Sacred Cows and Questioning Boldly

I am currently reading several complex works on the nature of epistemology (how we know things) and discourse, something I haven’t done seriously since I was twenty.  I have changed so much since then.

Recently I have been repeatedly shocked and appalled by the sheer Intellectual Dishonesty that has seeped into our culture.  Like thieves in the night, pundits faux-intellectuals, and political special interests have crept in and dismantled the most critical ideals of our culture.  Sometimes it seems as though we have lost the power of free discourse.

In the world after David Hume, we have been forced to accept that certainty is impossible [1].  We will never be absolutely sure of anything that even the wisest of us thinks.  On that basis we created a democratic system of knowledge: any idea presented in the modern world is subject to review, discussion and criticism.

We enshrined this system in the Scientific Method, in the traditions of Newspaper Editorials, in the Legislative Debate process of Democratic Governments, in Public Broadcasting, and Freedom of Speech principles.  New technologies and ways of communication such as the Internet have been designed in such a way as to make discourse limitless.  Every person can share their ideas, be heard, and if they are Intellectually open, honest, and rigorous, to be debated and rated by peers[2].

The core principle of the Western Liberal Epistemology is this:

The human mind is imperfect.  No knowledge can be absolutely certain.  Using Logic, Science, and Philosophy we can come to knowledge that seems in line with the laws of Nature around us.  Because it was uncovered with rigour we can use it to build laws, culture, and expect it to be reasonably fair and functional.  However there can be no final answer, everything must be open to questioning and debate.  When an idea no longer stands up to scrutiny, it must be abandoned for a better idea.

But over the past 50 years or so, we have been slowly undermining this powerful idea.

First, we have made the process of finding knowledge obscure.  We don’t teach people how Logic and Science work.

The other day I had a conversation with a man my own age who did not know what Logic was, and who had been led to believe that it was a tool of politicos, not  a system of organized, methodical thought.

The week before last I rode a bus and eavesdropped on a conversaton between students at U of T who were discussing the fact that they had only begun to understand halfway through their first semester at University that learning was not the same as being able to write down verbatim what was written in their textbook.

Second we have privileged certain ideas and attitudes as being sacred and beyond question.  Anyone who brings these ideas up for debate is immediately subject to a barrage of ad-hominem attacks. You can be fully prepared when asking questions about certain movements or ideas to be branded a “bigot”, “homophobe”, “Islamophobe”, “racist”, “sexist”, “facist”, or “supremacist.” The aim of these attacks is not to actually protect anyone – because you cannot harm a people by questioning an idea- but rather to demonize you for daring to ask taboo questions [3].  The aim by vilifying you is to intimidate you into recanting the question, and to terrify others into silence.

Some of the protected ideas that you will encounter include:

  • Neo-Marxism
  • Anti-Globalism
  • Environmentalism
  • Feminism
  • Constructivism
  • Multiculturalism
  • Keynesian Economics
  • Religion
  • Socialism

Now, I agree with some of the aims of various ideas presented here.  I do believe we are enriched to a degree by diversity.  I do believe that women should be allowed to make their own decisions and follow any career they please (so long as they can meet the specific needs of that profession), I do believe people have a right to look for the Divine.  But I refuse to believe that any of these movements or schools of thought is perfect, and none of them, whatever good they may do for society should be mandated as absolute truth and excused from rigorous debate.

No idea, however beautiful, or well-intentioned, is worth sacrificing our basic system of knowledge to protect.  And if it is truly a worthy idea – then it should be able to weather any question to its truth.

When you deal with Men’s Issues you often crash up against these sacred cows, and because of it, you will be demonized.  And the same is true of individual Men trying to better their lives.  Often a man will try on a new way of thinking or acting, and meet immediate pushback from his loved ones.  I know men who have been called “Woman haters” for visiting websites like mine that talk about the particular virtues and needs of men.  I have had the same thing insinuated of me.

Our culture is steeped in a history of Logic, Reason, and Science that has helped make it one of the most technologically advanced, healthful, and peaceful on Earth.  It also the one that has managed to mobilize Men to some of the greatest effect through the rights and freedoms it grants.  I believe that there is a connection between this rising taboo of questioning, the changes to the ways in which we perceive Men, and the way in which Men today are struggling.

Men are at their most effective when they are free to create lives that they want without fear of being punished or censured.  With political freedom, a relatively free market, and free speech, a Man can chase the passions that drive him to be the best possible human being he can be, whether that is a wife, children, a career, art, or his faith.  The censorship we are seeing today corresponds with increasing restrictions on real freedoms, and the strangling of free enterprise. Without these things, a Man is relegated only to the roles society leaves him, or he is forced to drop out [4].

Free speech and our System of Questioning is the one part of Western Culture that ensures that it can self-correct.  So long as we are able to debate which ideas are true, realisitc, and a good basis for governance, we will be able to recognize tyranny and reject it. We will be able to debate bad ideas, and chase them from the public sphere.  We will be able to develop ways of living that suit us best.

And so I urge men to question boldly.

