Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The Future of Tradition


Indeed, there have been at least three great culture wars fought in the course of Western history, including one contemporaneous with the rise of the Sophists in ancient Greece, the epoch identified with the French Enlightenment and the German Aufklärung, and our own current battle. The first two ended in disaster for the societies in which they occurred — the outcome of the third is still pending.
Only three culture wars?? I am not familour with these others, I wonder more about them like, why did they fail? what was the root of them? etc.

A set of traditional values comes under attack by those who, like the Greek Sophist, the French philosophe, and the American intellectual, make their living by their superior proficiency in handling abstract ideas, and promote a radically new and revolutionary set of values. This is precisely what one would expect from those who excel in dispute and argumentation
Indeed, there could be no better example of this disdainful attitude toward inherited tradition than that displayed by the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada in discussing her court’s legalization of gay marriage, clearly expressed by her summary dismissal of any opposition to the high court’s decision as arising from nothing more than “residual personal prejudice.”
Where reason shines forth, then, tradition is no longer necessary.
If a culture created gods suitable to it, might the same also be true of the traditional ethos each culture created? If so, there is no point in trying to compare the traditional ethos of one culture with that of another: Each is suitable for its own culture, and that’s all you can say.

This conclusion might appear satisfactory for a moment; but on further reflection, a difficulty arises. What about traditions that are ghastly, like the cruel sacrifice of innocent children to Moloch? If we insist on abiding by our original conclusion, that each tradition is suitable to those who follow it, then we are prohibited from condemning even the most bloodthirsty traditions of another culture, as it may always be argued that they must suit the needs of the culture in which they arose. If they seem unspeakable to us, that is simply because they violate our own deeply instilled traditional ethos.

