Comment Of The Day: “The Vital Concept Of Culture, Part I: Ignore It At Civilization’s Peril”

I apologize for not yet having completed and posted Part II, as was my intention, but happily, certified Ethics Alarms commenting ace Ryan Harkins entered a Comment of the Day that could have been Part II on its own.

Here is Ryan Harkins’ Comment of the Day on “The Vital Concept Of Culture, Part I: Ignore It At Civilization’s Peril”:

There’s a certain “you reap what you sow” in all of this. Western Civilization has spent the last few centuries slowly jettisoning classic understanding of morals and culture while embracing relativism, in which no one can absolutely say anything is right or wrong. From this new viewpoint of tolerance, we’ve bred a culture in which no one’s “truth” can be better than anyone else’s, and anyone who claims to know “truth” is a bigot. This opens the door to the idea of multiculturalism, where we celebrate this plurality of opinions because we want to show how good we are by accepting everyone else’s “truths”.

But what ultimately underlies this progression from classic values to utter chaos? I would posit that it is the ever-present temptation to redefine as “good” everything that “I want”. It is the grasping of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. All throughout history, we’ve undoubtedly had rationalizations for bad behavior. If someone says what we’re doing is wrong, we need to have an excuse that makes it not wrong. What the relativism of the modern age gives us is the perfect cover for all our immoral actions. I get to define what is right, because if you dare say what I’m doing is wrong, I barely have to defend myself. “That may be true for you, but it isn’t for me.” Or I can just accuse you of being a hater and walk away feeling justified.

Concerns over societal cohesion take a back seat in this model because the self is so exalted. If this drive is as I described above, then it is all about getting what I want. It is the id and the ego grasping and clinging, with no room for the superego, and almost no room for anything that might make me feel guilty. And the effects are predictable. We start fragmenting, beginning with the divide between those who hold to an absolute truth, and those who don’t. Those who don’t start splitting into their camps based upon their myriad disagreements and priorities. No, society can’t survive, but who cares, as long as I get what I want when I want it? The only reason to care about society is if society can be coerced into giving me what I want.

And as note, I have all these thoughts not solely from observing what’s going on around us, but by observing my own temptations and my desire to always think about myself and justify my wrongdoings. In fact, I might be projecting onto everyone else my internal struggles.

21 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “The Vital Concept Of Culture, Part I: Ignore It At Civilization’s Peril”

    • Yes – agree with Penn, great reading it twice.

      It reminded me of this video here which basically has 2 segments. While I think the first segment is worth watching, feel free to start at the 2:32 mark when Dennis Prager takes the stage.

      • I am not very convinced by his presentation for a number of reasons. He does not actually define values, nor refer to the way that a conservatively-minded person would define them. He seems to agree, more or less, that the principles that move the Left are sound, but that instead of being achieved rapidly, by *activism*, they should be achieved by slower, moral improvement (which can mean anything that he wants since he is making no statement about definition of values).

        He does not say anything about the class of persons that make up this activist left — for example, that it largely represents a new demographic in America which has set up its battle as a struggle against the former or fading demographic. He does not refer to the power struggles which are taking shape and he does not locate the ‘social activism’ of the Left-Progressives in a kind of demographic revolution.

        More or less, at least according to my view, he demonstrates why the ‘conservative’ position has hardly any teeth at all. Because it wills not to define things accurately and truly. It cannot *see*. It is a platform that is not genuinely conservative but establishes a position just to the right of center for those for whom the inevitable changes in America, brought about in a large and contributing degree by demographic changes in the post-sixties, and also by the governmental and business sectors in America which have contributed rather mightily to the *dumbing-down* process of reducing the citizen to idiocy.

        The larger issue — the elephant in the room I guess one could put it — is that all these changes in America were *engineered* and brought about over a longish period of time and the structural powers and managers — those who run the system and are its managers — have been instrumental in bringing this about.

        In the end it seems like *useless discourse* which only seems to keep the listener, if that person agrees with his simple presentation, in a manageable state.

      • Thanks for the Prager exposition, Tim. I wish the dichotomy between right and left were as clear-cut as that but it’s a solid place to start. Where I am at variance is the same reason I am here: I will, if it’s not too simplistic, substitute “ethics” for “morals,” and, arguably, “reason” for “religion.” It is my choice and although I used the word arguably, I believe that arguments based on faith, though excellent for scholarship or debate, must by dint of their origin, always lack settlement. I find that my deepest ethical truths are the ones that answer to reason, and are the ones I trust and live by. Not coincidentally, that places me in agreement with most basic JudaoChristian precepts and principles as well. In short, I think Ryan’s projection goes too far to the dark side, and Prager too far to the light but I get the usefulness of both in making future decisions as I move (while resisting being pushed) slightly further rightward.

