The Intentional Ignorance of Ideologues
And my absolute lack of respect for those with no respect for the truth
By MARTIN REZNY
Full disclosure - if this sounds personal, it’s because for me this is one of the few instances when I categorically disagree with something on all levels, from the rational all the way down to emotional, regardless of how much objective understanding for the other side I might have gleaned. Which has been a considerable amount. I will try to address all of the main statements in your replies to my previous article, harshly, but please don’t take it as a personal attack. I don’t know you on a personal level, but I know of what you speak.
For starters, the easy one — the cultural impact of flag burning. First of all, in a vacuum, flag is a symbol of a nation which, assuming it is unique in any way from any other, stands for certain ideas. I’m personally actually a proponent of the idea that nations and their cultures have something like an ineffable essence, a qualitative flavor, if you will. A quality that arises from the prerequisites for someone to be a member of the nation, mainly the shared language, history, and concrete everyday way of life. Those have meaning.
Now, if we’re talking about America specifically, if there’s one word that comes to mind as its ultimate value, it’s liberty. Liberty means, on the basic level where there’s really no discussion, that no one is telling people what they’re supposed to or not supposed to do. Therefore, since having the ability to burn a flag of this nation is a sign of greater liberty, the ability to do so is a sign of the American culture flourishing. And it would be the same for any other act of disrespect for its state symbols, or a critique of any state officials.
The greater problem in this case, or a series of recent heavily publicized cases, is what leads so many people to see acts like these as an indisputable sign of disloyalty or un-Americanness. That’s the problem that I’d like to address in this article — the difference between a thinker and an ideologue, between intellectual honesty and empty rhetoric, and in regard to national allegiance, the difference between an actual patriot and a mere nationalist.
The Land of the Me vs. the Enemy
It’s by no means an exclusively American problem, though America puts a somewhat unique emphasis, and certainly flavor, on the issue of nationalism and political ideology. Do you know who it was that coined the philosophy of “us against them” as a cornerstone of political discourse and a necessary condition of creating a national identity? Carl Schmitt, the “crown jurist of the Third Reich”. Don’t take it from me, listen to him explain in philosophy-speak:
“Every actual democracy rests on the principle that not only are equals equal but unequals will not be treated equally. Democracy requires, therefore, first homogeneity and second — if the need arises elimination or eradication of heterogeneity.”
― Carl Schmitt, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy
In terms of the aforementioned national ideas, flavor, or essence, I’d say this kind of thinking is strikingly un-American, and is genuinely Nazist. As well as truly fascist, since that’s what the “fascio”, or latin “fasces”, mean, representing a tightly-knit bundle of rods as a sign of a syndicate wielding its power toward achieving a shared interest. A situation quite unlike that of America, where… You know what, let the Statue of Liberty tell it like it is:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Exiles, poor, masses, mighty woman, welcoming, not conquering, refusing any and all storied pomp. Seems rather opposite. But guess what, saying that only this is America would be equally wrong as saying that it is a homogeneous powerful entity dispensing with its enemies. Because that’s the problem of ideology, the false polarization. America is a complex, a fusion, a conflict, of both the conservative white man supremacist religious fundamentalism and of the multicultural rebellious secular progressivism.
However, the difference here is not between two different ideas of America, but between the conservative reality of America, indistinguishable from any other nationalist empire in history, and the revolutionary idea of America. The American flag does not stand for genocide, slavery, or white imperialism (the Confederate flag does that just fine). It stands for that which America uniquely brought to the world, the idea that all people should fight for their freedom against tyranny and have the right to usher in a new world better than the old one. That may include flag burning.
Only an ideologue, a nationalist, would claim that everything is perfect, or worse still, has always been perfect in America, and that the symbols of it or the persons in power today are America and are sacred, or that America is about worshiping blindly something or someone sacred. A patriot would admit and criticize all the wrongs, current or past, gladly dispense with all the symbols and pomp, and fight any persons in order to preserve the true idea.
Polarization — The Bane of Cultures
In short, truth is a matter of searching for meaning, not of enforcing particular behaviors, or simple monument-maintenance. In logic, one of the fallacies is called false dichotomy — presenting only two options to choose from, when in reality, there are typically multitudes. For that reason alone, ideologues are wrong, or at least in error, almost by default, because they always polarize. Just when you place culture as traditional flag-worshipping in opposition to culture as modern art, you commit multiple false dichotomies simultaneously.
Art is a spectrum, multiple spectrums interacting with each other in fact, and all the whole spectra are pretty much always represented. Have people stopped painting classical paintings, sculpturing classical statues, composing classical compositions today? No, they have not. There are new genres and styles emerging all the time, that’s true, but they’re rooted in classical traditions or are responses to them, parts of a continuum. The existence of something like postmodernism doesn’t negate classics out of existence.
Moreover, there are progressives who prefer many classical, traditional aspects of culture, and many conservatives who prefer many aspects of modern art. The simplistic homogeneity that ideologues seek and argue is an illusion, a false reduction of reality, that only serves to simplify political messages. It’s a form of political marketing, a scheme to get people to vote for candidates or buy things, not any kind of truth. As such, they present a difficult dilemma for philosophers — legitimize them by engaging them in a conversation, knowing they’re dishonest, or leave them unchallenged.
Such polarization ripples through all of the issues in society, causing harm by preventing the only way in which people actually move forward as groups — cooperation, compromise. In the end, all the sides must sit down and achieve some sort of consensus, or there will be a permanent state of war to the detriment of everyone. It’s especially noticeable if you have binary politics: What one party institutes, other party works to remove when it’s their turn, and round and round it goes.