The traditions you think of as having an absolute claim on the human race are merely those that happened to have come down to us, and which we have blindly accepted.
If we cannot use our traditional ethos to attack another’s, it is equally illegitimate for him to use his to attack ours. If our cultural relativists must forgive those who sacrifice their infants to Moloch, they must also forgive members of their own society who wish to abide by their own traditions. The cultural relativist’s position, practiced consistently, collapses into reactionary obscurantism: All cultures, including his own, are incommensurable, so it is impossible to judge any of them by higher standards than those offered by the cultures themselves.
The cultural relativist must make up his mind: Either there is a higher standard or there isn’t. If there isn’t, it is impossible to judge among competing traditions, as the cultural relativist argues; if there is, it is possible to judge tradition A to be superior to tradition B, provided A meets the higher standard and B does not.
For, granting the existence of a higher standard, the first question that we must ask about a cultural tradition is, “Is it conformable to our standard?” If it is, the tradition may be retained; but what if it isn’t?
Tradition as a “useful fiction.” This position defends tradition as a defective mode of knowledge appropriate for those who are incapable of obtaining to genuine scientific knowledge — it is the sugar coating on a genuinely useful pill, designed to make that pill go down easier with the uneducated masses.
The idea of tradition as a “useful fiction” sets up the esoteric/exoteric distinction that first appears in Plato’s discussion of the noble lie, surfaces again both in Maimonides and in various Islamic philosophers of the Middle Ages, and has returned to the modern world in the thinking of Leo Strauss and his followers. Tradition is an essential prop for the masses — they cannot dispense with it without chaos and havoc ensuing. The common people need their myths and their illusions; but the elite can dispense with them, provided they scrupulously avoid saying or doing anything that would disturb the cognitive complacency of the masses.
The argument from skepticism. This defense of tradition goes to the other extreme. It argues that even the most intelligent among us cannot be trusted to comprehend all that is involved in a tradition, because there is always something in a tradition that even the most advanced scientific thinking of the time cannot fathom, and because there is a danger in attempting to replace an inherited tradition with what is regarded as up-to-date scientific knowledge. Moreover, no intellectual elite can be trusted to decide what should be rejected and what retained from a certain tradition, as the tradition may embody a transgenerational fund of wisdom greatly exceeding the wisdom of any one generation, however wise or enlightened it believes itself to be.
This formulation of the argument begins by asking a simple question: When looking at the inherited traditions of a society, how can we know with certainty which are essential and which are dispensable? Yes, we may think that we can do without a particular tradition, but the only way to be sure is to get rid of it and see what happens. But that is the very problem: When we are dealing with a complexity like a society, how can we ever be completely certain about the unintended consequences of abolishing any particular tradition? It is best, then, to adopt a prudent skepticism and to recognize the limitations of our own knowledge.
No argument from skepticism can ever be expected to end with a deep commitment to anything, for while discarding a particular tradition might be to court social chaos, we can never know this for certain; nor can we exclude, with a certainty, the possibility that discarding this tradition might not be the best thing that ever happened to our society. Hence the skeptic’s fence-straddling and refusal to rush into the fray.
Indeed, the argument is compatible with resigning oneself to the most monstrous and hateful irrationalities, provided their removal is dreaded as a far worse calamity than their continuation.
Friedrich Hayek’s defense of tradition. In the twentieth century, the Austrian philosopher Friedrich Hayek attempted to defend the rationality of tradition by means of what he called the empiricist evolutionary model. Hayek wanted to provide a reason for respecting traditions that went beyond acceptance of them merely on account of their Burkean venerability. A tradition’s very oldness — its survival through the vicissitudes of centuries and adaptability to so many social and historical “environments” — was for him prima facie evidence that it was “fit” to survive, just as a species that has survived a variety of environmental challenges may be said to be “fit” in terms of the evolutionary struggle.
Of course, Hayek was not arguing that a traditional belief is true simply because it has been believed for a long time — that would render the empiricist part of his model nonsense. But he was saying that the tradition is “suitable” for those who have practiced in it for a long time. Or, to use his exact words from The Constitution of Liberty: “Our habits and skills, our emotional attitudes, our tools, and our institutions — all are in this sense adaptations to past experience which have grown up by selective elimination of less suitable conduct [emphasis added].”
“Not all these non-rational factors [i.e., habits, skills, emotional attitudes, etc.] underlying our action are always conducive to success. Some may be retained long after they have outlived their usefulness [emphasis added].”

It might appear that we have here found a way of justifying rationally certain traditions — those that are still “conducive to success” and maintain their “usefulness.” Furthermore, it is a solution that also seems to offer a rational criterion for the removal of those traditions that are neither. In short, it would appear to provide us with a procedure for picking and choosing between inherited traditions.

But does it?

If an inherited tradition leads to the extinction of those who live by it, the tradition in question should be eliminated — before those who follow it are.
In short, any tradition that leads to the biological elimination of the community that embodies it will obviously be judged irrational.
The Easter Islanders developed habits and skills, and perhaps even institutions, that led to the total deforestation of their small island; but while most of us would agree that this was a piece of folly, and not too far from the folly of Popper’s Indian villagers, in fact this practice did not result in the biological elimination of Easter Islanders.
To take the most extreme case, consider the American Shakers, whose community rejects any sex that might result in procreation. If ever there was a recipe for biological self-extermination, this is it; and yet a handful of Shakers still exist, by virtue of their ability to recruit new Shakers in each rising generation. Indeed, it is perfectly possible to imagine a future ecomania in which men and women pledge themselves not to pollute the planet with any more human beings, with the ultimate purpose of returning the Earth to its pristine, pre-Adamite stage; and it is also perfectly possible to imagine the same ecomania continuing for centuries without ever running out of new converts.

