Ideas Have Consequences
Updated: Dec 12, 2019
We’ve had another mass shooting, this time in the city of Pittsburgh resulting in the deaths of 11 people attending service at a synagogue. The aftermath included prayers and condolences by high profile figures and politicians. In very typical fashion, no American tragedy would be complete without those in the political class trying to turn somebody’s grief into an opportunity to score political points or give platitudes on the importance of getting along, while offering nothing of substance to address the root cause of the problem. The 2016 nightclub shooting in Orlando, which killed over 50 people, was accompanied by calls for restricting immigration, despite the perpetrator of the shooting being born in America. The 2017 shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida was followed by calls for arming teachers and restricting firearms ownership, while ignoring the underlying mental health problems of a coming generation of American youth. The lack of solutions offered to counter the increase in mental illnesses we see across the country is directly proportional to the stratification we see in the political class. Other contributing factors to these problems are a poor school system that fails to teach values and critical thinking, lack of dignified well-paying jobs for the parents (also resulting in poor parental guidance), degenerate propaganda from the mass media, and, above all, alienation, problems that a real State could resolve. The central problem then is the prevailing liberal democratic regime, favoring anarchy and emphasis on material gain, rather that the State leading its citizens with a sterling value system.
The commonality shared by all of these events is the nature of the opportunism manifested after the tragedies. Liberal democracy has a very unique way of warping not only the value systems of those in political office but of the people they’re responsible to legislate for, creating a perpetual feedback loop. For example, the election process includes not only the time during and around election and primary days, but also all the time in between. For politicians to retain a seat in office they must constantly sell themselves to the public, forgoing values and rightness for the sake of keeping the job. Because they know, there will always be someone willing to oversell her/himself to get a job; their guard can never be let down. The public through the dominance of the economic system and the forfeiture of the political class has become defined by the values of the marketplace, substituting supply and demand for right and wrong. Such environment has set the stage for public discourse, the institution we have come to know as the “freedom of speech”. A degenerate environment encourages degenerate discourse, and, as happens with self-reinforcing feedback loops, that discourse contributes to further degeneracy of the environment. Absent is any social institution within which the people find themselves and which can guide the citizens. “Freedom”, especially when confused with liberty becomes a license for irresponsible behavior.
All of this happens within the confines of a political structure underpinned by the ideology of liberal democracy, that structure being the very antiquated U.S. Constitution. It was a document borne of contract theory, where political philosophers like Thomas Hobbes (Leviathan) and John Locke (Two Treatises of Civil Government) affirmed that people in a state of nature ( a “war of all against all”) gave up all their freedoms to a sovereign, and the sovereign in turn returned liberties. To this day, it is almost a guarantee that the average person will equate freedom with liberty, thus blurring the distinction between social allowance and responsibility. Even in the Constitution are contractions, evidencing conceptual problems. Since we are concerning ourselves with free speech in this article, it is appropriate to cite Amendment 1 of the U.S. Constitution:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Focus on “abridging the freedom of speech”. The same Amendment I uses contradictory language in referring to “right of the people peaceably to assemble”, etc., the question being whether “freedom” is the same as “right”. As said above, everyone in a state of nature starts out with freedoms. A “right” is what one can expect from the entity granting it, in this context a government. Obviously, here, this “right” has been abridged, as in permits often being denied certain groups. The egregious problem, of course, is equating “freedom” with “right”, something that Hobbes and Locke surely would turn in their graves about, especially when they form the philosophical foundation of this document.
In 1789, a fiction of all the people being sovereign was created, despite the realities of social stratification and popular will being transmitted through very aloof representatives. Absent from the document are a person's responsibilities or obligations to society as a guarantor of rights. Instead, the whole document focuses upon the protection of individual “rights” that emanate from a deity. This sets the stage for those individuals being able to evade social responsibility.
The feeble minded, incapable of uttering more than a few words would have the same freedom as the individual who reads Plato and Shakespeare. Put in this way to the average citizen, most would agree with the proposition that freedom is not equally distributed amongst the population. How do we apportion liberties and responsibilities, then?
Then why are our political laws based upon this negative view of the nature of freedom? At present he answer lies in the sense of obligation we all perceive ourselves as sharing in regards to our country and its history. “We hold these truths to be self-evident” that everything uttered in the Constitution is sacrosanct, so the thought usually runs in our heads. This history of American political thought is the history of trying to square the circle; of taking a political system designed for an 18th century agrarian economy and making it work in an industrial and now a technological society, ignoring the drastically different nature of society as it evolved into different forms. The progressive unfolding of American society is revealing the Sisyphean nature of this task. What has become evident is as time goes on we’ll see more people like Robert Bowers and more victims unless the root problem of the consequences of bad ideas is addressed. How do we apportion liberties and responsibilities, then? Liberties have become all the more important than freedoms. Liberties act not only to restrain but also to present positive solutions. Yet, not only with “freedoms” but also with “rights” we need to reflect on what they are but how they emerge (especially in terms of context”, and why. The inability or outright refusal to actually use thought in evaluating public policy issues and instead frame problems in terms of rights, freedom, and humanity, puts a strait jacket onto debate and prevents progress towards a solution. If our sphere of activities are defined as “rights”, given to us by God or something we’re born with because we’re biologically human, then the idea of restricting or altering these spheres of activities cannot even be discussed without bringing up the specter of tyranny, atheism, or the faces of Hitler and Stalin. This ignores the fact that societies change; they’re dynamic and evolve or devolve depending on the circumstances. The idea that political doctrines should be static constructs, that they’re reflective of a concrete morality is a reflection not of rational thought, but a lack thereof. Think back to your own personal life. As individuals, we grow and change throughout our lifetimes, in a sense we become several different people. This is reflective of how our environments change and the knowledge we acquire. That is, historical development and context are vital. Think about the first time you met your wife or husband. The first impression of that person is most likely not the impression you have now. As you get to know him/her better, experience life with the other, you learn to modify your own behavior to become more compatible to that of your partner. This is reasonable, it’s part of being human, and why shouldn’t it apply to our politics. As some policies prove to be failures, instead of adjusting policies to overcome those failures the political structure often forces instead excuses to be made to justify wrong decisions. The market-based approach of elections which is the hallmark of democracy prevents needed adjustments to doctrine. To keep his/her job the politician needs to justify failure by playing on the fears of the public, blaming shadowy figures in dark places, constructing make-believe cabals, and creating a moral enemy out of the opposing political party, making the implication that the other side is responsible for all of society’s problems.
