I know what you're asking, 'Why this?' Right? I mean, we've got Ferguson exploding again, and what with all the rest of the News Cycle churning around and more, why am I continuing with this odd... sort of History-ish series of posts pursuing the nature of Progress and Regress?
Let me answer that question with another question.
Why are these situations so common, rather than uncommon?
Consider that since I first began writing this post, we've passed through several news cycles, led by Jonathan Gruber admitting that ObamaCare was a lie to fool the 'stupid people', Obama has declared his intention to issue an Executive Order to let in illegal immigration, Ebola has come and (or so we hope) gone, ISIS is still beheading fast and furiously, Houston's Mayor launched an assault on religious liberty (forgot about that one, didn't you), Gruber is back, ongoing efforts against the 2nd Amdt, or Common Core#Ferguson has exploded with rioting against against the judicial system, and now Korea closing our movies and Taliban slaughtering a school... and that was within hardly more than a month's time.
And we certainly don't need to limit our time frame to just the last couple months to see a virtual parade of more of the same. I mean, it's not as if these very same issues are really anything new, right? Ferguson/Watts? Ebola/AIDS? ISIS/Al Queda? Houston or Catholic Hospitals or forced fed healthcontrol? Marysville/Sandy Hook/Colorado? And Common Core/Race To The Top/every-educational-reform-going-back-to-1800? Don't let the seeming kaleidoscopic events snow you, instead ask yourself if there is some sense in which these very separate events are in some sense fundamentally similar?
I've questioned, answered and posted on these ever recycling news cycle issues enough times already - more than enough times. The reason why these issues are so common is because having the ability to look at these situations in a more productive way, has become so uncommon. All of these seeming changes, are the result of a long ago change that has too long remained unchanged and unchallenged, and that change is central to the reason why all of the progress made in recent centuries has been transforming into the rapid regress of today. Granted, beneath the surface of the news cycle, what has not changed is difficult to see, and while the superficial distractions of the recycling are easily mistaken for real changes - the only real changes taking place have been within us - all of which serves to mask what remains unchanged... and so... here we are.
Yes, that requires a bit of explanation.
Easier done perhaps by looking at one aspect of some of the more recent changes in us as a people, one that is very much worth noting, though maybe not for the reasons you might think. The embarrassing boastings of Jonathan Gruber, and the results of the #Ferguson Grand Jury verdict, though seemingly different on the surface, have quite a lot in common, with each other, and with the recycling of the news cycle.
I've already ranted a bit on the #Ferguson situation here and here, and even a quick hit on Gruber, but aren't Gruber's lies just politics as usual?
Nope, at least not the part that I see as being worth noting. What's easily noted is that we had a well respected MIT economics professor, Jonathan Gruber, who was a highly paid consultant to the administration precisely because of his position as a highly respected MIT economics professor (and who was previously employed by Romney, BTW, and for the same valuable 'insights' that the Obama administration payed him so handsomely for), who was caught on video - multiple times - cheerfully advocating for a policy of highly opaque administrative lies, so that they could take advantage of the 'stupidity of the American voter' - for their own good.
Not surprisingly, the occasion of these videos being seen by the American people has brought about some rampant and hilarious denials from Administration apologists who've rushed out to make declarations about Gruber's namelessness and irrelevance, before realizing that they were each already on video praising and name dropping Gruber's name in hopes of his name's respectability lending some credibility to their schemes - Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, John Kerry, and all the way up to Obama himself, publicly thanked him by name for his help on ObamaCare.
Sadly, while their denials might have been seen as somewhat heartening, or would if it showed that they at least felt a sense of awkwardness at being caught in the lies they were telling, but there too appearances would be deceiving. Democrats weren't backtracking because they just discovered they'd been lied to, they were backtracking because they'd feared that his boastings about their plan had given a rhetorical advantage to the Right, which they sought to prevent. Not by correcting the lie with the Truth, no, they were trying to backtrack from his lie, with new lies of their own. Or IOW, they wanted to prevent the Right from getting an advantage, NOT to correct the lie.
But there's little surprise in that, politicians have been doing that for ages, right? Right, and liars lying isn't what caught my attention here. Liars lie, that's what they do. It's a problem alright, but it's not the problem.
You might begin to see the real problem by looking more closely at this quote from Gruber which unintentionally sets the stage and lays the situation out::
"... "There’s larger principles at stake here. When these states are turning – not just turning down covering the poor people – but turning down the federal stimulus that would come with that. So the price they are willing … They are not just not interested in covering poor people, they are willing to sacrifice billions of dollars of injections into their economy in order to punish poor people. It really is just almost awesome in its evilness."..."Now I grant you, it is surprising that he dares speak of 'Principle', after having just boasted about having purposefully written the ACA in such a convoluted manner so as to deceive the 'stupid Americans' into supporting it. And on top of that, the only thing remotely identifiable as a principle in what he touted, larger or otherwise, was that apparently, in his humble opinion, the desire for goodies should trump whether or not how you go about getting the goodies, is right or wrong. But as crazy as that is, that's a distraction, and not what I find to be new and alarming. The idea that someone failing to do what they clearly know to be wrong, could somehow be considered to be an 'evil' - that amounts to an assertion, by a professor from one of our top colleges mind you, that: 'Evil is the new Good', an and a belief that it is perfectly acceptable to use evil means, such as lying to gain power over you, 'for the greater good'.
Still, while that's most definitely a problem, it's still not the problem. The real problem has been the public's reaction to all of this - that 's what has shocked me, and on two different levels, the first being the most obvious.
You do realize that he was talking about you, right? Those of us on the Right weren't buying any of it at all, and we spent painful amounts of time and effort pointing out the very lies he's boasting about having told, and more, while you dismissed us. In short, to borrow a phrase:But it turns out that Obama's original quote came far closer to the truth:
'You were the Stupids they'd been waiting for!'
"We are the ones we've been waiting for!"For to my surprise, the public's reaction to these lies has been a collective: 'meh', and that my friends, that's the problem.
And the second aspect of the problem, is not seeing that as being a problem - that is an indication of how bad the problem really is.
Does anyone really not realize the significance of an entire people having little or no reaction to being wronged and lied to?
If you don't have a natural response to what is wrong or to being wronged, then how difficult could it be to manipulate you into either going along with what you should not, or into expressing outrage where there is no real cause for it?
Is that not what we are seeing happening all around us through all of the endlessly recycling news cycles?
Because the shocking change I see in friends, neighbors, family members and elected office holders, is that those 'stupid folk' aren't batting an eye about the lies that Gruber is on record admitting! They are non-plussed that what he has been admitting was knowingly used to form govt policy, by those who are now attempting to distance themselves from him! Ironically, the responses I've been getting from people, they have been precisely the 'larger principle' that Gruber referred to, in inglorious action:
"Meh. More people have healthcare thanks to ObamaCare."IOW: They got what they wanted, and how they got it, they couldn't care less about. Why should you find that worrisome? The reason why, is that someone who's interested in getting something for nothing, clearly has no interest in anything to do with reality or the truth to begin with (in fact they are rooting for less of each) - what they are looking for, as every good con man knows, is an excuse to justify going along with the deception being fed to them.
And that same 'justification' is the same mindset that's driving the demand for a Justice without any concern for determining what Justice should be, either in #Ferguson or Garner's #ICan'tBreathe - or in still Other other words, in the minds of a sizable portion of the American public, for them all it seems that "The Ends justify the Means" is perfectly uncontroversial, and that should alarm you.
Here we have a situation where the leftists are looking at being lied to, not from the perspective of dupes being taken advantage of, but from the perspective of people implicitly in on the lie, people who are fully aware that what they were being told, was a lie, a lie which they were happy to look to as an excuse to justify going along with the greater deception. IOW, they were actually thankful to be lied to, so that they could look as if they had the 'moral high ground' (that's some deadly irony right there), a ground knowingly built upon lies, in order to be able to bark at conservatives for being 'evil'... which is the most normal, natural, primitive desire a person can have - the natural desire to have what cannot be, the desire for what you want because you want it, over and above what you should want.
