Over at Porphyrogenitus, Porphy (we’re e-mail friends, so I can call him that) has a long and link-filled post on the roots of what he sees as the modern kulturkampf. While I don’t quite agree with the place (on the right wing) where he stands to make this point, I think he lays out a fairly good description of the array of intellectual parents responsible for “Bad Philosophy”, and of some of the sociology that underpins its promulgation.
Intellectual life doesn’t take place in a vacuum; to borrow from Newton, intellectuals all stand on each other’s shoulders. People being human and fallible, they are picky both of whom them allow to stand on their own shoulders, and of whose shoulders they stand upon.
Readers of Thomas Kuhn’s book “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” will see this as a familiar process, in which socially accepted constructs – “paradigms” mature, evolve, and occasionally collapse, through an essentially social process.
The social process Porphy focuses on is the process whereby academic ideas become “normal” and accepted, and the ways in which their holders defend themselves against new and different ideas. He looks intently at issues of language, and so I’ll go back to a great article by Stephen Hicks on “Free Speech and Postmodernism” (I was pointed there by Arthur Silber via Instapundit). In the article, Hicks says:
What we have then are two positions about the nature of speech. The postmodernists say: Speech is a weapon in the conflict between groups that are unequal. And that is diametrically opposed to the liberal view of speech, which says: Speech is a tool of cognition and communication for individuals who are free.
If we adopt the first statement, then the solution is going to be some form of enforced altruism, under which we redistribute speech in order to protect the harmed, weaker groups. If the stronger, white males have speech tools they can use to the detriment of the other groups, then don’t let them use those speech tools. Generate a list of denigrating words that harm members of the other groups and prohibit members of the powerful groups from using them. Don’t let them use the words that reinforce their own racism and sexism, and don’t let them use words that make members of other groups feel threatened. Eliminating those speech advantages will reconstruct our social reality—which is the same goal as affirmative action.
A striking consequence of this analysis is that the toleration of “anything goes” in speech becomes censorship. The postmodern argument implies that if anything goes, then that gives permission to the dominant groups to keep on saying the things that keep the subordinate groups in their place. Liberalism thus means helping to silence the subordinate groups and letting only the dominant groups have effective speech. Postmodern speech codes, therefore, are not censorship but a form of liberation – they liberate the subordinated groups from the punishing and silencing effects of the powerful groups’ speech, and they provide an atmosphere in which the previously subordinated groups can express themselves. Speech codes equalize the playing field.
I still find Objectivism kind of silly, but think this is one of the most incisive descriptions of the “speech and tolerance” issue that I’ve ever read, and believe that resolving this key issue…the place and power of speech and freedom of thought…is going to be the key battle in the War on Bad Philosophy.
Note that simply defeating the post-modern model isn’t an accurate reflection of my own views on where we should go. These are complicated, and as of now, still ill-thought through. Paradigms change for a reason, Kuhn suggests, and the insular paradigms of the ‘modern’ 1950’s changed because they couldn’t readily absorb racial or sexual equality as well as a host of other changes which were brought by the 60’s and 70’s and which I see as of value.
(note that I posted earlier on the Hicks article at Armed Liberal)