Welcome Reader

I suppose it is kind of preposterous that one imagines himself important enough to write down his opinions for others to read. Chattering superciliousness is one of the most infuriating things about academics and so-called intellectuals, generally, who feel compelled to share their thoughts. But here it goes, anyway.

The Ludicrous Left, the Ridiculous Right, and Rational Objectivism

By Michael E. Berumen 7-15-05

Ideologues belonging to the extremes of both ends of the political spectrum have always had several things in common. Of course, they are loath to admit they are driven by some of the same tendencies. I should like to introduce my appellation for a contrasting outlook, namely, rational objectivism, which eschews the ideological approach. Rational objectivism is something about which I have written extensively elsewhere, though my focus was primarily on its applications to ethics and metaethics. It does have a much broader application, however; indeed, I think it represents the way one looks at things as a whole, even outside of the social realm.

I used to think that the descriptor liberalism conveyed my meaning. Alas, both self-described liberals and their shrill opponents have seemingly done irretrievable damage to the once venerable term. In any case, permit me to begin by describing some of the hallmark attributes of ideologues of both the right and the left, whose world views represent the antitheses of what liberalism once meant. Afterwards, I shall return to the matter of rational objectivism.

Perhaps the most obvious, shared characteristic is that ideologues of the left and right both adhere to a set of invariant principles that constitute the lens through which everything else is viewed. The mark of the ideologue of any stripe is that all of reality can be judged in terms of their fundamental beliefs, notwithstanding any evidence to the contrary. Thus, for example, the left-wing Marxist will find a way to relate dialectical materialism to developments in science, and the right-wing nativist will pin all of society's moral or economic ills on immigration.

Rightists tend to be much less concerned about having a systematic, consistent approach to understanding the world than are leftists. They can adopt the scientific method for some matters, say, for developing better technology for military uses, but they will not use it elsewhere when it does not comport with their other, more fundamental beliefs. For example, they are more than willing to set science aside when it comes to understanding the world's origins or human biology and psychology. The right tends to be suspicious of intellectuals, people who trade in words and ideas, and they are more inclined towards the visceral kinds of emotions that underlie nationalism and religiosity, and what they imagine to be the "common sense" outlook of the plain man, the man in the street, rather than university dons, those geeky, awkward kids that they made fun of in the schoolyard.

Leftists, on the other hand, love their systems, plans, and consistency, and they are prone to confusing intellectualism, a life of the mind, or what they imagine it to be, with intelligence. They find discrete thinking difficult, and, therefore, they will allow rigorous consistency with their most sacred principles to lead to the most absurd conclusions. Thus, for example, leftists correctly posit that everyone has equal moral rights (though the left is often confused about what they are), and this leads them to demand equality in every realm, not just equal opportunities, but equal outcomes in life. In effect, the property of equality is seen as being intrinsically virtuous, as opposed to its being a desirable property in relation to a specific social construct, such as the law or morality.

The left is no better with science than the right, either, as anyone familiar with the politicization of science in the former Soviet Union knows, especially the damage that Lysenkoism did to the genetic and biological sciences there, which were conducted in accordance with the uninformed pronouncements of Marx and Lenin instead of the empirical evidence of Darwin and Mendel. Point out to a leftist that there are differences between female and male brains, and she will undoubtedly accuse you of sexism. The leftist never lets science stand in the way of received and undemonstrated doctrines.

The intellectuals of the left prattle on about the needs of the working man and "the people," pretending to love the common man. In reality, however, they ridicule the average person's beliefs and the things that he holds dear, and they would have him adhere to a very different set of values than what he would choose for himself. They are in love with their own idealized and abstract version of "the people," not the people as they really are. The truth is that leftists despise the unwashed masses just as much as they do anyone else who does not share their views.

Another attribute the members of the extreme left and right share is the abiding need for everyone else to live in accordance with their ideals. They simply cannot stand the fact that others might see things differently; therefore, they are committed proselytizers, and they are highly intolerant of those who will not convert to their point of view. Socialists and religionists are equally uncomfortable with nonbelievers, and I think this is because their mere existence might cause the believer to have doubt. True believers, by their very nature, do not want to have any uncertainty. They cannot find peace with ambiguity, not only in explaining the past and the here and now, but more than anything, in understanding or dealing with the future.

This leads to the other common denominator, namely, a belief in a Utopia, either in this world or in the next one. Many of us would view such visions as being examples of dystopias. The left is looking for that giant campfire in a workers paradise, around which everyone sings from the same songbook in perfect harmony and in blissful comity, without deviation from the centrally-planned notes and lyrics of their self-styled philosopher kings. Leftists imagine themselves as lovers of freedom, but the reality is that they are utterly opposed to individuality and liberty, for they do not believe people ought to dispose of their fairly acquired property as they desire and they would deny people their right to be left alone. At every level the leftist intends to interfere with how a person lives, with the objective of molding his feelings, thoughts, and behaviors to comport to their ideal of how one ought to live. The leftist has an expecially censorious personality, and it is no coincidence that "political correctness" is primarily a creature of the left.