For a society which once prided itself as being based upon the rule of Law - of doing what is Right over what is satisfying, that is as dramatic, high level, and widespread an instance of regression, as you'll find.
Let that sink in: The leftist, and large numbers of the enthusiastically shallower portions of the Libertarian and Right bands of the political spectrum (see the prejudged outrage over the 'injustice' of the #Ferguson & #Garner verdicts), are now apparently comfortable with being in the position of looking to known lies, in order to get their bearings and to take direction from them. W.T.F. is that?!
Again, not so much for what they are doing, but for the lack of any internal restraints against doing what they're doing - they're fine with it!
Don't fool yourself, this is not simply a bad situation.
A bad situation is one where you find you've messed up, you made an error, you were inefficient or foolish in what you did, and disquieting consequences followed. But this is a case of deliberately seeking after an absence of Truth, an instance where people seek to 'knowingly' exclude what is True, from their awareness. That creates a vacuum which only power will find welcoming, leaving the "IN" door of evil ajar - can it be otherwise? Arguing not to convey what is true, but to intimidate others into going along with your favorite lies... and feeling no compunction or embarrassment or shame about it... who else but a power worshiper could find that welcoming?
b) The end of the road of education reform - and its ends - has been reached.
These transformations ought to remind us of a line from many moons ago, from the British historian Lord Acton, who said,
"Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely."But has anyone given thought to what it actually means? Having power that is not strictly subordinated to what is right and true, having the power to bring you what you want because you want it, begins to corrupt even the best of men. If you haven't the internal standards and restraints to order your desires, then that unchecked power will draws you down through the satisfaction of your desires, separating you further and further from what what is right, nudging you from virtue and into vice, or in other words: becoming corrupted. That absence of goodness will soon have you, as J.R.R. Tolkien had Bilbo put it, feeling like
'“I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.'
You'd better think upon it, and for godsake don't write 'fairy tales' off as worthless, because there is almost nothing else in society today that will hold such thoughts up as being serious and significant enough for you to consider them! Where else but Fairy Tales, Fantasy and Young Adult Sci-Fi will you be challenged to confront what it means to be human? Note: I did not say "Where else will you wallow in your favorite vices and examine how that empowers your relationships" which is the focus of what passes for 'literature' today. And I didn't, because it isn't worth the html to do so.
What with this being the case, we very well may have reached, or will soon be reaching, that point where significant percentages of We The People, have been corrupted absolutely, or near enough to it to be a distinction without a difference. And nothing good can follow from that.
One consequence of that corruption upon a society, is the inability to recognize or desire what is right, and the flip side is that neither will they realize when they are being wronged. Several questions about such society come to mind, but given a society which prides itself upon its 'free public education', surely one of the questions a person should ask, is how has their means of educating themselves have been allowed to become such an abysmal failure?
c) Three true things that were never said by Aristotle, Francis Bacon and Alexis de Tocqueville
There is a road we've been travelling down that we appear to have reached the end of, and it began with a change of course that might be best seen in how popular opinion has moved from one popular aphorism, to another, and I'll pick three to illustrate it, starting from the earlier source, attributed to Aristotle:
"Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all." - aphorism attributed to Aristotle, to
"Knowledge is Power - aphorism attributed to Francis Bacon *"and of course,
"America is Great because America is Good - if it ever ceases being Good, it will cease to be Great." - aphorism attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville.Interestingly enough, while not technically accurate - neither Aristotle, Bacon nor de Tocqueville actually said those words, at least not in any translations I've ever seen (and yes, Bacon, though English, wrote in Latin) - they are accurate summaries of what they actually did say, though in many more other words. But be that as it may, that master aphorist - popular hearsay (or today aka: 'the internet') - has somehow, correctly, distilled and polished their thoughts into these three succinct, representative and very quotable phrases.
Inaccurate, but True.