  1. I would put my finger on French intellectuals like Jacques Derrida which many leftist university professors have embraced as their guiding light in the damage they have done to Western society. Everyone’s truth has equal validity so it all becomes a power game to impose your truth upon those whom you disagree with. After all, you have the academic credentials which gives you a great advantage in silencing the opposition.

  2. Congratulations on a superb COTD, but as a person of faith, I must build a bit on what you began. When I became a Christian, I came to understand that my opinions about right and wrong would need to align with God’s ideas about right and wrong. Any time I tried substituting my own ideas about right and wrong for God’s, trouble followed. As our nation and our culture have collectively turned our back on God’s authority, we are increasingly reaping what we have sown. Gee, I wonder what we should do now???

  3. Even the role of faith in something larger than yourself and your wants. Faith in a god, faith in humanity, faith in an improving future… all three have failed. Even in the cultural nook of SF, the franchises that were based on faith of some kind (Trek and Star Wars) deny the original faiths that made them meaningful in favor of agenda. ANd the numbers people do not understand why they are not as profitable as they should be despite bigger budgets, quotas, and merchandising.

    • Not so sure about Star Wars: Zen Buddhism and the idea of The Force were integral in it’s making. Good versus Evil are a central part of the original movie.

  4. Very well said, and not just because I agree with it.

    An interesting wrinkle in all of this…it’s self-evident that relativism and “living your truth” are now normal and accepted modes of thinking. But there are other variables that seem to be causing relativists to paradoxically use increasingly absolutist language when lobbying for their illogical positions.

    Just look at the positively puritan language used by the Progressive Left over the course of the Trump presidency and impeachment. Appeals to “morality” and “decency” abound. Conservatives have “lost their moral center” and “can’t tell right from wrong” if they don’t accept the impeachment argument. Or, perhaps, they’ve “sold their souls,” are “morally bankrupt,” are not “patriotic,” are “subverting established norms,” or committing “treason.” Trump is “evil,” “inhuman,” and a “liar,” with no “moral compass” or “conscience.”

    It’s positively shocking because the people using this language DON’T BELIEVE IN ANY OF THOSE THINGS. They are all the same people who would, in any sort of philosophical discussion, deny that there is such a thing as absolute right and wrong. These are the people who think that right and wrong are flexible and arbitrary social constructs. They deny that there is a God who arbitrates or judges human behavior. They mock anyone who takes such an idea seriously (even if they remain nominally religious themselves to humor the rubes.)

    That’s perhaps the most unexpected result of moral relativism. We could have anticipated that it would make people more cynical and unethical. But it’s simultaneously also made us more self-righteous at the same time. Unmoored from any cosmic standard, the very concepts of “right” and “wrong” have no meaning. But instead of being disregarded, the language of morality is appropriated, worn by charlatans like a second skin. “The right thing to do” is whatever they want to do. The “wrong thing to do” is whatever they already don’t like. Any desire, no matter how vile and selfish, can be described as “following my conscience.” War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Abortion is healthcare.

  5. There’s a certain “you reap what you sow” in all of this.

    Richard Weaver wrote (in Ideas Have Consequences):

    Like Macbeth, Western man made an evil decision, which has become the efficient and final cause of other evil decisions. Have we forgotten our encounter with the witches on the heath? It occurred in the late fourteenth century, and what the witches said to the protagonist of this drama was that man could realize himself more fully if he would only abandon his belief in the existence of transcendentals. The powers of darkness were working subtly, as always, and they couched this proposition in the seemingly innocent form of an attack upon universals. The defeat of logical realism in the great medieval debate was the crucial event in the history of Western culture; from this flowed those acts which issue now in modern decadence.

    Transcendentals, obviously, implies metaphysics, and metaphysics implies a mind — and a soul if one were to get technical — capable of recognizing the metaphysical non-material: and that is where meaning resides, and also value. The essence of Greco-Christianity is that of defining transcendentals and describing how the individual could live in accord with them or *that*.

