By Alex Blum
Today I was to speaking to someone (and by speaking I mean texting) about Immanuel Kant, a conversation in which I assessed him as a man of reason. The response: “What do you mean by reason?” was at once facetious and deeply telling of a mindset which has become the spirit of an age. Gone, is the Enlightenment ethos, Kant’s giddy expression of humanity’s light, “Have the courage to use your own reason!” We now live in an age in which reason itself is subjective, where Truth with a capital T means nothing and Plato is naught but an old white fascist. A world where the microaggression merits the recession of the intellect into a safe space, where prejudice is now the original sin that we must all cleanse ourselves of. ‘Prejudice’, which is the formation of almost all our opinions, based on aesthetic preferences and not reason or experience. To purge the human being of prejudice is to force us to find another way to decide on matters of life, love and philosophy – but what? Not reason, which is subjective. Not science, which is a sexist social construct, and least of all religion, which is an old boy’s club of superstition and foolishness. All that’s left to us is the sterile nihilism of a relativistic attitude, a world seen through the lens of race and gender where the goal is a ‘conversation’ but everyone already knows the right answer as soon as they’ve entered the room. The ‘dialogue’ is a farce, because there is only one right answer. However, these are the people who also believe that everything is subjective, save for of course the objective evils of racism and sexism through which all of human existence becomes a clear tale of oppression along superficial lines. The answer to that oppression? To promote cultural change within the bubble of an already liberal school. These social justice proposals shall surely sweep the world stage. The echo chamber, indeed, echoes a little louder.
Of course, by defending the concept of prejudice, I’ve already set myself up for being accused of writing some kind of regressive troglodyte manifesto. This is anything but. This form of prejudice has nothing to do with race or gender, but describes a larger condition that is at stake in a politically correct world. The philosopher Edmund Burke professed prejudice as a valuable human faculty, prejudice towards individuals, nations, objects and things. Anything. It is placing a deeper valuation on our intuitions, our impressions, our raw reactions to the unfolding world. It is Emersonian, to follow ourselves and the iron string that tethers all selves to absolute Truth. And if Truth is in fact our individual subjectivity resonating with the whole of humanity, then our prejudices become our deepest internal being. ‘I prefer England.’ ‘I prefer eggs.’ ‘Japan is a horrible country.’ Without our prejudices we lose our selves; when we are afraid to express them we are living in a world of repressed life. All of this is to critique an ideology that seems to view equal judgement, unthinking judgement, sterile neutral inhuman judgement, as the pinnacle of progressive ideals. We must all speak in the same canned academic language, not offend one another, and if we ever disagree, it must be along narrow grounds. This is a worldview that demands relativism: if there is no absolute truth and the goal is to eliminate all prejudices for the sake of equality, the result is a condition of pure conformity of opinion. A world without opinion, only consensus. We must surrender our prejudices, because they are offensive. Someone somewhere will not like them. So what’s the use of having any views at all? They’re all subjective and you’re only going to be wrong, or malicious, in someone else’s eyes. Best to sit back and let the world turn. Be nothing, and profess nothing.
But I’m making an argument with Edmund Burke, the ur-conservative and an old white man. Those labels alone are enough to scoff him off. Nevermind the actual meaning of the word ‘conservative’, which has nothing to do with the right-wing politics of today; the fact that one is an old white man inherently devalues his position. Noam Chomsky is an old white man, so we should listen to someone else. But Chomsky also describes himself as conservative in many ways, as it is conservative in this day and age to demand that the Commander in Chief abide by the rule of law, and that we should hold on to some archaic principles, such as a distaste for financial speculators, who were hanged in the 17th century. Perhaps also due process, which has been thrown out the window by the latest developments in Title IX, if anyone reads its procedures rather than imagining that any form of Title IX is inherently good and means equality for women. A Title IX investigation proceeds without a hearing for the respondent to even know what they’re being accused of, and the result is a finding of guilt that is kept secret. One can be accused and found guilty of a crime that remains completely unknown to them. “What the hell did I do?” The answer: “You won’t know what specifically you were accused of, or what you were found guilty of. All that matters is that the investigation was closed and we know what you did.” What kind of ‘liberal’ supports a process so Kafkaesque? But criticizing Title IX on any level is already perceived as an attack on feminism and thus an attack on women, an indication of how quickly the ideological mind moves. This speed of judgement paradoxically exists in a relativist world, which shows that no one actually believes in relativism, but that we merely profess it out of weakness.