Learn the methods of Logic and Science, to have the Men a tools to challenge people who prevent you from pursuing your passion.  Learn to speak your mind so that you lose the fear of embarrassment and conflict.

When you question boldly, even at the risk of being punished, you send a message to yourself and others that you are not going to conform for the sake of conforming.  You are saying that your thoughts and your well-being are more important than the demands of an ideology.  You are displaying the conviction that you will not be bullied into silence.  You are refusing to let the opinions of others destroy your Integrity.  And in sending the messages, you begin to believe them.

 

1.  Treash, George. “Introduction to Metaphysics” Sept. 1997 – December 1997. Avard-Dixon Building, Mount Allison University, Sackville, NB.

2.  Treash, George. “Freedom and Society” Jan 1998 – April 1998. Hart Hall, Mount Allison University, Sackville, NB.

3.  Ruach, Johnathan. Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought, expanded edition. London:  University of Chicago Press, 2013.

4. Clarey, Aaron. Enjoy the Decline: Living with the Death of the United States. Self-Published. 2013

8 thoughts on “Sacred Cows and Questioning Boldly

  1. Remember, up until about eighty years ago, these were NOT actually the critial ideals of our culture. Most people were simply not sufficiently educated or able to access impartial information. I don’t know what’s like in Canada, but in the UK newspaper editorials and public broadcasting were always presented as being one stage removed from holy writ and certainly not questioned, queried or subjected to logic, reason and science by the vast majority of shop workers, farm labourers, coal miners, factory employees and domestic servants.

    1. I think the disagreement we are having here is based on three perceptions.

      1. The masses were not engaged in intellectual discourse.
      2. For an idea to be core to the culture, it must be held by the masses.
      3. Human beings do not tend towards a rational mindset.

      I would argue that the first is complicated. People tended to discuss the mass media amongst themselves, opine, and influence one another. Whether this discourse was rational or not is a matter of debate. I would argue it depended on one’s peer groups. But if you look at the mass culture of, say the 1870s, you will see that the majority of Men belonged to one society or another, that among other things encouraged discussion of current vents, such as the Shriners, Free Masons, Oddballs, Moose Lodge, Elk Lodge, Canadian Legion, etc. Many of these organizations were organized around teaching either higher reason or spiritual disciplines.

      Nor were large populations of manual labourers nearly as uneducated as modern media might portray them. Yes, America had its share of yahoos and hoople-heads to be certain, but that does not mean that farmers an market traders were without refinement. Oscar Wilde was a cultural icon among American cowboys in his time, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) was a figure of controversy in many social circles. Edgar Allen Poe was a celebrity among orphans and factory workers, not just cosmopolitan readers.

      The farmers of America’s South and East Coast were not just grubbing in the dirt, either. They lived to a cultural ideal of a Gentleman Farmer, an educated man who used a farm supported by cheap labour to support his independant intellectual pursuits. If you look at popular periodicals among farmers throughout America’s history, such as Poor Richard’s Alamanc, you will find them peppered with information on science and economics. Now this doesn’t necessarily apply to the frontiersmen, but in established areas, the Gentleman Farmer became the norm, and focused very much on “elevating” the public (outside of slaves.)

      It also bears mentioning that the study of Religion was, before the advent of fundamentalism, a rational discipline. Modern religious fundamentalism is a movement that developed as a response to industrialization.

      Additionally, I would present the commonality of Citizen’s Action Groups in that era. Whether they came from a rational or an irrational position these groups were fairly common, and often organized on a national level. They were made up frequently of non-academic citizens backing the cause, and built their positions through public debate, letter-writing campaigns, and newspaper editorializing. I would call The Women’s Temperance League an excellent case study. As would be the Alienists (for a dark example), or the anti-slavery organizations such as the Emancipationists.

      Nor would I argue that newspapers were a top-down media. If you grab a newspaper from the 1870s and look at the editorial section what you will see is lively debate from both male and female readers in the form of letters to the editor. Often these debates were lengthy and followed with great interest by the public, many exchanges could go on for months at a time, and sell Newspapers without sensationalism. They were as much an arena for debate as they were a matter of dictate of Truth. They would be a slow motion variation of what we are doing now.

      Which dovetails into the secondary point – however we accept the proposition of the average intellectual lives of the citizenry of our respective countries in the past, one does not have to be directly invested in a philosophical position to have it as a part of their cultural backdrop. Culture is very much an invention of the philosophers and elites of the society. Even if the average American or Canadian was not well informed about the core principles of Intellectual Liberalism, our respective national founders were champions of its concepts and built it into our political and judicial structures.

      Likewise, until around the 1970s, Academics considered it important to educate students to understand the principles underpinning our culture. Teaching Logic, Latin, Scientific Method, Religion, and Debate were a significant portion of the foundational training of all Universities. Before we devalued the educational market by pushing everyone to get a University Degree (a phenomenon of the 1980s), degrees were the gatekeeper to political power and the “intellectual capital” to get others to listen to their opinions even from indisputably top-down media like television.

