Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Mark of the Barbarian

Barbarian:
noun
(in ancient times) a member of a community or tribe not belonging to one of the great civilizations (Greek, Roman, Christian).
• an uncultured or brutish person.
adjective
of or relating to ancient barbarians: barbarian invasions | barbarian peoples.
• uncultured; brutish.

We live in a time and place that puts high value on emotion, and that views emotions as self-validating. To feel something is thought by many to be sufficient evidence of its truthfulness, or at least its authenticity. This is a mark of the barbarian. I understand why post-Sixties liberals make the mistake of believing that nonsense. But conservatives?
This is another one of those “scary-to-write” posts because what I am going to say so breaks with standard Left orthodoxy that it feels as if I am writing religious heresy. The above quote is taken from a post at Frum Forum written by a conservative about older conservatives (Fox Geezers) who get all their news from FOX News. My concern in this post is not with the Right-leaning people who think that it is sufficient that they feel that the HCR law leads to ‘death panels’ or that Obama is a Marxist Islamist. My concern here is with the Left-leaning people, my own political tribe, that think it is sufficient to ‘feel’ something in order for it to be ‘true’ or ‘authentic’. The barbarian I speak of is in the second sense of the uncultured or brutish person.

The examples I have are too numerous to count. It is such a commonplace on the Left that whenever two or three of us are gathered together, it is a near certainty that someone will make a statement of the ‘George W. Bush was worse than Hitler’ species. If challenged, that person will then claim that “well, that’s true for me” as if that makes a difference. “That’s true for me” is just another way of saying “I felt it, that settles it.” The Left, generally, and the Queer-Left specifically has a disturbing tolerance for these kinds of statements. What’s more there is a colossal blind spot that people willfully ignore even though it causes all manner of problems. If your feelings are accurate barometers to what is going on in the real world then by what logic are my feelings not an accurate barometer?

In other words, if one leans left and believes that, for instance, the Republican party has active plans for the elimination of queer people in America and you believe that the mere fact that you feel it means it must be true how can you turn around and argue that the FOX News watcher who believes that Barack Obama wants to enslave white people is wrong? They aren’t working off of a basis having any more foundation than your belief.

I have had this conversation so many times in online lesbian circles that I have now had to leave two online lesbian communities because of it. The first time was when someone insisted that there were clauses in the 2009 stimulus package that were demonstrably not there. This woman kept posting ‘as if’ those statements were there and when I pointed out to her that they weren’t and that she was clearly lying about it, I was told by a moderator that we had to be ‘tolerant of diverse opinions’. Except she wasn’t expressing an opinion, she was making a statement of fact. Either the stimulus package had language about reparations for slavery or it didn’t (for the record it didn’t) but this woman kept insisting that it did, along with language about a train from Disney to Vegas. On another board, there was a discussion about whether quantum mechanics explained telepathy and telekinesis (it doesn’t) and when I pointed out to my interlocutor that the brain is too large and too hot for quantum effects to be observed, they kept insisting that in their quantum mechanics it did. On that same board, I did a post on how humanity has become less violent over time. As an example, I offered up the fact that slavery is no longer legal in most of the world and is certainly illegal everywhere in the West. Someone then responded to say that slavery still happened in the United States and the rest of the world. Now, it is important to note that I was talking about the legality of slavery and its being socially acceptable. This person was using the (cough) logic (cough) that if slavery happens anywhere then it might as well be legal everywhere. Their response was about emotionalism. They want, perhaps even need, to be able to see America as a nation that is singular in its malevolence and so the idea that things might have improved in America was anathema to them.

There was a time in the West that we thought that self-control and particularly control of our emotions was a virtue. Now, we believe pretty much the opposite. To practice self-control and control of the emotions is seen as inauthentic and is, perhaps, even a vice. At least it is a vice when it is oneself who is expected to show some self-discipline. On the other hand we still like it when others show self-control since it makes them easier to deal with. I have a sign “keep calm and carry on” on the wall outside my office at home. Can you imagine people giving that advice in contemporary Left-leaning circles in America? I can’t.
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