In this scenario, the villagers are not dupes of a false declarative sentence: “Tigers are not dangerous.” Rather, they are noble heroes sacrificing themselves to the imperative, “Resist not the tiger.” When a person dies because he believed in an empirical falsehood, it makes sense to say that his holding of this empirical belief was not useful or conducive to Darwinian success, and hence not rational. But when he dies in obedience to an imperative that he holds to be his sacred duty, you can say nothing at all. When someone says to you, “Resist not the tiger,” he is not offering you a scientific proposition to be refuted by empirical evidence and logical argument; he is commanding you to behave in a certain way, and in this case, all you can do is to refuse. Otherwise you would have to argue that Christian martyrs died simply because they did not clearly understand the physical effects of raging fires on the human anatomy.

By one of those paradoxes normal to the dialectical twists and turns of human thought, the defense of tradition offered by Maimonides would turn out to be the undoing of tradition. If tradition did badly what science did better, then those who were themselves capable of scientific knowledge no longer had any use for it. True, the ignorant masses might still require it, but not the intellectual elite — and thus, out of the logic of Maimonides’ defense came the Enlightenment, and the culture war that the West has been fighting ever since.
In evaluating whether a “tradition” is useful or not, we must keep this distinction in mind. For when confronted with any particular tradition, we now have two different criteria to evaluate its usefulness — first, the usefulness of the tradition’s base, the visceral code out of which the social structure of the community is created, and second, the usefulness of the tradition’s ideological superstructure.
This means that as a population becomes more “enlightened,” it is more likely to challenge the tradition on the basis of its transparently mythic or fabulous origin; this in turn threatens to undermine the population’s willingness to instill the visceral code into its children.
But a tradition that has lost its ethical obviousness has thereby become vulnerable to challenge, and the question soon arises: Why this tradition rather than the tradition of foreigners? Indeed, that was the theme of the first cultural warriors, the Greek Sophists, who, wandering as homeless strangers, went from polis to polis undermining the traditional ethos everywhere they stopped — not by willful subversion, but merely by calling the traditional ethos into question. To cause people to have even the first shadow of a doubt about the rightness of their inherited tradition is to exercise a staggering power over them, and it explains the often violent reaction of the Greek city-states against those who were perceived, fairly or unfairly, to be subverting the traditional order through the mere use of words.
Reason, logic, the endless quest for knowledge — these are all noble things. But no sensible person will agree to have them used against him to undermine his happiness and tranquility. Imagine your response if someone forced you to consider that your spouse might be cheating on you without your knowledge, or harangued you about how much you really know about what your teenage children do when you are not looking. Yes, we are willing to admit that there is much we cannot know about the people we love, and much that we have to take on blind faith, and much indeed about which a skeptic can raise questions — but must we hear it all?
We grasp this at once when dealing with individuals but fail to see it when dealing with whole communities. Yet isn’t it permissible for a community to wish to guard its own cherished habits of the heart against the same endless skeptical interrogation, especially when the intent of the interrogators is to subvert the visceral code that embodies these habits of the heart? The visceral code is like the dna of the community: It tells us what behavior must be passed on through the social emotions of shame, honor, and pride. It demands that we behave; it molds us and makes us, just as our parents do, for their doing is always its doing. It is Hegel’s objective spirit, the collective mind, but understood in terms of automatic reactions hardwired into us, operating through adrenaline and rushes of blood to the face. It is what makes us feel who we are and react as we do — in short, it constitutes our being. We cannot ask whether the visceral code is useful to the community when it is in fact constitutive of the community: It is the foundation on which the community is built. It is a necessary precondition of achieving community at all, and hence it is improper to evaluate it in terms of its mere utility.

It is not merely that it is useful to produce honest men and women. In order to obtain certain collective social goods, a society must first create human actors who are capable of achieving them. You must first produce courageous men if you wish to achieve the collective social good of defending your society; you must first produce prudent men if you wish to achieve the collective social good of keeping your society on a stable course; you must first produce men who are willing to control their impulses in order to create the collective social good of an orderly society.

This, too, explains why communities have historically reacted so severely against those who challenged their habits of the heart. What was really at stake in such a challenge was not the community’s ideological superstructure but the ethical foundation on which it had been socially constructed — its inherited visceral code.