Aristotle can be found to say much the same things in his Politics (the book I have the most issues with), and in the Nichomachean Ethics (my favorite of his), but the reason why this is true, he put into the fewest words, in his Poetics:
"Part IXThe heart, the imaginative, the poetic deals with higher more philosophical concepts which are necessary to give meaning to the data they refer to. And with all due respect to Aristotle (and he is due a great, great deal of it), 'what may happen' doesn't cover the half of how Poetry rises above History. The poetic, the imaginative doesn't simply state what may be, but it illustrates it, it makes its points and binds them together with your interests, your reactions and expectations, inducing in you a catharsis that secures its points not only to your brain but integrates them with all the rest of what you know, binding your heart and mind together, transforming mere data into Knowledge with a capital "K", which you are unlikely to forget or to trifle with.
It is, moreover, evident from what has been said, that it is not the function of the poet to relate what has happened, but what may happen- what is possible according to the law of probability or necessity. The poet and the historian differ not by writing in verse or in prose. The work of Herodotus might be put into verse, and it would still be a species of history, with meter no less than without it. The true difference is that one relates what has happened, the other what may happen. Poetry, therefore, is a more philosophical and a higher thing than history: for poetry tends to express the universal, history the particular. "
Regarding the aphorism attributed to Francis Bacon, he actually said in his essay "On Heresies", speaking of divine power, that:
"...for knowledge itself is a power whereby he knoweth"Bacon's secretary, Hobbes, yep, Thomas 'life is nasty, brutish and short' Hobbes, attributed to his employer/teacher, "the phrase,
"The end of knowledge is power"All the same, taking Bacon's essays as a total, the aphorism "Knowledge is Power" is a good summary of the thrust of his thinking, and is an excellent summary of Thomas Hobbes' own beliefs, both of which have had huge implications on the last four hundred years of western history. How the Baconian disengaged us from the Aristotelian, can be seen via the father of Pro(Re)gressive Education, John Dewey, in Chp 2 of his "Reconstruction In Philosophy":
"...The train of ideas represented by the Baconian Knowledge is Power thus failed in getting an emanci[Pg 52]pated and independent expression. These become hopelessly entangled in standpoints and prepossessions that embodied a social, political and scientific tradition with which they were completely incompatible. The obscurity, the confusion of modern philosophy is the product of this attempt to combine two things which cannot possibly be combined either logically or morally. Philosophic reconstruction for the present is thus the endeavor to undo the entanglement and to permit the Baconian aspirations to come to a free and unhindered expression. In succeeding lectures we shall consider the needed reconstruction as it affects certain classic philosophic antitheses, like those of experience and reason, the real and the ideal. But first we shall have to consider the modifying effect exercised upon philosophy by that changed conception of nature, animate and inanimate, which we owe to the progress of science...."What he means is, that his Pragmatism - the abandonment of Principle for what is expediently useful (for the moment, and no more) - could not stand up beside an image of Virtue without being laughed off the stage - or out of the classroom - and so the virtuous, the imaginative, the treasured classical literature of Western Civilization, had to be given the boot, for the Bacon. And the Baconian is, in its ends, the refutation of the Aristotelian, and modernity is decidedly Baconian.
Back before them all, Socrates set us on the path of the One in the Many, the principle Truth behind the infinitude of particulars, for the same reason that Aristotle remarked that the Poetic was more important than the Historic - not because the poetic is more important, but because it is what makes it possible to comprehend the particulars. Knowledge is the organized integration of what you know to be true, and the deeper you know it, the more truly you comprehend it, and that deeper path is found through reflection and contemplation - it illuminates the principles behind the particulars, which enables you to behave more wisely, more long range, and for the first time making it possible to pursue Happiness. Contemplation is aided by well written material, one line of a philosophic or religious gem, or a phrase of poetry, can provide the means to better understand who you are and what your place in the world is, could or should be.
But to focus upon Power, is to reduce your aim, your telos, your goals' perspective to things. There is little or no room for contemplation in schemes of power, you abandon the depths and move from Quality to Quantity, from Principle to particular, from long range to short, from Right & Wrong, to what you can pragmatically get away with at this particular moment, leaving you with little or no ability to see further than the hand - or fist - in front of your face. Ultimately you install the powerful over the Truthful, the pleasing moment, over, and in opposition to, the Virtuous life.
"Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy."That would once have been a fine summary of the goals of an Education: to prepare students for making that better choice. Now it is not even considered. Mustn't jeopardize self-esteem, don'tcha know.
And between these two approaches, of knowledge of what is right, in order to do what is right, as against Knowledge as a means to Power, it is the latter that is by far the easiest and most enticing.
Pursuing power is easy - and always has been.
Doing what is Right is hard - and always has been.
Turning a person, a populace, away from one and towards the other, is making a change that makes a difference, and it takes a morally informed person to know - or to care - about that difference, which sharpens the point of the phrase attributed to de Tocqueville's - America's greatness resulted from, and depends upon, its goodness, the quality of caring deeply about what is right and good with the necessary corollary of being incensed over what is wrong, or in other words, having 'heart'.
Knowledge without heart is mere data, trivia, useful but unimportant facts, suitable for multiple choice questions only (and why?), not for contemplation. Knowledge, to be true knowledge, requires heart. It requires heart in order to be offended by a lie because it is a lie, and without that, then all that you know is reduced to mere utilitarian usefulness and it is that which dictates your response - or your lack of one.
Our educational system has been dead set on removing heart, dead set on removing imaginative works of literature - forcing factoids over heart - dead set on replacing the greatest works of Western Civilization with the driest 'essays of fact", as Noah Webster put it. The ultimate illustration of this might be the recent survey which found "The Worst college in America!" to be little Shirmer college, a Great Books college, which directs its entire effort at not just acquainting its students with those great books, but involving them in discussing and debating them, rather than answering multiple choice questions about what others have said about them.
And where has this change of direction gotten us? Further down the road that Webster himself decried just a few decades after starting us down it:
“Principles, Sir, are becoming corrupt, deeply corrupt; & unless the progress of corruption, & perversion of truth can be arrested, neither liberty nor property, will long be secure in this country. And a great evil is, that men of the first distinction seem, to a great extent, to be ignorant of the real, original causes of our public distresses.”I'd give almost anything to attend little Shirmer College, or better yet, to have my kids attend it.
Adding up the aphorisms
Fittingly, wacademics across the nation are quickly discovering, from college presidents criticized for saying that "all lives matter", to law professors forced to apologize for daring to ask law students to consider whether or not inciting riot might be a legal issue, discovering that when the heart has not been educated, then it is mere usefulness that will drive their students and that usefulness will be shaped by what is desirable and satisfying, not by what is good and true, and usefulness will not only be cold and empty, but will trump both morality and sensibility (you might want to consider just what sort of person considers what is moral and what is sensible to be in conflict, but that's for a much later post).
'Why?' you ask? Here, let me assemble these aphorisms for you so that you can see that if knowledge is Power, and all knowledge is viewed absent moral value (in relativist diversity), reduced to fact alone, then here's how the progression flows:
Knowledge is Power.
- Get an education to get power
- Get more education to get more power; the more the better.
Absolute power corrupts absolutely,
- go deeply into debt and get as many degrees as you can - go for the power!.
"Meh. More people have healthcare thanks to ObamaCare."That's it. No concern that it was wrong to do, no outrage over using deliberate lies to build public policy upon, no sense of concern over the exercise of governmental power over all Americans being built upon a lie, all of that and more has received nothing but a near universal - 'meh'.
But the apathetic 'meh' to Gruber's lies, and the brash protests of students and #Ferguson protesters demanding that 'justice' conform to their wishes, are but two sides of the same pervasive skepticism. What follows from that inability to stand by or to state what you know with certainty, is a perpetually apathetic swinging between distracted passivity, and passionate outbursts, as the whims of rootless emotional appeals dictate. Tailor made for such a people, is the no longer tired old phrase of Thracymachus:
'Justice is what is best for the powerful' -Thracymachus (and every tyrant and dictator of the nearly 3,000 years since him)No longer a cheap rhetorical ploy, it is now a sincere worldview, one now being promoted by leading MIT Professors and POTUS's alike.