    Americanism, and the Americanopolis, as I do tire of saying, has largely given itself over to Mammon and, it could be said if one wished to push forward on the meaning in the symbols, serves the demonic and indeed extends the processes by which the demonic overturns the intelligence in man that can even recognize what is transcendental. However, I am not (at least I do not think I am) speaking of the Founding Principles of America, but I am speaking of how America evolved and what it is now *doing*, if one can refer to such a large entity, with so many different power-groupings, as ‘doing’ any particular thing.

    If you can refer to Macbeth, and if doing so makes sense, then you have to follow things through to their logical consequence and you have to begin to make general statements about what this means — for yourself (where Heaven & Hell play out), for your family & group, for your community & state, and for your nation & the world.

    The ends of ‘dumbing-down’, or dumbing-down defined in the most crucial sense, results in slavery. That is, the destruction of a transcendentally focused and located man. A man — a person — capable of understanding, of *seeing*, of deciding & choosing. The Americanololis does not want any of that, and destroys that sort of man and person. It is very hard to face the truth, especially when our own self gets enmeshed with false-descriptions, but there needs now to begin an effort where people begin to apply real intellectual skill in seeing what is going on, and understanding why this happened, and what its ends are.

    Dumbing-down results in a slave-victim of economic and governmental systems. It results in a person without true agency. But one who has infinite resources of false-agency, and self-binding agency. What it is — if one takes it against the backdrop of an aware and informed Occidentalism — is exactly the opposite of what was originally recognized as freeing and liberating man. How this takes place — one has to try to put together initial statements of definition even if they are imperfect — is through seduction and also trickery (sort of the same really). These are complex machinations of the culture-industry and, as we notice day by day, by corruption of government by mechanical factions which, in no sense, have any lofty notion of ‘transcendental man’ or ‘transcendental value’. You have to be able to distinguish what those values are, and what meaning spins out of them, in order to even protect them and to serve them.

    The dawning realization — this obviously connects with the dystopian imagination, which is also a realistic grasp of things through the use of the faculties of imagination — is that we are now *subsumed* in that which destroys transcendental man. In the ultimate sense this is the nature of the battle, isn’t it? But if you are going to say that, and believe it, a whole other group of definitions needs to be posited.

    Now, I wish to re-platform the entire meaning of Dissident Right within a philosophical, and also a religious (in a genuine sense) movement that is intellectually capable of *seeing* and defining, in rational terms, in actionable terms, just what happened to us on the Heath, and how it is possible to begin a counter-movement against the anti-transcendental forces which control our society. This is said to be the most difficult and consequential historical moment faced by the Occident. Certainly Catholicism has conceived it (or did at one time conceive of it) as the synthesis of all heresies.

    And no one is actually seeing it. Or those who see it are described as lunatics. And there you have the ‘transvaluation of values’: those who say they are serving the highest values, are not.

  6. I have been thinking about this video for a number of days now. I have some observations. One is that here you have an absolute picture of America’s non-transcendental civil philosophy & its religion. The other is that *they* are weaponizing children in their battle, and their battle has as its object — in an absolute sense — the total leveling of US culture, of absolute democratization, and the attainment of what I have called America’s Walmart Culture as a business decision. But America does not stop there. Because this vision of things is so present and irresistible, so tactile, so emotionalized, and those who have it are linked to it internally have it so basically installed in their outlook, that it functions in its way as an ‘absolute belief system’ and an absolute declaration of values.

    As I thought about it, and as we discussed it here at home, we described this as the ‘infantilization’ of a strange and very recent neo-Christianity: a modification within a non-vertical, and thoroughly horizontal metaphysics. There is not vertical element in it, it is totally horizontal. And one assumes that the transcendent Being is over there too, swaying & clapping as He notices God’s children manifesting that which God wills. Truly God is ‘among us’.

    This is a manifestation of ‘America’s Civil Religion’ and has, substantially, replaced metaphysical or transcendental Christianity. Perhaps this is a ‘California Christianity’ or something to that effect.

    But this is a very cloying, and a very deceptive, example of trickery. As Isaac wrote:

    Just look at the positively puritan language used by the Progressive Left over the course of the Trump presidency and impeachment. Appeals to “morality” and “decency” abound. Conservatives have “lost their moral center” and “can’t tell right from wrong” if they don’t accept the impeachment argument. Or, perhaps, they’ve “sold their souls,” are “morally bankrupt,” are not “patriotic,” are “subverting established norms,” or committing “treason.” Trump is “evil,” “inhuman,” and a “liar,” with no “moral compass” or “conscience.”