Tradition, then, is the only possible mode for transmitting a community’s habits of the heart, and it does this by providing the recipe for making the kind of human beings who will viscerally feel and respond to the same habits of the heart as the community to which they belong.
The recipe for creating different habits of the heart, like the recipes for creating different authentic dishes of various cultures, would appear to be ultimately a matter of taste. Indians like plenty of fiery spices; most American southerners do not. How is it possible to devise a neutral method by which to judge which dish or which culture is objectively better?
The conversion experience is the key to grasping the nature of transformative customs and traditions. A convinced ethical relativist may hold that one ethical norm is no higher or lower than another, but he cannot deny that others have been sincerely convinced that the ethical norms they have consciously adopted are vastly superior to those of their own collectively recollected past. He may call it an illusion, but he must acknowledge the power of this illusion to generate profound and lasting behavioral differences in those groups under its spell.
There is an important qualification here: We must retain a collective memory of what we were like before we had mastered the technique of transcending our lower nature. If we no longer know what it is that we have escaped from, we will be unable to appreciate the significance of the technique that permitted us to escape. Indeed, at the maximal point of societal forgetfulness, there is the danger that even the most critical transformative customs will no longer be grasped for what they are. Instead of being understood as techniques for the achievement of collective self-mastery, they are reduced to being mere folkways — or, to use the language of contemporary enlightened rationality, “residual personal prejudice.”
There is a safe and certain way of passing on these transformative customs, and in the most compelling manner possible — through the ethical institution known as the family. Of course, the family must first be raised to the ethical plane where the parents’ first concern is to compel their biological offspring to abandon their original state of nature and take on a transformed identity as civilized adults.

The ethical, as opposed to the merely biological, family is the site for the making of civilized human beings out of id-governed monsters. It turns man’s purely animalist collection of impulses and urges into a vehicle for passing on not merely accidental memes, but deliberately engineered transformative customs across generations. It is, in a sense, a meta-custom — the transformative custom that is responsible for the existence of all other transformative customs. You must first be trained to pass on the ethical family itself before you can hope to transmit what the ethical family finds so valuable, namely, the civilizing process by which men and women obtain self-mastery.

Seen from this perspective, marriage has nothing to do with biology: It is an elaborate social construction that has been erected against the anarchy of the human id, not merely to keep it from doing damage, but for the purpose of transforming the id nature into the highest ethical ideal — the father who raises his son to be a good father, so that his grandson will have a life no worse than his own, and hopefully better. And the mother who does the same.

n even the shortest possible list of the attributes of a civilization, you are certain to discover the feature of transgenerational stability. A civilization must have a proven track record of cultural permanence, which is to say that it must be a multi-generational project. A civilization must be passed, with its fundaments pretty much intact, from one generation to the next; and this is especially true when we are dealing with civilizations whose civilizing process requires a stern renunciation of the id in all of its manifestations — ungovernable impulses, unruly desires, a lack of consideration or feeling for the well-being of others, sexual promiscuity, prodigal expenditures on passing fads, and so on. In short, the loftier the ethical ideal of a civilization is, the harder it must work to preserve this ideal against the return of the id.
A society that wishes to reproduce itself must take care to pass on to the next generation the knowledge required to maintain itself at more or less the same level of civilization. It is not enough to pass on the good china; you must also pass on the family recipe for making the pot roast. Yet even that is not quite enough; you must also find a way to pass along the culinary skills needed to transform a recipe written in words into an actual plate of pot roast. Figuratively speaking, a civilization must pass on the china, the recipe, and the cook. But even this is not quite enough. You must also make the cook realize that in addition to cooking, he must know how to replace himself, and, most critically, he must feel that he has a duty to replace himself. Not only must he teach his children to cook, but he must also teach them how to teach their children to cook.

