The Book!

Sunday, October 09, 2016

A Tour by Handcart of Babel, Bedlam, and the Land of Nod Beyond



The City of Tomorrow

U of T psychology professor Jordan Peterson is under fire. A campus rally last Wednesday called for his firing. His offense was to publicly insist on the right to continue to use the English third person singular subject pronouns: he, she, it. A lesson I happen to be teaching to a Chinese student today. What I am still teaching as simply correct grammar, is now a risky political position in Canada.

Doesn’t that strike anyone as a bit odd?

Chris Selley rushes to Dr. Peterson’s defense in the National Post. Sort of. He accepts the professor’s insistence on using standard grammar as a legitimate exercise of freedom of speech. But he does call Peterson a “total jerk” for it. He asks “what kind of jerk refuses to refer to someone as he, she or they would like? They’re human beings, not issues.”

The point is, of course, that some people who are objectively male now demand the right to be referred to as “she,” some who are objectively female now insist on “he,” and some who insist they are neither the one nor the other, or both at once, demand to be referred to now as “ze,” or “xe,”or something else.

While the matter might in itself seem trivial, forcing everyone to acquiesce to this right to choose one’s own personal pronouns forces two other people, each time, to accept and consent to two dubious and dangerous assertions: that the rules of language and grammar are a personal possession, and that one’s sex is a matter of free choice. The problem with the first contention is that, if each of us may impose our own vocabulary and grammar on anyone speaking about us, communication is no longer possible. Language ceases to be as soon as it is not shared. It cannot by its nature be a personal possession.

The problem with the second contention is greater: by it not only words, but things, are subjective and infinitely fungible. Physical sex is not a matter of opinion or preference, in any sense that height, age, or eye colour are not. It is encoded as ROM in every cell. Can I declare myself twenty-five? Many would like to. How about making myself aboriginal, and so qualifying for various federal subsidies? Can I say I’m seven feet tall, and angle for a basketball scholarship? Can my new IQ be 200?

It all sounds lovely on its face. To begin with, I could be invisible and fly. It’s almost like a dream come true. One can see the attraction. But a lot else follows once we decide that a firm personal belief determines reality, even against the evince of the senses. It is all the stuff conventionally called insanity.

And I am not talking here of slippery slopes. It is not that accepting that sex is up for grabs might one day lead to all the rest. All the rest is already here, in some circles, and has been for some time. You already read it in Marcuse in the drug-soaked sixties; you read it in the seventies in the Teachings of Don Juan. It was the self-actualization movement. It is postmodernism. There is no objective truth. “Reality is a function of belief.”

First person and second person discuss third person, holding the oar, in the fifth circle of hell.



We are instantly at the bottom of this slope; or rather, as soon as we plant our mental handcart on it, it dissolves beneath us, and we find ourselves in the nether regions. Where is the logical difference, the possible distinction, between a man who feels in his deepest heart that he is really a woman, and a man who feels in his deepest heart that he is Napoleon Bonaparte?

If there is to be no objective check on our beliefs, anything is possible. And anything possible is real.

The defenders of this new postmodern theory of reality will no doubt point out that it is possible to make a distinction between personal fantasies that harm no one else, and those that do. The former ought fairly to be indulged, while the latter can be opposed.

But they have already violated that principle, in demanding that everyone else accept each individuals inner conviction of their own sex. Why does the third person in every conversation have the right to his, her, or its own reality, but not the first person or the second person? If C gets to tell A and B what to do, is the rule not already violated?

There is no way to square this circle. Postmodernism is founded on the notion that two mutually contradictory truths can happily coexist. They cannot; and the a priori truth that they cannot is, as Aristotle pointed out, the basis of all logic. Accept this idea of the malleability of reality based on belief, and all possibility of logic or reasoned discernment is lost. That is no small matter.

Among so many other things, this means that no classic distinction between my rights and yours can any longer be maintained. We can no longer say that what you believe is only your business so long as it does not harm me. What, for example, if my heart tells me that I am actually you, and you are me? What if it tells me, with a deep Buddhist profundity, that we are all one? Where is the possible distinction between my beliefs and yours then? And what if it tells me you are working with the CIA, or with sinister alien beings, and are secretly trying to control me with your radioactive brainwaves? Surely, the right of self-defense allows me to act accordingly. What if my heart tells me that what you consider harm is actually to your benefit. What if I believe you would be better off without a head?

Bethlehem Royal Hospital, 1735. Yonge and Bloor, 2016.


But why even bother with these relatively strenuous mental contortions? What is left to save any distinction anyway between the moral good and evil, between right and wrong? If there is no truth, why prefer the one over the other? Isn’t it all just another matter of personal choice?

That is just what postmodernism, constructivism, and “cultural relativism” argues already. Welcome to the bottom.

Given this path we have apparently already civilizationally chosen, no laws, no social contracts, no contracts of any kind, and no social institutions, will have any predictable or reliable results. It must, in the end, be total civilizational collapse. And not in the long run. In the very short run.

The only question then is whether another civilization has the moral strength to take over.


Or is there perhaps a chance to preserve something in remote monasteries?

No comments: