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Friday, August 20, 2010


Faithful readers of this blog, of whom there seem to be a few, will have noticed that since ending my Memoir, I have been posting a good deal less. In part, this is because I am rushing to complete the eleventh edition of my textbook, ABOUT PHILOSOPHY [No, I do not really think the world is crying out for it, but the publisher is, and it serves to cushion my old age]. But the real reason, as I indicated in my last post, is that I have become dispirited with the seemingly bottomless depths of the public discourse. Now, I am, as I several times reported in my memoirs, a congenitally optimistic person. If you take a glass from the dishwasher and it still has a few drops of water clinging to its sides, I will view it as half full. "Where two or three are gathered together," as the Good Book says, I think I see a revolution. But even I cannot contemplate the daily absurdities and excrescences of the mindless Right without a sinking sensation in my stomach.

It would be false to claim that the public discourse forty or fifty years ago was superior in all ways. The overt racism, the condescension to women, the utter contempt for gay and lesbian men and women, the rampant hysterical anti-communism were, and need to be remembered as, permanent stains on the national conscience. And yet, and yet. Public figures spoke openly and admiringly of labor unions. It was common for those who were rich to acknowledge an obligation to those less fortunate. Even though today's Pat Buchanans and Glen Becks and Bill O'Reillys had their counterparts then, those views were not treated as respectable, as worthy of notice. I do not think I am simply getting older, although that of course is happening, irrevocably and irreversibly, when I see a thorough corrupting of speech and thought in America today.

I will try, in this blog, to express my anger politely, although not in a hedged manner. But I freely confess that in my secret fanatasies, I am not nearly so well-mannered.


Chris said...

Might I suggest you forego trivial politeness and political correctness. If there's one thing I love to hear senior citizens remind me; it's that once they become seniors they stop caring about who they offend ;)

This is a special chapter in your life, why not share that value!

Unknown said...

Dear Prof,

I am enjoying your site and i relish each posting and your world view. I actually live in Malaysia but read with relish the going ons in America.

Your recent lament about the views of the Right made want to share some John Stuart Mill's quotation, not sure if they add value, here it is from wikki quote:

Ch. II: Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion

If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.
To refuse a hearing to an opinion, because they are sure that it is false, is to assume that their certainty is the same thing as absolute certainty. All silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility.
Mankind can hardly be too often reminded, that there was once a man named Socrates, between whom and the legal authorities and public opinion of his time, there took place a memorable collision.
It is a bitter thought, how different a thing the Christianity of the world might have been, if the Christian faith had been adopted as the religion of the empire under the auspices of Marcus Aurelius instead of those of Constantine.
To discover to the world something which deeply concerns it, and of which it was previously ignorant; to prove to it that it had been mistaken on some vital point of temporal or spiritual interest, is as important a service as a human being can render to his fellow creatures.
However unwillingly a person who has a strong opinion may admit the possibility that his opinion may be false, he ought to be moved by the consideration that, however true it may be, if it is not fully, frequently, and fearlessly discussed, it will be held as a dead dogma, not a living truth.If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind. (p. 23)
The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error. (p. 24)



Unknown said...

I share your despair, Professor. I have gained good insight into the issues by reading your blog. I believe you once attributed this decline (at least partly) to the fear and anxiety created by the changing demographics of America. Do you see any other causes?

GTChristie said...

I know something that will cheer you up, Professor.

Friday's editorial in the St. Petersburg (FL)Times by Daniel Ruth:

Much of it is ad hominem, contra Glenn Beck. But it is so cleverly wrought and entertaining, I just know you will enjoy it.

And speaking of revulsion, that is my reaction to the audacity of Beck in calling for a rally on the very spot and date where Martin Luther King delivered his "Dream" speech. If nothing else, by placing himself so deliberately in the same context with King, and given the low quality of his thought (he's a hack), Beck egregiously defiles the memory of King -- and my first reaction is the disgust you speak of above. Prior to analysis, the very idea of this demagogue occupying hallowed ground both physically and symbolically to spread his half-backed "philosophy" is ugly.

In my fair youth I once proposed that ethics is aesthetics. A very good professor talked me out of that. Philosophically it's indefensible; it breaks down in the exposition. But somewhere beneath the rational, analytic form of ethical thought there is the emotional level, in which "right and wrong" (indeed perhaps also "right and left" -- LOL) is an aesthetic impulse that should fascinate us. Unfortunately, because it is there inside us, it is also demagogue-able by those like Beck, who finds ways to emotionalize issues and leave them in that raw state, for discussion.

And there is one corner of the debasement of political debate. Emotionalism. The tried and true tactic of Hitler, for instance.


So please do read the article cited above. It will make you smile and believe the world is not gone completely ugly ... yet.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Thank you, GT. I managed to access the column you recommended, and it did indeed cheer me up. There is a good deal to be said for straight up unapologetic righteous vituperation!