A society that wishes to reproduce itself must take care to pass on to the next generation the knowledge required to maintain itself at more or less the same level of civilization. It is not enough to pass on the good china; you must also pass on the family recipe for making the pot roast. Yet even that is not quite enough; you must also find a way to pass along the culinary skills needed to transform a recipe written in words into an actual plate of pot roast. Figuratively speaking, a civilization must pass on the china, the recipe, and the cook. But even this is not quite enough. You must also make the cook realize that in addition to cooking, he must know how to replace himself, and, most critically, he must feel that he has a duty to replace himself. Not only must he teach his children to cook, but he must also teach them how to teach their children to cook.
In ancient Greece, in addition to passing on techniques for making swords and pots, men had to pass on the recipe for producing sons who would grow up willing to fight to the death to defend their polis. A city-state that lost the recipe for producing such men also lost the recipe for constructing civic freedom and exposed the city-state to the most horrible fate that a free people can imagine: enslavement.
The theory of tradition offered here is a pragmatic one: Does it keep up the established level of civilization? But, as we shall see, it is also dialectical: A tradition will be evaluated in terms of its success not only in keeping up the civilizational standards of the past, but also in providing the foundation for future civilizational improvement, meaning not merely improvements in the making of things, but in the making of human character, both at the individual and at the collective level.
Her higher ethical stance toward animals, to use Hegel’s language, is the triumph of dialectical reason: She has herself, within her own experience, come to see the error of her ways, condemned these ways, and then sought a better one. Unlike the person who dismisses unthinkingly and unsympathetically the ways of others, the mother has reached a higher truth not by dismissing the lower truth, but by experiencing it fully enough to see its shortcomings.
This is not to suggest that you need think that there is any big difference yourself. But you must recognize that the mother feels this. Indeed, it is precisely this feeling for ethical value that makes her work so hard to embody this particular one in her son’s conduct as opposed to the other particular one. It is the most real ethical choice one can imagine — the choice of how to raise one’s kids.

Thus, the transgenerational duty to one’s grandchildren may be put in these simple terms: Members of each generation are committed to making sure that the ethical baseline of their society does not move in a manner that their visceral code instantly tells them is wrong. How much philosophical thought is given in explaining this wrong, or in disputing its validity — all that is irrelevant to the theory of tradition contained here.

But, once again, we confront the practical problem: How does a society go about ensuring that the ethical baseline will be maintained at all costs, and even when it is most tempting to depart from it in a downward direction? Through appeals to enlightened self-interest, or through sermons and philosophical tracts?