      We don’t need to understand science to generally believe that scientists are helping us understand the world. We don’t have to understand Rousseau’s argument for a revolving mass-created government, to think that voting is a good idea. We don;t have to understand Descarte’s Meditation to understand why we have juried trials in order to believe that someone is entitled to a fair trial. Nor do we need to understand any of those things to understand when an idea is destructive to those ideas.

      As to the third notion, I’ll consider it contentious.

      Whether the majority even understand them, these ideas are the underpinnings of our culture. The lack of certainty and authority over the Truth is the reason why we allow for democracy rather than totalitarianism. The lack of absolute and perfect knowledge is the reason why we assume a person is guilty until proven innocent. The idea that many diverse voices in our culture is the reason we have the fifth estate of journalism, rather than propaganda. If the elites of our society abandon these ideas, and the masses come to accept an absolute truth in its place, these institutions will dissolve.

      Look at the Feminist narrative of rape for example – we have become afraid of questioning Feminists when they talk about it. Even though their 1 in 4 statistic has been disproven both in logical debate and over 100 sociological studies, we are afraid to be protested if we argue it in public. Accordingly we have created a system of trials in Universities that assume a Man is guilty until proven Innocent and have a low standard of evidence. We have passed laws like the “Rape Shield” laws that violate man’s right to confront his accuser. We have excused criminals who file false allegations from the charges of “filing a false report.” We’ve given them the power to command the truth around the issue, and our system of civil governance collapsed around that issue.

      1. Brian, I don’t argue with the premise necessarily, just how generally applicable it was. In 1884, 40% of MEN in the UK still didn’t have the vote. They might be aware of suffrage, jury trials and newspaper editorials but that was a world they were not involved in. Democracy had been a device of the upper classes. The governing classes didn’t want the “lower orders” voting – who knows who they might have returned to parliament? People were not permitted to speak in their own defence in court as they were not believed to be able to understand the gravity of the situation. You had an elite deciding the truth on behalf of the rest of the population. It seems largely a matter of luck that that truth was democracy or enlightened despotism, rather than anything less savoury

      2. It’s applicability to the masses is a valid question; keep in mind that I am not painting a golden age where these values were Universal, I think the truth lies somewhere between the picture of history that either of us would like to paint. 1740 – 1913 was neither a period of great enlightenment, nor a dark age of mass ignorance.

        Instead I argue that these values are structurally integral to our society. It is the philosophical underpinnings on which the culture was struggled. The fact of the matter is that the philosophers inform the elite – sometimes the elite follow their teachings, and sometimes they choose to appear to follow their teachings merely for the sake of expediency – just as aristocrats played at religiosity to keep the backing of the Church before that.

        Ignorance, bigotry, dictatorial impulses, etc., have all been a part of our culture. But the Liberalist underpinnings don’t prevent them from happening, but it does determine what happens to them. We haven’t killed bigotry: we’ve _gradually_ made it unprofitable. We haven’t insulated ourselves from Dictators, but we have _gradually_ forced them to at least appear to respect the democratic process. We haven’t made courts entirely fair, but we have _gradually_ made it so that every court judge fears a “J’accuse!” if they don’t pick their battles.

        The system is imperfect and in a continual state of flux and process, but that is its nature. Over time, the framework of Intellectual Liberalism has worked to slowly create a society with greater suffrage, greater justice, less ignorance, less bigotry. It has also backslid considerably on those issues over the last 30 years. Perhaps it has always been more of a Utopian ideal than a reality (as any system is), the behaviour of humankind ebbs in flows in a culture where final moral authority is not permitted. In fact I would argue that in such a system, an ideal society is not just unattainable, but absurd by nature.

        The best way to reinforce and encourage this framework to continue, and hopefully conditions continue to improve, is to question any claim to absolute truth. It also happens to be a cultural framework that fosters technological and cultural innovation like no other ever has. And those things are very good for Men.

        Philosophy matters. It is the bedrock on which the elites decide their actions, either out of their own idealism, simplicity, or self-interest. If we were to declare today that these ideas don’t matter, we would definitely see a worse world tomorrow.

      3. So at the end of the day, what the majority of people think about the philosophy of the elite is at best irrelevant, at best, the majority can only be reactive to it, because at the end only the elite are having an impact? The elite decide when wars start, when they end, how factories run, in point of fact even when revolutions start (an “elite” starts the mass moving).

        Is the current apathy with politics and philosophy among the masses a problem, or more like honesty? Do the mass realise they are irrelevant and that there is no effort raging against the actions of their masters, because as in the words of The Who “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss”?

      4. Sorry Brian the last sentence below should read “Do the mass realise they are irrelevant and that there is no point in wasting effort raging against the actions of their masters, because, as in the words of The Who: “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss”?

  2. I still struggle to believe that 100 plus years ago all the farm labourers, factory workers, coal miners, domestic servants and market traders knew very much about logic and the scientific method. I think you are right that people aren’t applying intellectual vigour to the world today, but I cannot agree that for the vast majority of people in the past, with limited education based on rote learning, there was some mythic golden age.

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