Breathless: Chasing Promises
A Bit More On Impermissible Ideas

Impermissible Ideas

As it always had the potential to do, the philosophical and religious neutrality which is the ostensible framework of the American system is collapsing. See this post by Rod Dreher, one of many in which he describes the movement in big-time journalism to full-on advocacy for various left-wing causes. Here's an anecdote:

All this put me in mind of a conversation I had maybe 15 years ago, when I was a columnist and editorial writer at The Dallas Morning News, with a Millennial writer there. He knew that I was a conservative, and I knew that he wasn’t, but none of that mattered. I mentioned to him one day that I thought the paper’s coverage of the gay marriage issue was one-sided, and had become a matter of pro-LGBT advocacy journalism. He agreed that it was one-sided, but told me that he didn’t think there was a legitimate other side. I pointed out that we lived in a rather conservative part of the country, and that most of our readers took the opposite position on gay marriage (this was around 2005, I think). Were they all bigots who didn’t deserve to be consulted in our reporting? Yes, he said. If the paper was reporting on the Civil Rights movement, he said, would we feel morally and professionally obligated to seek the views of local KKK leaders?

The pose of neutrality has been very useful for a long time now to people who want to advance unpopular ideas. They insisted that even those ideas, or especially those, deserved to be heard and debated, that dialog is essential...etc etc etc; it's a tired song and dance now. We've seen the process of "dialog" used in bad faith as a tactic, one to be dropped when victory is attained. 

Well, this is old news to anyone who more or less holds--or at least admires and prefers--the old classical liberal and classically American views about free speech and the free exchange of ideas. No need to bang on about it. 

The more important point to make now is that in a sense the people who think like Dreher's former co-worker are correct. I realized a long time ago (and have been saying so since at least the mid-1990s) that the apparent metaphysical and religious neutrality of the American Constitution is an illusion. Or at any rate that it has limits, much stricter limits than has been generally recognized or admitted. It was only neutral, and could only be neutral, within those limits. No culture or society, no body of people who want to live together in some semblance of peace, can be indifferent to all ideas. There will always be some ideas which it is not permissible to advocate (whether the permissibility is a matter of law or informal sanction). No one at the New York Times would, in 1944, have regarded publishing a Nazi justification of the bombing of London as a duty compelled by the ideals of free speech. 

These young zealots have figured this out. Not by reason, a tool in which they seem to have little interest or skill, but impelled by the sheer force of their passionate belief in their own righteousness and the wickedness of their opponents. They've arrived at the same position once held by Catholic polities: that error has no rights, because (among other reasons) the propagation of significant errors puts the existence of the whole polity at risk. In a perverse way I can almost applaud their recognition of the principle. 

Their problem, of course, which is also our problem, is that they are existing within a nation that includes a very large number of people who don't agree with them about which ideas are impermissible. But they're working on getting control of the mechanisms of permission. As both sides realize that their principles are fundamentally irreconcilable with those of the other, the appeal to a neutral authority becomes impossible, because its very existence is impossible when the principles of one or both sides forbid the toleration of the other. 

This has all been obvious for some time to those who gave it much thought. What's happening now is that it is becoming clear to a great number of people, with direct political consequences. 

Comments

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Well put. As I said a couple days ago I'm currently re-reading Lasch's Revolt of the Elites and he covers this very thing in some detail. What's amazing is that I have to stop and remind myself every other page or so that he was writing 25+ years ago. Where he's right he's prescient, and where he's "wrong" it's only because things are worse now than when he wrote, or because things took a turn he could not have foreseen. Unlike with some cultural writers though, Lasch does very little if any unqualified predicting, which is one of the things that makes his work still so applicable today.

I have Revolt of the Elites coming from a branch of the local library system. The title certainly sums up an important part of what's going on now.

By the way: if anyone is annoyed by the way quotations look darker and more prominent in this new design, I am too. I can't figure out why it looks that way, because it's supposed to be the same font and style as the rest of the text. I'm thinking it may be some effect of the way the browser handles this particular typeface. Come to think of it, I guess I should see what it looks like in other browsers. Maybe you aren't seeing it that way?

On an email chain that I'm a part of Tony Esolen recommended that people read Max Scheler's book Ressentiment for a on-target diagnoses of what is going on right now.

I just started The Closing of the American Mind, and with the Lasch book presumably arriving soon, my plate is full for now.

Completely off topic: having watched several Marvel movies with my grandchildren, I’m coming to actively hate them.

I see the quotes bigger and darker.

AMDG

Do you type them, or copy and paste.

AMDG

Depends. But I know what you're thinking of and no, I don't do that. It's always plain text. I'm not sure it's actually bigger. If it is, it's very little. But it certainly is heavier. There is nothing in the HTML to change the way it looks relative to the surrounding text. Must be some CSS built into the design.

Mac, I'm with you on Marvel. When I was talking to my kids about it yesterday, the word I used to describe it and Inception was "elastic." This is not a good thing in my mind. Like the Objective Room in That Hideous Strength.

Hmm, that's interesting. What do you mean exactly, with respect to the Marvel movies? The immediate cause of my comment above was more or less artistic: the relentless loud ridiculous spectacle aspect of it. Also, in at least some of them, the sly insertion of sexual innuendo, or more than innuendo.

I think I saw Inception but am so vague about it that I can't even remember exactly what it was about. Maybe I'm not even right in thinking that I saw it.

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