Seen from this angle, parenthood is no longer a biological mode of reproduction, but becomes transformed into a social construction that permits the community to hold people responsible for the behavior of their biological offspring. By holding the parents responsible for wiring the minimal ethical baseline into the visceral code of their children, the community exponentially increases its power to maintain the standards of its ethical baseline.
But there is one advantage above all advantages that the family possesses: the long-term temporal framework within which it operates. The playmate, the buddy, the girlfriends, the colleagues, the guys — all see us as a given thing with an established set of attributes, and this is just as true when we meet them at six as at 60: We are what they see us as. But for our families we can never be reduced to being something fixed and permanent. To them we are not six feet tall; to them we turned out to be six feet tall, and who knows how much more we might grow in our mothers’ eyes — even if we are in our 50s and shrinking
To a mother and father, a child is a project and the child’s personality a trajectory. This is not a consciously held value or principle, taught by a book: It is the natural cognitive mode of the parent who, in looking upon a child, sees its past, present, and future all at once, in a vision that is genuinely sub species aeternatis and not entirely unlike God’s vision of the universe, even if it is a bit more partial. Others teach us how to be; our family teaches us how to become.
What makes the shining example shine is not exemption from human weakness, but the unfailing capacity to transcend it. He is tried but always proves true; this pattern of virtuous persistence through adversity provides a living model for those who aspire to become shining examples themselves. The worthiness of a shining example is a worthiness obtainable by virtually anyone who is prepared to follow in the footsteps of the shining examples who preceded him.
In classrooms of a not so distant past, the teacher would often actually point to the model pupil and say to the other children, “You should learn to act like Bobby does. Watch how he handles himself, and try to model yourself on his conduct.” And, again in the not so distant past, this technique actually worked: Other pupils did try to model their behavior on that of the exemplar authoritatively presented to them.
This modeling of our own behavior upon that of others is not to be confused with simple mimetism, a term adopted from the French neologism, mimetisme, coined by Gabriel de Tarde, the nineteenth-century French sociologist and rival of Emile Durkheim. The word describes the natural tendency of human beings to imitate unthinkingly the ways and manners of those in their immediate environment, a kind of automatic duplication of the behavior of others that occurs without any conscious intent to acquire the behavioral characteristic in question. The imitated behavior is simply picked up the same way that people pick up a novel bit of slang or a new fad in salutations, such as the high-five.
This connecting link is a critical one, but one that we have tended to discount in contemporary American culture. For us, it is imperative that an eight-year-old boy should have esteem for himself, for the person that he is. We do not want him thinking, “I wish I could be like John”; instead, we demand that he think, “I’m just fine the way I am. I don’t need to model my behavior on anyone else.” But our insistence on creating self-esteem in an eight-year-old boy comes with a high price tag — by refusing to encourage the boy’s dissatisfaction with himself as he is, we are inadvertently taking from him the primary human motivation to change oneself for the better. By pumping him full of self-esteem, we rob him of the will to set himself transformative projects and goals. Totally at peace with what he is, he ceases to have any reason to become something more — and certainly no reason at all to become what he could be.
The contemporary gospel of individual self-esteem is at odds with the universal tradition of mankind
And for good reason. In a world where shining examples are no longer pointed out, what is there to aspire to? You must change yourself, as Rilke’s poem tells us, but into what? A tolerant person? A wise person? These are abstractions. They permit us to declare ourselves “tolerant” without further ado, just as we can equally well declare ourselves “caring” or “loving” or “open-minded.” We can make a resolution to become more sensitive to others or more appreciative of their feelings. Indeed, we can even display bumper stickers that assure both us and the world of our deep devotion to world peace and the brotherhood of man.
In the culture war of today, the representatives of one side have systematically set out to destroy the shining examples of middle America. They seem to be doing so with an unconscious fanaticism that most closely parallels the conscious fanaticism of the various iconoclastic movements in the history of Christianity. They are doing this in a variety of ways — through the media, of course, and through the educational system. They are very thorough in their work and no less bold in the astonishingly specious pretexts upon which they demand the sacrifice of yet another shining example.
But it is a mistake to conflate the automatic with the irrational, since, as we have seen, an automatic and mindless response is precisely the mechanism by which the visceral code speaks to us. It triggers a rush of emotions because it is designed to do precisely this. Like certain automatic reflexes, such as jerking your hand off a burning stovetop, the sheer immediacy of our visceral response, far from being proof of its irrationality, demonstrates the critical importance, in times of peril and crisis, of not thinking before we act. If a man had to think before jumping out of the way of an onrushing car, or to meditate on his options before removing his hand from that hot stovetop, then reason, rather than being our help, would become our enemy. Some decisions are better left to reflexes — be these of our neurological system or of our visceral system.
This is why for most people, including many gay men and women, the immediate response to the idea of gay marriage came at the gut level — it somehow felt funny and wrong, and it felt this way long before they were able to spare a moment’s reflection on the question of whether they were for it or against it. There is a reason for that: They were overwhelmed at having been asked the question at all. How do you explain what you have against what had never crossed your mind as something anyone on Earth would ever think of doing? This invitation to reason calmly about the hitherto unthinkable is the source of the uneasy visceral response. To ask someone to reason calmly about something that he regards as simply beyond the pale is to ask him to concede precisely what he must not concede — the mere admissibility of the question.