    It’s positively shocking because the people using this language DON’T BELIEVE IN ANY OF THOSE THINGS. They are all the same people who would, in any sort of philosophical discussion, deny that there is such a thing as absolute right and wrong. These are the people who think that right and wrong are flexible and arbitrary social constructs. They deny that there is a God who arbitrates or judges human behavior. They mock anyone who takes such an idea seriously (even if they remain nominally religious themselves to humor the rubes.)

    In the video they enlist the children to ‘sing their way to social heaven’ with a song borne out of the American Civil Rights Movement. Now, we know because we see it daily that there is a far darker interior within American Progressivism. Three quarters of what is talked about on this blog is dedicated to exposing it. And I suggest that if you do not ‘clap along’ and ‘sway’ with the video — which has a couple of Whites in it but is very much a video-creation for the New America that has been decided upon and which, demographically, is on the horizon — if you do not ‘sway’ with it you have ‘sold your soul’. Behind the façade pictured here, though it requires imagination to see it, are indoctrination centers, prisons for ideological malefaction, social shunning, and of course physical harm. You either want the Universal Program — of course this is Multiculturalism but in its achieved and ripe phase — or you want what the Devil wants.

    That video, strangely & frighteningly, is the ultimate use of Maoist propaganda techniques and it makes me realize that in those days when the Maoist propaganda (social engineering efforts) were being used in China, how irresistible and powerful it must have been. We look at it now and we ‘see through it’ with some ease. Yet when faced with all the machinations of progressive propaganda brought out against us we have as difficult a time in noticing it, and what is more reacting against it.

    • I think there is a vast difference between acceptance of individual personality traits and abilities which in the past were utilized to make American a great nation vs mindless multiculturalism where there are no absolute moral standards. Unfortunately, we are rapidly drifting toward the latter. The individual in this type of society has no intrinsic value.

      • In order for there to be ‘moral standards’ there has to be an accepted and agreed upon view of what the *world* is. Many of those who are Christian (here) would likely recognize this as being necessary and fundamental. This means that a Christian defines life and existence in specific ways, and also subscribes to a profoundly metaphysical view of *reality*.

        A Christian, in the landscape of the present — scientific, governmental, managerial — is a metaphysical creature in an anti-metaphysical *world* and is thus an anomaly, and to a degree a sort of freak. In order to be a Christian, the Christian has to *believe in* a non-material and spiritual *world* that stands outside this world: the here-below. This has always been — historically — a profoundly metaphysical view. The notion of the *three worlds* of Hell, Heaven, and our Middle World.

        But that view is one of a ‘former metaphysics’ and has been or is being replaced and pushed aside. And because this is so there is no longer either a heaven or a hell. That means, a ‘spiritual world’ that is non-material and yet is the more *real world* of all worlds, has been seen not to exist. It simply cannot exist. And if anyone posits it as existing their declaration has no meaning. Similarly, the existence of a hell-realm has been disinvalidated. It effectively does not exist. And because neither heaven nor hell nor a ‘higher spiritual world’ can be understood to exist in any real way, so to the moral structures that were concretized when such *worlds* were seen as existing no longer apply.

        When you do away with the metaphysical structure (it is a *world* that is held in the mind’s eye and known only interiorly, by intuited processes and signs) you also do away with the moral systems that were developed under that metaphysical vision.

        It is true that now, in our present, there is NO EVIDENCE of a subsuming metaphysics. When I say ‘no evidence’ I mean that it is no longer referred to. Think of any modern movie for example or perhaps the super-hero genre: there is no metaphysical dimension referred to. The hero does not meditate on ‘God’s will’ nor is there any recognition of moral struggle in any former sense. All questions have become expediencies. Reality is no longer vertical, it is horizontal.

        And there is effectively a resistance to former moral codes and mores. And why should there not be resistance when, in fact (that is, in all media, in all visual rehearsal, in all of culture’s presentations) there is no longer a belief, or a knowledge, of worlds divided into three. There is only *this world* and it is a world devoid of a spiritual dimension. Only sickos and nut-cases still have visions along those lines. And they are plagued by them, not ‘saved’ by them.

        In order to conceive of the nihilism of the present, one has to recognize that nihilism is a rather logical outcome of all modernity’s predicates.

        You-plural seem to complain — almost wistfully! — that the former moral order is no more. But in order to fully conceive of the problem, one must see that its dimensions are vast. Our culture, all its systems, its mechanical foundations, its very structure through-and-through, do not conform to nor even address or recognize (or value) any higher metaphysics at all! If such things are referred to, it is all talk or propaganda.

