.
This sort of evolutionary attitude is quite reminiscent of a particular professor’s work in theory of moral development. This Harvard “educator” and “moralist” recently killed himself, after proclaiming his own humanist ethical attitude to be the evolutionary summit of possible ethical attitudes. His life work has been worth studying because this work has proven to be greatly useful, to institutionalists, in the legitimation of their abuse of children being “educated” in their educational establishments and in the legitimation of their abuse of prisoners being “corrected” in their prison establishments. The children and the prisoners are informed and informed and informed, as long as they have not evolved into the sorts of ethical attitude being sponsored by their custodians, and the only escape is forward – the child, or prisoner, only escapes being informed by coming to recognize the truth of the establishment’s attitude. Fundamental to this educator’s work was a confusion of moral sequence with temporal sequence, that if an attitude y is demonstrated to be normally an outgrowth of an attitude x, then attitude y is demonstrated to be morally superior to attitude x.
5. I suggest that on page 17 you have inadvertently picked up an argument from some people with whom you should not be associating. I refer to your UN statistics about world population, and the comment that there is nothing like disposable income “for cutting back the urge to produce children.” What I have to say to you is that the ecological crisis is a problem of general human impact, not merely a problem of human numerosity. Numerosity is only one cause of impact. Average individual consumption is another cause of impact. Estimates are that, in terms of ecological impact, the life of one USer is worth the lives of 50 Indian villagers. If USers say that Indian villagers should solve the problem of excess human ecological impact by reducing their reproduction, while USers continue to increase our disproportionate trashing of the global environment, then we are saying “We want you to solve our problem at your expense, and we want to continue to make it worse,” and we are offering what is very decidedly a racist argument. You are not a racist and therefore you should not be trading in this coinage.
Here is an interesting little statistic about the problem. To hear liberals talk about “solving the problem of world overpopulation” (notice how they name the problem in such a way as to limit the ways it can be solved), you’d think there were studies that showed that there was a strong and expectable inverse correlation between disposable income and fecundity. No, there are no studies that demonstrate this. Everybody knows that, whenever and wherever disposable income goes up, reproductive rate normally goes down, but nobody knows it because it has been studied – it is known as an article of the liberal faith. It is a hope, a “normative” expectation on the part of powerful people who want to be in control of the defining of our problem, and who require that our problem be solved, but who don’t want their own lives to be inconvenienced. Let those “other people,” our little brown brothers otherwhere on the globe, solve our collective problem at their inconvenience! The fact is that the relationship between disposable income and reproductive rate is a quite complex relationship generating no persistent demonstrated straight-line correlations.
But even if the liberal facts were not bogus, the argument does not follow. You don’t get overweight teenagers to lose weight by offering them chocolate pudding for desert if they will stop eating chocolate pudding between meals. Calories are calories, whether they are part of a meal or part of a snack. Likewise, impact is impact whether it is due to excess numerosity or whether it is due to excess individual consumption. Adding individual-consumption impact in order to reduce numerosity-impact is stealing from Peter to pay Paul.
6. Also, on page 17, you refer to speech in terms of “information” and “communication.” Have you considered the possibility that the primary function of vocalization, which is relatively easier for the interactor to control than visual interaction, is not in fact the communication of information at all, but is, rather, the creation of disinformation and distraction? That we only tell enough of the truth to be considered trustworthy, because as soon as we are trusted we can tell a lie, and benefit? I think we should refrain from assuming that the primary function of vocalization (human or non-human) is the “communication of information” until we have some evidence that this is indeed the case, and if such evidence is easy to generate I wonder why such evidence has not yet been generated.
See also: Reply to Austin Meredith.
from Ideological Commentary 31, January 1988.