Five thoughts, loosely connected
First thought: the candle flame of the Enlightenment continues to flicker, as the West is being squeezed between the radicalized forces of the Honor Culture (Islamist jihadists) on one side, and the radicalized forces of the Victim Culture (Mizzou’s and Yale’s crybullies) on the other side. Guess who is stuck in the middle? Us. The Dignity Culture. The people who were raised right. The ones who do all the heavy lifting. We who don’t seek to be mortally offended at the drop of every hat, nor do we solve our grievances with suicide bombers. Because we have manners. Because we believe in restraint. Because it’s taken hundreds of years of hard work to get us to our present state of civilization. Because we know that the vast bulk of human history was spent trapped in a paradigm where rules, laws, and order, were whatever the local thug(s) wanted them to be. The Honor Culture desires very badly for us to go back to that paradigm. So does the Victim Culture, though they themselves would hotly deny it. I wonder how much longer the Honor Culture and the Victim culture have to punch us in our noses, and kick us in our shins, before we shove our hats forward and roll up our sleeves. Said the Dignity Culture to its unruly brethren, “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”
Second thought: I really hope we don’t go there. We went there from about 1938 to 1945, and those years remain a startling testament to the deadly efficiency of liberal democratic forces, once they’ve been sufficiently roused from their slumber. The Honor Culture thinks the West is weak, because the West has (so far) fought limited wars, with both hands tied behind its back — where being “nice” is more important than being respected. There may come a moment when the West decides that “nice” is a phantasm, and that respect is best achieved through fear. When that happens, the result will be awful violence the likes of which nobody has seen in generations. And the great majority of the dead will come from the rank and file at the Honor Culture’s base — not jihadis, but run-of-the-mill Muslims, who didn’t really care about the fight, one way or another. The jihadis will learn: the West doesn’t hold back out of weakness. The West holds back because the West knows it’s so bloody good at killing. Once that horrendous spigot gets turned on — a people, versus a people — it won’t turn itself off again until many, many millions of human beings lay dead. Some of us, yes. But mostly them. By a huge, smoldering margin.
Third thought: ironically, it’s the Victim Culture which is enabling so much of the Honor Culture’s narrative at this point. When all ills in the known universe can be laid at the feet of Western bogeymen, what other excuse does the Honor Culture need? The Dignity Culture’s very own cognoscenti report hourly on the heinous crimes of the West: runaway capitalism, rampant sexism, murderous racism, terrible transphobia, horrendous homophobia, you name it; a veritable salad bar of civilizational sins. Never mind that the Honor Culture has member states practicing some of the most egregious forms of racism, sexism, and homophobia imaginable. How many gay men did DAESH throw off the tops of buildings this week? How many girls in Taliban or Boko Haram territory, will be raped and beaten? Nevermind. The true enemy are Mormons! They hate children and families! 100,000 tweets say so! And as you know, Bob, Twitter is never wrong. It’s time to classify Mormons as members of a hate group! But don’t blame Islam for the attacks in Paris. Never, ever blame any Muslims for anything any Muslim does in the name of Islam. But God damn those evil, backward, hayseed, yokel Mormons — something really must be done about them. It’s overdue.
Fourth thought: the Victim Culture is not something that can be corrected from the top down. Even if the universities were to magically grow spines (and balls) tomorrow, the problem would persist, because children are being delivered to the academic door in a state of emotional chaos. They have not learned — as generations past learned — that knowledge is not the same thing as wisdom. Wisdom happens in that instant when the fine crystal of theory, shatters against the hard granite of reality. Indeed, this is the root of the Enlightenment itself. When Copernicus correctly pointed out that the Earth orbits the Sun, not vice-versa. When Kepler abandoned his cherished vision of a perfectly geometric system of planetary motion, for an accurate model that was consistent with observable data. That facts and evidence are not relative, nor set apart. The universe is both accessible, and knowable — regardless of your gender, your ethnicity, your sexual preference, or your economic station. There is no such thing as a “privileged” viewpoint. Doubtless Kepler and Copernicus would be brought up for hate crimes, in today’s rarefied campus climate. But the institutionalized insanity would melt away within a single generation, if Western parents would simply return to using phrases like, “No,” and “Too bad,” and, “Get over it.” Punctuated by a stiff swat to the butt of the child, when necessary.
Fifth thought: or perhaps, it’s not nearly as bad as all that. The so-called Information Age, exemplified by the World Wide Web, is prone to making mountains out of molehills. Regional happenings which actually affect very few people in any demonstrable way, are blown entirely out of proportion. Crises are manufactured on an almost weekly basis, by “news” outlets eager for clicks and eyeballs, or activists hungry for coverage and influence, or politicians eager to exploit the latest inflaming of public rage, sympathy, or fear. Sometimes, the newsmen and the activists and the politicans are one and the same — it’s almost impossible to tell the difference between their rhetoric. There is no “clean” outlet. Merely a vast array of outlets and voices, all with a specific slant, angle, or agenda. We conclude that those outlets which agree with our own internal beliefs, are the most accurate; while dismissing the others. Fact-checking can be nightmarish, because the Internet allows anyone to post anything, for any reason, and pass it off as “truth” even if it’s a ball of lies. So, is the Enlightenment really on its way out? Or are we merely seeing a squall on the sea’s surface, while the slow waters underneath tell a very different story?
My personal instinct, is to try to have faith — that everything is working itself out, as it should. But I worry about the world my daughter will inherit. If both the Victim Culture and the Honor Culture co-conspire to snuff out the Enlightenment entirely, humanity may have to endure yet another Dark Age: intellectually clouded, and brutally arbitrary.