How the Culture Wars are Turning People Away From The Truth
Welcome to a special episode of the TaraElla Report, where I will, once again, explain why I left both the Right and the Left, why I’m never going back to either side, and why you should probably join me. This episode is split into two halves, the subject of the first half will be the father of liberalism, 17th century thinker John Locke, and the subject of the second half will be Noam Chomsky.
Let’s start with Locke. Among some sections of the Right, there has been a new found fascination with Locke. Long used to worshipping another great British thinker by the name of Edmund Burke, often considered the father of conservatism, recently many on the Right seem to have swapped Burke for Locke, perhaps because the current iteration of the right doesn’t really resemble Burkean ideals of conservatism anymore. Perhaps it’s because the Right is more likely to defend free speech than traditional institutions nowadays. Anyway, recently Ben Shapiro recorded a video for Prager U titled ‘If We Lose John Locke, We Lose America’, in which he explained the basic ideas of Locke, and how America’s Founding Fathers were greatly influenced by his work.
All that was said in the video was correct. Locke’s ideas of individual liberty and equality, and the existence of natural rights that a government should not be able to take away, revolutionary back in his own time, have since come to form the political consensus of the majority of people in the West, and we are very lucky indeed for that. Shapiro is also correct that, if we do lose the ideas of John Locke, it would be very terrible, because we would be losing liberal democracy itself. Furthermore, he is also correct that the ideas of Locke are currently under attack in many parts of the West, and they must be defended at all costs. Just a few weeks ago, 150 prominent intellectuals signed a letter defending free speech and open debate published on the Harper’s Magazine website, and this was swiftly met with severe backlash. It is clear from this that the values of Locke and classical liberalism more generally are no longer guaranteed as the conensus position in Western society.
What wasn’t discussed was why Locke’s ideas are being rejected by more and more people, and how we can reverse this trend. I guess the immediate cause is the rise of critical theory and postmodern thinking, particularly thinking inspired by the dangerous ideas of 20th century thinkers like Herbert Marcuse and Michel Foucault, who saw power in everything and celebrated subjectivity over objectivity. However, given that these ideas have an increasing following, there must be a reason. There must be something that is making people abandon objectivity and commitment to truth, and embracing a power struggle worldview where defeating your enemies matter more than the truth. And I think that thing is the culture wars.
John Locke’s great ideas didn’t come out of a vacuum: he had a lifelong commitment to the truth, and as a physician he had a strong commitment towards science, including precusors to what we would now consider the scientific method and evidence based medicine. Classical liberal values are indeed the natural values of people who are committed to the truth, and principles like free speech naturally flow from that commitment. When one is instead committed more to destroying one’s enemy, one simply cannot stay true to classical liberal values like those of Locke. In that context, postmodern values would make much more sense. Which is why, conservative politicians and commetators, who are equally guilty as those on the left in pouring fuel onto the cultural war fire, and especially conservative pundits whose brand are strongly tied to ‘destroying’ those on the opposite side, should hardly have any claim to John Locke’s legacy. They are part of the cancer that is killing classical liberalism, they are not part of the solution. This is, of course, also why I have made the decision to leave both the right and the left behind, because there’s no way you can stay committed to the truth, and all that it entails, when you take a side in these culture wars. Indeed, I believe only those who refuse to participate in the left vs right fight can have any serious claim to the classical liberal heritage.
Welcome back to the second part of this special episode of the TaraElla Report. We’ll now leave John Locke, and move onto Noam Chomsky, one of the most respected leftist thinkers in the world today.
You would think Chomsky would be the last person to be in the bad books of a big chunk of the left, but yet this has happened. As I mentioned in Part 1, recently 150 prominent intellectuals signed a letter defending free speech and open debate, which was published on the Harper’s Magazine website. The fact that Chomsky was among them was taken as a sore disappointment among many people in what I would call the neo-New Left.
The simple fact is, Chomsky has always been a free speech absolutist, and the neo-New Left just cannot accept it. Chomsky supports free speech because, while he is a socialist, he has a strong appreciation of the foundational classical liberal ideals. Besides, he is an old-school leftist, you know, the kind of left that existed before the corruption of Marcuse and Foucault. While some leftists today, including Bernie Sanders, are still that kind of worker-first left, and I have great respect for that, many parts of the left have been overtaken by the Professional Middle Class dominated post-1968 New Left, which has an agenda for radical cultural change that most working people would be opposed to. Now, I’m not talking about ending racism or things like that. That, I totally support. What I’m talking about are the ideas of radical critical theory, ideas from thinkers like Herbert Marcuse, whose infamous 1965 essay Repressive Tolerance justified the withdrawal of free speech from certain people, and thinkers like Michel Foucault, who saw power in everything and dismissed the importance of objective truth. This agenda is hugely responsible for the mess we are in today, where people see their fellow citizens not as comrades but as enemies, and where commitment to the truth is at an all time low across the political spectrum.
As I said before, there are still many leftists today who want to bring back the worker-centered left, the left that also championed free speech unconditionally, and in both these endeavors I consider them solid allies. But these people are rarely heard among the dominant voices on the left these days. Even those voices on the left that seem to focus on material issues often end up disappointing me, because they turn out to be not that far from Marcuse and Foucault in their cultural thinking. It just shows which side of the free speech cultural divide a lot of these apparently economic, but not explicitly anti-IDPol, leftists are taking. And frankly, it worries me a lot.
Which is, of course, why I don’t identify with the Left anymore. Even as the economic woes of the West are getting worse, even as I perhaps take a more critical stance against our current economic system, I still wouldn’t identify with the Left as it currently exists, because much of the Left these days are in the grip of critical theory, and that’s not OK. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for racial and social justice, as well as economic fairness. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still pro-worker and pro-working families, and I am actually increasingly passionate about economic fairness. It’s just that I cannot, in my good conscience, claim to be in the same boat with the significant faction of the left that has almost fully internalized the ideas of Marcuse, Foucault, and other very problematic thinkers, and have become effectively hostile to free speech as a result.
Originally published at http://taraellastylia.blogspot.com.
TaraElla is a singer-songwriter, independent journalist and author, who is passionate about free speech, liberty and equality. She is the author of the Moral Libertarian Horizon books, which focus on developing a moral case for freedom-based politics in the 21st century.