Imagine a stranger coming up to you and asking if he can drive your eight-year-old daughter around town in his new car. Presumably, no matter how nicely the stranger asked this question, you would say no. But suppose he started to ask why you won’t let him take your little girl for a ride. What if he said, “Listen, tell you what. I’ll give her my cell phone and you can call her anytime you want”? What kind of obligation are you under to give a reason to a complete stranger for why he shouldn’t be allowed to drive off with your daughter?

None. A question that is out of order does not require or deserve an answer. The moment you begin to answer the question as if it were in order, it is too late to point out your original objection to the question in the first place, which really was: Over my dead body.

Marriage was something that, until only quite recently, seemed to be securely in the hands of married people. It was what married people had engaged in, and certainly not a special privilege that had been extended to them to the exclusion of other human beings. Who, after all, could not get married? You didn’t have to be straight; you could be gay. So what? Marriage was the most liberal institution known to man. It opened its arms to the ugly and the homely as well as to the beautiful and the stunning. Was it defined as between a man and a woman? Well, yes, but only in the sense that a cheese omelet is defined as an egg and some cheese — without the least intention of insulting either orange juice or toast by their omission from this definition. Orange juice and toast are fine things in themselves — you just can’t make an omelet out of them.
We have all personally known shining examples of such human beings, just as we have all known mediocre parents as well as some absolutely dreadful ones. Now suppose we are told, as we often are told in the gay-marriage debate, that the institution of marriage is not what it used to be. What does this mean? Does it mean that the shining example of a good marriage, of a good father and a good mother, and of a happy family has ceased to be one that we want to realize in our own lives? Not at all. We may in fact be farther than ever from living up to the shining example — but that is hardly proof that we should abandon it as an ideal to which to aspire. If the crew of a ship is developing scurvy because limes have gone out of fashion, is this a reason to throw the limes overboard or a reason to change the fashion?
The shining example of a happy marriage and its inherent ideality was something that we once could all agree on; but now it is a shining example that has been subjected to the worst fate that can befall one: It has been become a subject of controversy and has thereby lost its most essential protective quality: its ethical obviousness in the eyes of the community. Once the phrase “gay marriage” was in the air, marriage was suddenly what it had never thought to be before: a kind of marriage, a type — traditional marriage, or that even worse monstrosity, heterosexual marriage.

This is how those fond of abstract reasoning can destroy the ethical foundations of a society without anyone’s noticing it. They throw up for debate that which no one before ever thought about debating. They take the collective visceral code that has bound parents to grandchildren from time immemorial, in every culture known to man, and make of it a topic for fashionable intellectual chatter.

Ask yourself what is so secure about the ethical baseline of our current level of civilization that it might not be opened up for question, or what deeply cherished way of doing things will suddenly be cast in the role of a “residual personal prejudice.”

We are witnessing the triumph of a Newspeak in which those who simply wish to preserve their own way of life, to pass their core values down to their grandchildren more or less intact, no longer even have a language in which they can address their grievances. In this essay I have tried to produce the roughest sketch of what such language might look like and how it could be used to defend those values that represent what Hegel called the substantive class of community — the class that represents the ethical baseline of the society and whose ethical solidity and unimaginativeness permit the high-spirited experimentation of the reflective class to go forward without the risk of complete societal collapse.


If the reflective class, represented by intellectuals in the media and the academic world, continues to undermine the ideological superstructure of the visceral code operative among the “culturally backward,” it may eventually succeed in subverting and even destroying the visceral code that has established the common high ethical baseline of the average American — and it will have done all of this out of the insane belief that abstract maxims concerning justice and tolerance can take the place of a visceral code that is the outcome of the accumulated cultural revolution of our long human past.

The intelligentsia have no idea of the consequences that would ensue if middle America lost its simple faith in God and its equally simple trust in its fellow men. Their plain virtues and homespun beliefs are the bedrock of decency and integrity in our nation and in the world. These are the people who give their sons and daughters to defend the good and to defeat the evil. If in their eyes this clear and simple distinction is blurred through the dissemination of moral relativism and an aesthetic of ethical frivolity, where else will human decency find such willing and able defenders?