This is displayed no better than on the topic of speech. The justifications given for restricting government’s ability to regulate speech often come down to unjustified fears such as: if they can take away your right to speak, they can take away everyone’s right to speak. While technically this is true, the reasoning behind it, if used to evaluate all laws would negate the existence of any of them. Laws by their very nature always compel some sort of behavior from somebody. The potential for a slippery slope to become reality exists everywhere ideas take hold, whether in the public or the private realm. Yet, it is well known among logicians that this “slippery slope” argument is a fallacy, because one event does not determine the next, each is contextual, and there are ways of intervening. The 1st Amendment to the Constitution being reified has become untouchable. This has led to a coarsening of discourse which has helped to further paralyze politics and divide the American people to the point of anarchy.
The fear of government repression has also been supplemented by a sort of mystical belief in unregulated speech. A major tenet of U.S. political thought is that there’s a marketplace for speech, that if given free reign, the best ideas will win out over the others. To be valid backers of this idea would have to believe that the growth of pornography, and anti-family dogmas are themselves aspects of morality due to becoming enmeshed in contemporary culture. Of course, very few people would actually advocate the point of view that these ideas are moral; hence, the contradiction is created between personal and political beliefs, i.e., advocating unrestrained public discourse and personal rejection of those utterances. Our ability to grow as individuals is denied to the political realm and hence our ability to grow collectively as a people is also denied, keeping us in a perpetual state of childlike ignorance.
When change eventually does come about it’s often very late in the process and is unable to prevent tragedies from occurring. When a people are collectively pushed into a corner with no means of escape they will often lash out and fight back, creating the changes necessary to survive. However, change should never be the functional equivalent of an individual having to fight for his life. Unfortunately, our political system, its philosophical works, and the words of its supporters who give it justification have consequences and have given it a legitimacy difficult to dislodge. The politically oriented massacres, which have now become a hallmark of American society, are bound to increase and become more accepted, as has inner city gang violence, and the heroin epidemic. The inability to curb dangerous forms of speech at the political level will literally tear this country apart.
A significant downside to modern society and the technology which it encompasses is how it effects the information we process. Whereas in previous eras the written word helped to form our opinions, now we receive information via images and five-second soundbites. The former stimulated cognitive thought, the latter emerges as reactions in the form of images and slogans, numbing the mind and making people susceptible to suggestions and emotions . As our environments have been more and more formed by technology the written word has come in to disuse, instead being replaced by the ease and flash of modern technology. With the decline of thought as a tool of comprehension, the content and quality of the discourse over the airwaves has become much more influential.
Unfortunately, our love of abstraction has prevented regulation and oversight of the airwaves. The pressures of the marketplace have helped to shape the discourse over not only the airwaves but also the Internet. A populace which cannot use thought to comprehend information will not buy into mediums which promote intelligent conversation and ideas; their functionality in a contemporary marketplace is extremely limited. The market being what it is, whatever sells will become popular and proliferate. Politics cannot survive outside of this structure. Talk show hosts such as Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, and Michael Savage, rely on fear, envy and simplistic conspiracy theories to keep viewers and consequently advertiser dollars flowing in. To stay in business they have no other option. Ignored by most are the consequences of letting this state of affairs go on. What we’ve seen over the last few years is the growth of vulgar ideas on the left and the right; this has been generally acknowledged by most. What’s not acknowledged for the most part are the reasons for it. People just don’t become seduced by ideas or people overnight. Donald Trump just didn’t come onto the scene and seduce a nation. The growth of the Democratic Socialists of America to an organization with over 40,000 members isn’t an anomaly. The dumbed down state of the populace hasn’t gone unnoticed. The media know what sells, and how to sell it. Consequently, we’ve seen the growth of the 24 hr. a day political cycle, but not a politics meant to manage societal problems or unite people, but a politics of agitation. People now spend more time than ever-watching Fox, CNN, and MSNBC, where they are subjected to stories not meant to inform but to keep you glued to the TV. Sensation has become the new norm, tragedies proliferate and demonization of the other side is constantly implied to keep people vested in constant viewership. This simplicity becomes more toxic once its effects are felt. If you truly believe that politics is as simple as cabals of evil people manipulating events in secret or our welfare is determined by an R or D next to a politicians name, then the leap over to the Jews are running the world or racial diversity is destroying communities is not a giant leap but more like a hop or skip; it’s the exchange of one form of simplistic thought for another. The growth we’ve seen in political vulgarity is not the exception but the logical conclusion of our society’s development.
The ugly truth is that if you honestly believe that evil manifests itself in your political opponents, and people are being oppressed by secret cabals bent upon global domination, then whether these ideas are truthful or not isn’t relevant to the person that holds them. To that individual, murdering Jews in a synagogue or shooting up a high school or nightclub appears to be not an act of evil but one of logic. If truth is an objective entity, something out there to be grasped and learned, then the social structure doesn’t incentivize its pursuit but it’s opposite. Our putting abstractions before the reality that the words we speak and the ideas they derive from have very real consequences, will become our undoing.