I read an article on Gawker or Jezebel or something asking its readers not to buy any books by white, male cisgendered authors for a year in order to promote ‘diversity’. Identity politics of the worst kind. As if all white men put forth white man thoughts, and all black women put forth black woman thoughts, and the way to intellectual diversity is by packing one’s reading list, literally, with tokens of racial diversity. White men say white man things, thus their views don’t need to be heard as much. What a cage to put people in! And all from those who ultimately assert a bedrock of subjectivity, the ‘it’s all a wash’ metaphysics; everything is a social construct, nothing is set in stone, we’re all twigs in the wind with a will that ultimately turns to dust. It is existentialism with none of the courage, none of the power of being, through the will that transcends matter, the will that looks at its own genetic programming and defies it, the will that uncovers mathematics and uncovers the objective rules of materiality. The day THAT will is swallowed in an abyss of relativism is the day we need a kick in the ass.
Mathematical truth is not ‘invented’. The fact that patterns conjured up in ape brains match the patterns of the external universe requires an explanation, and our transcendence is that explanation. Mathematics is the link of the subjective mind into the hope of objectivity. It is the reason why Plato had all his students study math, and why I’m a hypocrite because I don’t. When we pretend that everything is a social construct, everything is a wash, that there are only opinions and that the world is truly ‘the big nothing’, we should all sit down and do some equations, and realize that we are apes calculating the fundamental patterns that rule the universe. Where does that action make sense in the ‘big shrug’ philosophy? We need a revival of Truth; we need a new philosophy to dig ourselves out of this postmodern hellhole we call the end of history. Will we go down as ‘the last man’, the one who is tired of life, the one who seeks comfort, the wretch who yearns to crawl back into the womb or become a small animal, because being human is too hard? That is the end that relativism allows for us. Relativism, if lived as if it were true, can only be nihilism. Living ‘as if’ is the freedom from a world without Truth, and we must live as if we are transcendent beings, capable of overcoming ourselves and spinning new wonder into existence. I believe that the postmodern condition is a cage, and the blossoming of radical social justice within it seems to indicate that the two inform one another.
Take, for example, the term ‘Person of Color’. When one analyzes this word, it begins to make sense why the postmodern attitude rejects reason. ‘Person of Color’ as a term could easily be argued to be offensive as hell. It implies that being white is neutral, no color, the default state of humanity that all else is ‘colored’ or ‘other’ in opposition to. How problematic. Furthermore, it sounds like ‘colored’, one of the most backward ways of referring to black people. If a social justice advocate wanted to make this argument, would they simply be told that they are wrong? With what reasoning? Is not everyone’s viewpoint valid? I find ‘Person of Color’ offensive, but no one will respect that. Social justice is built on consensus, and consensus shirks individual subjectivity. Subjectivity is no longer for the individual – it is for the collective. It is for the whole world. This, above all, is relativism’s mistake. The role of subjectivity is for the within, not the outside world, where things matter and there is indeed real morality that trumps ‘social constructs’. The language of direct experience makes this argument most powerfully, the language of force crushing the skull of a human being and the obvious moral truths evoked by killing individuals with drones as if they were ants. If we were those individuals, those ants, the truth of the situation becomes apparent. But empathy, too, is relative. Barack Obama, drone executioner who wields the Throne and the sword of Judgement, has a point. But serious critiques of social justice don’t. The current atmosphere in the university, despite its insistence on ‘everyone has a point’, is bizarrely closed off. It is soft and authoritarian. It is weak and it is the bully. It is the world that smacks your head on the sidewalk and asks you to follow sensitive procedure; it is both of these simultaneously and it is mad.