The right is primarily concerned that its tribe remains uncontaminated by impure elements, which often enough consist of other races, immigrants, and nonbelievers. Their Utopia consists of what they imagine to be a superior kind of citizenry, often based on race, and almost always nationality and religion. Rightists want their sacred rituals and symbols to be prominent aspects of daily life. They glory in displays of power, especially of the military sort. They do not necessarily begrudge the existence of other tribes, that is, as long as they remain subservient. They, too, want an authority figure, not a philosopher king, but an uber-father, for they are especially admiring of stern, authoritarian figures, the tougher and more belligerent, the better, whether this is in their choice of deities or tribal chieftains. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Christian right is much more at home with the intolerance of Paul and the prophets of the Old Testatment than with the peaceful homilies of Jesus and his Sermon on the Mount.

I don't want to let other kinds of political ideologues escape our attention, here. For example, libertarian ideologues fancy themselves as being neither rightists nor leftists, and something quite different that defies traditional political categories. Whether or not this is true, they can be just as extreme and silly as the others when they carry their radical individualism too far. In such cases, they deny the obvious: we are social animals with communal needs, and with social obligations that arise from necessity and our very nature. I cannot help but observe that some of the libertarians I have met would not fare well in the jungle, alone, surviving without the support of others. I suspect they know is true this and that their beliefs are not altogether genuine, and that their view arises from an idealized version of the rugged individualists that they imgine themselvesto be.

And those who believe moderation is the key to all things can also take their view to an absurd extreme. Modifying a pithy campaign pitch from the late Barry Goldwater, who was not always sensible, but who at times could be remarkably insightful, I do not think there is a great virtue in moderation in the pursuit of certain moral principles. Moderation for its own sake is not always praiseworthy; for example, a moderate view about slavery is hardly commendable. Moderation about genocide is deplorable. And what, after all, is the moderate position between truth and falsity? Is there some Aristotelian mean to be found there? I think not. There is no virtue in being moderate about the use of sound logic and veridical evidence, for example, especially if it means that we must accept some amount of nonsense for the sake of striking a balance. In contrast, there is most definitely a need to be moderate and tentative about one's conclusions, for we do not always use logic and evidence correctly.

Unlike the monolithic and systematic view of the universe or of our social arrangements that ideologues espouse, rational objectivism consists of the view that logic and evidence are the best tools for formulating our views about the world; however, it also requires that our conclusions ought to be constantly inspected for verifiability (or falsifiability, if you prefer). It is an outlook that holds that there are truths, but that our understanding of all but the most trivial and tautological among them is often imperfect and, therefore, subject to revision. As such, rational objectivism evaluates the facts on their own merits, and it allows them to lead to conclusions even when they do not comport with an overarching, antecedent theory.

For example, rational objectivism can accept principles from both capitalist and socialist frameworks, placing a high value on individual liberty, without denying our obligations to others in society. A rational objectivist would allow that capitalist acts produce greater prosperity for a greater number with the least amount of disruption to liberty. At the same time, however, he would admit that not everyone who succeeds in a free market "deserves" to be successful by virtue of the fruits of his mind or sinew, and, similarly, not everyone who is unlucky and is at the bottom of society is there because of his own indolence or lassitude. He would agree that many variables condition and determine the outcomes of individuals, and some of them are outside of a person's control. The rational objectivist sees merit in the notion that those who gain some advantages from society also have a duty to assist those who do not.

Rational objectivism is consistent with pluralism, but, at the same time, it enables us to distinguish between worthwhile cultural traits and immoral ones (e.g., the subjugation of females or minorities), and it does not require the preservation of the latter in order to hew to the absurd ideal of cultural equality, which many multiculturalists or cultural relativists promote. It does not respect the primitive or irrational simply because it continues to obtain in the world, and it does not believe everything is equally tolerable, such that, for example, the Taliban or other psychopathic social structures should be allowed to flourish.

Rational objectivism is not a form of Jamesian pragmatism, suggesting that truth is simply that which works, something that has "cash value;" instead, it accepts workability as a means of validating provisional truths. But it also maintains that there are final truths, truths independent of our perceptions and mental constructs, notwithstanding our inability to apprehend them fully. It is a method of looking at the world, but it does not offer a complete and certain picture of how the world looks, or even suggest that such a systematic rendering of reality is possible. It is a propaedeutic to understanding, a philosophy that emphasizes the means of discovery. By its very nature, it bespeaks of tolerance, for it encourages us to inspect and question what we accept as true, which necessarily allows for differences in belief. This is alien to all ideologies, for they purport to have final truths, and questioning, therefore, is tantamount to heresy.

Rational objectivism is not necessarily incompatible with our emotional and aesthetic nature. I do not propose to deny the importance of our feelings. On the contrary, along with David Hume, I do not think the ends of society or of individual human beings can be decided by reason alone. The determination of ends is primarily the province of our passions, our desires. However, I do believe that Nature's gift of reason, which, as far as we know, is what makes our species unique on earth, remains the best means of attaining them, or occasionally showing their incompatibility with our other, more important objectives. I think that rigid ideologies, of all types, and the dogmatic temperaments that adhere to them, represent significant obstacles to both reason and the realization of our most important aspirations.