Even the most sophisticated of us have something to learn from the fundamentalism of middle America. For stripped of its quaint and antiquated ideological superstructure, there is a hard and solid kernel of wisdom embodied in the visceral code by which fundamentalists raise their children,
One of the preconditions of a civilization is that there is a fundamental ethical baseline below which it cannot be allowed to fall. Unless there is a deep and massive and unthinking commitment on the part of most people to the well-being not merely of their children, but of their children’s children, then the essential transgenerational duty of preserving the ethical baseline of our civilization will become a matter of hit-and-miss. It may be performed, but there is no longer any guarantee that it will be. The guarantee comes from shining examples.
Jeffrey says:
jeanine@appealinghomestead.com says:
humm. that article..
Jeffrey says:
jeanine@appealinghomestead.com says:
it was a nice journey, but it seemed to loose some of it umph in the end
jeanine@appealinghomestead.com says:

Indeed, there have been at least three great culture wars fought in the course of Western history, including one contemporaneous with the rise of the Sophists in ancient Greece, the epoch identified with the French Enlightenment and the German Aufklärung, and our own current battle. The first two ended in disaster for the societies in which they o
Jeffrey says:
IM Administrator:
This message has been blocked by the recipient due to risk.
jeanine@appealinghomestead.com says:
We are witnessing the triumph of a Newspeak in which those who simply wish to preserve their own way of life, to pass their core values down to their grandchildren more or less intact, no longer even have a language in which they can address their grievances.
jeanine@appealinghomestead.com says:
this might be why....
jeanine@appealinghomestead.com says:
I bet you cant tlak.. sorry I launched into this
Jeffrey says:
hmm I'm sorry you didnt like it... the big payoff for me was here is a gay man outlining the reasons why there is resistance to gay mariage and in essence agreeing with all of them.
jeanine@appealinghomestead.com says:
well, I can see that... but there was something in my visseral code that distrusted the source the min he said that
Jeffrey says:
the comment about news speak seemed like a lamentation of the fact to me.
Jeffrey says:
the min he said he was gay or the min he talked about newspeak.
jeanine@appealinghomestead.com says:
the min he said he was gay
jeanine@appealinghomestead.com says:
a lamentation of the fact... what do you mean
Jeffrey says:
he seemed to be regretting that the vocabulary was disappearing for transmiting the visceral code.
jeanine@appealinghomestead.com says:
I agree I dont think we are at odds on how we see this scentance, I said that maybe the reason it all fell apart is because the vocabulary is lost to acuratlydescribe it.
jeanine@appealinghomestead.com says:
but more over I think that he laid a stong foundation then went in a tainted direction because of his own agenda which I dont understand, why did he even write that article?
Jeffrey says:
because not all gay people think alike or want the same things... I think.
jeanine@appealinghomestead.com says:
so what does he want... I dont get it,... he talks about the importance of shining examples and triditional families to save society then says he is gay, how does any of that fit together
Jeffrey says:
may be he dosent like being gay
jeanine@appealinghomestead.com says:
maybe... humm.. he talks about the importance of man turning against his base animal like reactions, that seems to be to describe why one must turn from the gay lifestyle. the only way he fits into my paradigm is if he does not like being gay. but that seems to convienent
Jeffrey says:
well if he write that article and left out the part about his orientation it would have been less honest and easier to like. imo
jeanine@appealinghomestead.com says:
yea, humm.... I would love to discuss this article further with you, maybe the disapointing part is that it is not a simple idea to convey, by the time you have gotten started with this argument you have lost most of your listeners interst
Jeffrey says:
yeah we can talk more on it later.
jeanine@appealinghomestead.com says:
also it does not seem bullet proof I can see this argument being all torn up... ok later then

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