That's certainly a change worth noting, an enthusiastic and historical leap backwards - Pro-Regression - and one that we're going to be experiencing the effects of for quite some time to come. I didn't think that the average person had sunk so far as to accept that... the tenured, and the political apparatchiks, sure, but... not my neighbor, not family.
d) Transformational Reform
Educational reform appears to have finally succeeded in reforming our nation from one intent upon being good, to one intent upon securing power for power's sake, which brings us back around to the third accurate, though mis-attributed aphorism:
"America is Great because America is Good - if it ever ceases being Good, it will cease to be Great." aphorism attributed to de Tocqueville.Not only is that a change we could do without, but it is one where we will surely cease to be, if it is not unmade soon. Not a good sign at all. The moderns have taken it for granted that the rush towards 'science!' required a rush away from the moral, the religious, the poetic - a mad rush away from anything smacking of imaginative heart. That has driven our abandoning everything from Homer to the Bible, from Aesop to nursery rhymes - in today's educational world, those are all out. Facts alone are all they see any students needing, pack 'em in, drill 'em in, if they can repeat correct data then they have all the skills they need to succeed.
The problem is that data, absent heart, is truly meaningless, and skepticism is what follows. It leaves one without convictions and able to 'justify' any whim at all.
When Hannah Arendt described the Nazi, Adolph Eichmann, on trial for war crimes committed in WWII, as demonstrating the banality of evil - that was and IS the ideal that modernity has been striving for. Many however, such as in the article linked, didn't get it, they thought her observation of a passionless system was somehow excusing the raving lunacy of Nazism, but they are missing an important point - both the bureaucratic drone and the raving ideologue are but sides of the same coin, drawn on the bank of skepticism.
For instance, you aren't going to get someone who thoroughly understands Individual Rights, and the importance of Property Rights and respect for the rule of rightly reasoned law to their lives, to merely shrug over shop lifting. Neither are you going to prod them into a torch carrying frenzy over the death of a criminal complicit in the violence that ended his life. But someone who is skeptical of even our ability to know what is Right or Wrong? It is entirely within such a person to express either apathy, or violent indignation, at the emotional prodding of a demagogue, because there is no substance within them to resist his beguiling appeal.
The Skeptical mind, far from being mentally tough, is a mind with no substance, no form, they can be molded into either riotous frenzy, or just as easily convinced to bring their apathetic efficiency to filling out death sentences in triplicate - they are without heart. The Skeptic, via their dis-knowledgeable apathy, will be unperturbed over pits full of corpses, its evil found entirely unmoving, and unremarkable, and as invisible, to them, as the water a fish swims in. The reason it hasn't yet 'happened here', is only because the hand-me-down memories of elder relatives, warnings of nightmares from certain beliefs, have kept us aping 'moral outrage' whenever reality has approached too closely to the modernist ideal. But those memories are fast fading, our proper outrage quickly becoming laugh tracks in our lives, and that road which skepticism leads to, and which is the mark of the modern age, is too easily accessed from our own front doors.
If that is not a major shock to you, or at least something you recognize as a critical wrong, or even just a source of embarrassment - then you are pursuing regress - and you are in a sick, sad state.
And that illustrates the need for what I'm trying to accomplish in these posts, to show you what signs and stars to look for in order to get your bearings and return to sanity, rather than spin your wheels or go around in circles, and it does take more than just 'hurumph!'ing at the #Gruber's of the world. For instance, what answer can you give to those who say 'meh' to Gruber?
Can you explain not just that their response is a poor one, but also why? And do so not simply to win an argument or to shut someone up, but to help someone make sense of things? Can you explain to people who actually think that they are doing good, why the good they seek is actually bad? Can you explain why skepticism does not mean being tough minded, but means having a head full of mush?
Not tell. Not insult, but Explain, can you explain where their response has left them and why they should be dissatisfied with that? If it were easy, it would not be a problem, and if I could do so briefly, I would (and only after doing so would I go into endless detail). Winning our way to actual Progress will require our knowing our terrain, knowing where we are and where we are going in our travels between Progress and Regress, and for that reason I'm making this journey as much for my own benefit as for yours.
To be continued.