  7. Isaac wrote:

    These are the people who think that right and wrong are flexible and arbitrary social constructs. They deny that there is a God who arbitrates or judges human behavior. They mock anyone who takes such an idea seriously (even if they remain nominally religious themselves to humor the rubes.)

    This statement requires commentary. For if we are going to be honest — and why not? it certainly can’t do us harm, can it? 😉 — we have to admit that we do not have clear ideas about what is *right & wrong*. It’s not some *them* over there, but us right here.

    Therefore, in our present milieu, we actually do have notions of right and wrong based on flexible social constructs. It is not them, it is us.

    So, there is a God who arbitrates and judges human behavior? Really? And what does he think about our own country right now? About our economic policies and practices? I won’t bother to create the list — and it is a loooonngggg list — of questions for the God who is looking down on us. But all the important social and political questions that have ever been asked, can now be asked.

    In a sense if *they* mock those who have certain ideas about what the transcendent being values and doesn’t value, wants and doesn’t want, and if they place their focus on typical Christians of the day, they notice profound hypocrisy. Unless you would assert that American Christians have it all worked out? So, they can pronounce clear and coherent judgment in all phases of American culture and politics?

    How far can and how far should Christian critique go? What are its limits?

    Our government — all our governors — as well as those who run industry, and all phases and parts of the cultural machinery, deal only in flexible notions of morality. Everything is flexible. Nothing is solid.

    If once not long ago it was agreed that some standard of sexual morality applied, today that has all been overturned. Reversed, trans-valuated. If once one thing was condemned, universally, today it is socially acceptable, indeed supported. And the American Conservatives have shown themselves extremely adept at making these modifications and transitions. They are shape-shifters in the flexible arts! Moral chameleons.

    If I am to ‘take seriously’ that there is a Supreme Being overlooking our life here, what does He want and what does He not want? (When you answer that question you will, without fail, reveal flexibility in your answer).

    • Not God’s flexibility, and not my belief in the flexibility of morality.
      We are only flexible in the sense that we are zeroing in on what that absolute truth is, and, if we are sincere, we ought to zero in more accurately as we seek truth.
      I can correctly say that “murder is wrong.” I can also, using the Bible and logic, give a much more detailed analysis of what, exactly, constitutes murder, what doesn’t, and when.
      There will still be increasingly uncommon scenarios where I do not have any answer. That’s just a lack of perfect knowledge on my part. That is also why God is described as the only ultimately qualified judge.

      If the existence of objective moral law in the first place seems unscientific or “magical,” well, that’s a debate I don’t mind having.

      We know that natural “laws” govern the universe, and because of them some sense can be made of the universe. The laws exist because science works, and vice versa. The laws themselves are a complete mystery, but science doesn’t work as a process without them.
      We also know that there is a separate set of “laws” for very small and invisible things, and that science on that scale works very differently from the way it works on a larger scale. These two sets of laws do not seem to be compatible with one another, and yet, here we are under the dictates of both. A set of additional dimensions or universes could reconcile this, but that’s just another way of saying “supernatural” which is why some theorists balk at it.

      On an even more impalpable level than laws of science, we also know that laws of LOGIC exist. We do not confirm them using scientific experiments; in fact, their existence had to be assumed by philosophers before science could be possible. Science, therefore, rests upon an unmeasurable foundation of philosophy. Philosophy can work without science, but science cannot function without philosophy. Laws of logic are necessary and it is agreed upon that they exist. However, they are not observable and this suggests a Mind behind the creation and sustaining of our universe.

      If the preceding two paragraphs are accepted (and they should be) then the existence of MORAL law is not only perfectly reasonable, but also sensible; it fits like the last remaining piece of a puzzle. Humans seem “hardwired” with a moral framework, and the ability to understand concepts like justice (even sociopaths will resent an injustice being done to THEM; they just don’t care if it’s YOU.) A Mind responsible for putting the laws of physics and logic in place, and who created the natural world with so much detail that we can’t fully replicate it with all of our combined effort, would likely also judge our moral behavior by an objective set of standards.

      What does He want and not want? I submit to you that there is enough revelation for us to go on from the combination of the human conscience (a theologian would call that general revelation) plus the working of the Holy Spirit in a person, and the Bible (a theologian would call those special revelation.)

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