The current existential state among millennials of apathy, of inaction, inability, fear, anxiety and a lack of self-respect, exists for a reason. These things constitute the spirit of our times. God is dead, and those who replace Him with reason have also replaced Him with the functionary society, the human reduced to the animal, the will as profoundly un-transcendent and anthropocentrism as the great eye-roller of the century. Those who reject God and reason have become the nebulous pit of relativism, the nightmare from which we must awaken, especially in the university, if Truth is to mean anything at all. If we yearn to hold onto it at all. If we let it get away from us, we will be stuck with the infinite yearning for an infinite number of things that are infinitely hollow. The history of art and literature is a history of betrayal, as each work slowly becomes less and less powerful and we must replace it with another, as all things fade and all lovers fade and all flesh rots on the bone. And what do we have at the end of it? Faux politeness, a soft ‘dialogue’ that already has its answers and now has the federal government to enforce them. A speaker criticizing 3rd wave feminism is in fact a rape apologist, and is a danger to the student body. The 1 in 5 statistic is upheld as Truth, uttered by Obama, even though it’s not (But that’s heresy, it is a bulletproof statistic). An accidental brush or a vindictive ex could result in an investigation where you will be found guilty of an unknown crime by a court without due process. Title IX can be used as a weapon with no risk to the weapon-starved. Neo-segregationist ideas, such as dating or marrying only within one’s own race, are considered serious alternatives to white supremacy. Black people shouldn’t be friends with white oppressors, and they shouldn’t be treated the same as white friends, lest one be blind to their own privileges and the history of white crimes against People of Color. However, you also shouldn’t be racist by condescending to PoC as victims, even though radical social justice seeks to define PoC as the Oppressed – victims of white oppression. It’s a complete lose-lose where reason truly is malleable, and can mean anything. After all, it’s impossible to be racist against white people. Look up the definition of racism; our political inclinations mean more than the dictionary that was written by old white men anyway. Intellectual history is trash – it’s all biased, it means nothing, and in this bizarrely popular attitude of irreverence we have only the consensus opinions we’ve spun into our own Truth and now seek to push forth through the institution itself.
University students supposedly have the right to accuse Tea Party voters of being ‘privileged’, a voting bloc that largely lives in poverty and hasn’t had a taste of the kind of privilege that comes from a life in academia. The very fact that I’m a half-white man writing about race and gender issues invalidates my perspective – unless I agree with the social justice consensus, that is, in which case I should be applauded for my saintly progressive attitude. It is a soft authoritarianism, and universities are compromised against it. They are beholden to federal money, and like all institutions, the feast comes before the individuals they are supposed to serve. When a consensus forms, it becomes the Truth, and this more than anything else represents our times – God and Truth are whatever hold power, coercive and dishonest power. If one seeks to attain Truth, or know God, we must simply follow our own will to dominate and subjugate – politely – for the sake of resisting domination and subjugation. What does the broadly-defined relativist-postmodern-radical social justice consensus seek to dominate and subjugate? Language and prejudices; the content of one’s mind and the means to express it. I will assert once more that nearly all of our views come from non-rational or irrational aesthetic preferences that we then justify second-hand. And if this sounds like another argument for relativism, then it too must be transcended.
The ideal of the Ubermensch is one that has haunted and battered history. Wherever it is imagined, it fails because it is imagined in the context of superficial boundaries. One race is denoted as the problem. One gender. The solution of force, of absolute materialism, is too tempting for apes driven by power and fear to resist. But there is something above ape-hood, and that is humanity. It is the animal that is discontent with animality and seeks to rule the stars. Our yearning for power is a misplaced yearning for something more, something far stronger – the legacy of transcendence that we have forgotten and lost to the subjective void. Being human is an ideal in a world where the norm is animality, and animals must seek power to save themselves from destruction. But the truth of religion is that this material power is illusory. That in the molten pit of paradox, the Crucified Christ has actually affirmed his own life. The Maya is so thick that we cannot see through it. It is true that each religion is ultimately false, but it is also true that it speaks to a transcendence, a firmness in being human, a faith in the world, that this postmodern age sorely lacks. The problem is that religion itself has become primary, whereas human transcendence has become tertiary. It must be the other way around. Everything that is exceptional and beautiful about human beings should inform religion; religion should have no content in and of itself. Perhaps this solution is empty. Perhaps someday, it won’t be.
Either way, the animal has no ability to write out equations. If mathematical Truth is all we have for now, let it be the tether through which golden light may pour. The light of humanity, that which is an animal but is not happy in the world. We are being called toward something else. It is a calling that must be answered, a God that must be made with our own hands. And if this declaration is forsaken in the name of vague subjectivity, if we turn away from the light and the man-made God that must rise from intellectual despair, we have reaped what we desire and deserve. What we should do, above all, is exist as human beings, as the beings transcendent enough to work out the birth and death of stars on paper and learn the nature of the very DNA that has made us. All things are made of matter, but only one thing cares enough about matter to preside over the amassed knowledge of the sciences. We must take this Knowledge into ourselves, and transmute it into the hope that it entails, that matter can become something as absurd as a thinking ape and in that absurdity, something beyond our own minds was recognized and affirmed. From the atoms of physics come chemical bonds, from that the organic chemistry of the animal, and from the brain of the animal comes consciousness. Within consciousness we attain mathematical formulas, and what does it all rest upon? Beneath the bottom layer of physics? Mathematical formulas.
We are exceptional. Believe it, and allow your faith and your reason to synthesize into a golden core untouched by the malaise of the age and all its malcontents, especially mine and your own.