It’s like with your question why else should parents have children other than to have someone to take care of them when they get older. I’m not saying that is not a reason that someone might consider important, but there never can be only one reason, and no reason can ever be always the best. Those are pretty much the axioms of logic. Apart from that, what you suggest clearly isn’t the reason why people have children, when the other contenders are the continued existence of human race, and the fact that people love children.
Why do you think that? How did you come up with that conclusion? It’s not intuitive. Other than that it is a part of some party line, your personal unexamined opinion, an issue tied to an economic policy you feel you need to defend, or some other form of political posturing, or generally not-thinking. It’s not even a significant part of political reality nowadays, when the pensions function largely within an individualistic framework where one’s own children don’t directly take care of their parents, or at least aren’t required to.
It’s the same when you claim that young people are more conservative, which you support by an example of one leader who’s 46 years-old. How did you come up with that, why is that your conclusion? Other than that you’re a young conservative yourself and want to believe that you’re in a majority. I was talking about demographics of people under 40 based on statistical studies, like this one. Young people are, on the whole, more left-leaning, but even more independent and outright apolitical. That’s an objective fact.
Thinking from the Wrong End
This belies the main problem of thought driven by ideology — the conclusion is at the beginning of the thought process. An ideologue always begins from the thing they’re trying to prove at all costs, since it’s tied to a policy they prefer or a bias they personally have, but they will always deny that that’s what they’re doing, and they’ll always accuse the other side of doing precisely that. Which is the very definition of intellectual dishonesty.
Apart from this being extremely annoying, ideologue’s denial creates the appearance of strength when pitted against an intellectually honest thinker, who therefore admits self-doubt. I personally don’t believe that how I feel affects, or should affect, what the facts are. The whole post-truth world that we now presumably live in is another PR stunt that manipulators and liars use to try to make their ancient ways seem somehow normal, fresh, and trendy.
Logic and truth are not topical or optional, they’re universal and eternal. It’s like saying that math can become over and done with by getting out of fashion. While people can collectively decide to reject it, it would still remain an attribute of reality and it would only mean that people have stuck their fingers in their ears and started going “lalalalalala” while all their technology and economy crumbles. Truth doesn’t care about what we think it is or isn’t.
My bias is that I can’t help myself but care about what it actually is. I might not succeed in knowing it any more than an ideologue would, but an ideologue wouldn’t even try, or admit to himself that he doesn’t. Which brings me to a problem with what you propose as a solution. Debate and discussion are all well and good, but they’re never going to solve the lack of consensus for as long as there will be ideologues polarizing these debates and discussions.
Not to mention that an existing majority consensus of people may also be wrong in regards to the underlying truth of the issue. You mention as an example of a consensus the STEM fields being thought useful. That’s a product of false dichotomy induced by ideologues within the academia — the party line there is the pitting of STEM fields against the humanities. There’s no way in which the teaching of STEM subjects alone solves any social problems. It’s a victory of one side where a compromise was needed, which makes it an abject failure.
Invoking Paradoxes and Philosopher Kings
I would agree with you that solutions need to take into account both, or to be more accurate, all sides of the issue, but I wouldn’t call it a paradox. It’s a dynamic, specifically a dialectic. Paradox implies impossibility, while in reality, the coexistence is not only possible, there always must coexist conflicting values and views that cannot be catered to perfectly at the same time. They just take turns transferring decision-making power between each other, waxing and waning, and keep transforming one into the other.
The mighty fall and become the oppressed, the rebels rise up and become the oppressors, there’s no end or static stability, only spiraling in epicycles along an arc that may, given enough time, also be circular. Sometimes the motion is forward, sometimes backward, and more importantly, there are multiple dimensions through which the motion takes place. There are many different historic struggles that have various relationships between each other and overlap and clash in all kinds of ways based on wealth, faith, education, sexual orientation, nationality, and many other more esoteric qualities.
I believe it can be represented in terms of geometry, but it would not be a binary opposition where you and yours are simply right and the other, your enemy, is simply wrong for all time. It would be a more than 3-dimensional construct with many moving parts, like an insane clockwork mechanism, which shifts depending on the observer’s perspective in some regards, but has fixed points. That is the nature of truth, or as close as it can be theoretically represented in terms of structure without getting into any of its contents.
When you say things like future possibilities are out of the question, I would hope you must know that you’re objectively wrong to say that, that the only frame of reference in which that statement makes sense is one detached from factual reality. Of course that future possibilities are open, they always are, such is their nature independent of human opinion. You can try to restrain them, which is a political act, and that’s as much as a human can do, in which case I resent the language of declaring the outcome you want as a fact.
When the problems you see when you look at reality are those of unemployment, fake news, or media bias, you must know that those are not the only problems that exist, or the objectively main ones, but mainly those that you can see through an ethical and political filter of your choosing. A different ideologue would see a problem that labor has not yet been delegated to robots, or the wealth gap, or the religious fundamentalism and intolerance. They all exist, and the truth is in why certain people focus on one or the other.
It’s always a sign of a problem in thinking when someone’s positions and conclusions become entirely predictable. Real honest thought is untethered from one’s current personal bias, because the personal bias is treated as suspect and entirely open to questioning. It doesn’t lead to neatly packaged sound bites you read or hear in some media that are perfectly coherent and ooze certainty derived from definitive answers to all the questions. In honest thought, not even the list of questions is ever definitive, and certainty is simply not of this world. Which is to say, you’re free to surprise me. Please do.
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