What Might be Believed After This?
October 17, 2019
The question is a hot one right now. There’s a lot, a lot, of confused uncertainty around. So many exasperations asking “What can we believe is true, and what is not true?”
Go to amazon.co.uk and in ‘books’ search ‘discourse’. Much of the search result list upcoming will be offering academic treatises, a considerable number published doctorates, from chiefly the USA, Canada, and the UK. These treatises will be discussions of a kind I am calling here ‘second-level criticism’ mainly on social issues.
I need to say what I mean by ‘second-level criticism’. Typically such an academic paper will examine a position, an outlook, usually one which is, shall I say, ‘traditional’ or recent historic. Topics popular are slavery; women’s life experiences; genders of sexuality; colonial eras; minority cultures; outlooks of famous influential persons of the recent past.
These topics and others are approached – I am being unkind – in a way that had they legs the authors would be using chainsaws to remove and so cripple them. ‘Second-level criticism’ then is a systemised approach which acts with intent to undermine, undercut, the ‘traditional’ or the recent historical position it takes for its theme.
This undercutting, undermining, is done by substituting, especially in the place of older ideals and beliefs, other motives, repercussions, causes, near all deflationary and darkly murky, and all of which rest for their validity on arguments being attributions of psychological displacements, reductions, evasions, denials, self-deceptions, deceits, blindness, dishonest integrities, ill-intent disguised, and/or veiled, and so forth.
Thus this ‘second-level criticism’ rarely if ever accepts prima facie, and in lieu of contemporary evidence to the contrary, the words and deeds spoken and done by the historical actors within that field of inquiry it might be discussing.
The evidence against such contemporary historic persons, and their words and deeds, is usually overwhelmingly assumed implicit and innate, embedded in the validity of the ‘second-level critical’ theoretical approach being used by an author.
It is as if to say that, provided I find the right key. I can open this door, and so I am entitled to burgle the apartment. I am being pejorative of course.
It is the critical theory itself which validates the approach, and the treatment, and the conclusions. The historical data which is the raw material for dissection, sometimes vivisection, is considered per se as having been interpreted wrongly by its contemporaries. It is considered that truth of necessity must be dug for, and that diamonds never lay on the surface.
In some ways this approach bears resemblances to translation. The language into which the historical data is to be ‘translated’ consists of the axioms and corollaries of that theoretical outlook and approach being brought to bear on the data.
It is not quite ‘painting by numbers’ but can come close to being so; and it often smacks of Orwell’s Farm whereon one assumes ‘Four legs good; two legs bad”
I am not meaning to belittle these treatises of ‘second level criticism’ and their authors. I believe the schools and faculties and colleges and their staff are belittling their students, and themselves, by adhering to such an industrial approach to learning and education.
I say ‘industrial’ because these treatises are a product of commercialism. Not only in the scale of their production and publication; but in their ‘one size fits all’ and ‘any colour so long as it’s black’ modes of approach. It is as if knowledge has been packaged, shrink-wrapped, and is being marketed as formulaic and as available only in certain lines.
By this I mean that it is more than a movement such as was Romanticism or Cubism; it is a way of seeing the world, all life, all things. These ‘all things’ have to be fitted into a set mold prefabricated and obligatory, so as to be viewed in their ‘true’ lights.
The work of ‘second-level criticism’ is to dishonour, to deflate, to pour disrespect on, and to tear to shreds ‘older ways, people, and deeds’, attempting to shame them, to dishabilitate them, to blacken them, and in so doing they are being ‘shown for what they really are/were’.
This demolition work is a major undertaking going on in academies and places of learning; but it is based wholly on undercutting, undermining, the past and past values. It is being carried out with deliberation. It is being carried out methodically. It is thought to be ushering in an age of freedom from the shackles of the past.
Liberation to all
Yet it is by its means and methods destroying trust, belief, honesty, integrity, faith, truth, and many other very important useful and holy things. How does it do this? by it undermining undercutting swingeingly a whole past, whole histories, whole cultures, whole ways of life. The norm for academics and their acolytes has become distrust, derision, disbelief, ever pre-empting, ever second-guessing, and ever denying face value simplicity of fact and truth.
The culprit at the root of all this, is modern social science, particularly psychology, particularly the nefarious influences of Freudian theory and its developments and offshoots since 1900. Nietzsche also had a hand, a big hand, in making it thus.
Freudian thought and its sequels have insisted on the axiom that ‘ordinary people do not know their own motives, feelings, states of mind.’ Also this axiom tends by its cognoscenti to be applied to all people pre-Freud. Freud’s bent was towards reductionism; ‘blaming it all’ on bodily appetites, infancy, and family, taboos, social constraints, displacements and delusions.
Has anyone done more, and in passing made Dawkins and Hawking and Hitchens and co look like dummies, than Freud to relegate men and women from being ‘a little lower than the angels’ to ‘brute beasts with words’? I don’t think so.
Anyone knows that ‘you give a dog as bad name’ and the dog behaves badly.
Regardless for now of the question of their truth value, it is certainly the case that since the beginnings of Freudian reductionism, in so far as it has been espoused, all human motive and endeavour has been brought into low esteem, common disrepute, and the species has been mired utterly.
Maybe it has always been a murky species throughout history, within the minds and hearts of less sensitive, more callous persons; but to hold ubiquity for the contention is (irony!) respectable, these days - intellectually, socially, politically. And men and women are honoured (more irony!!) with glittering prizes for being of this ilk.
A prominent figure will say openly things which are based on Freudian sentiment – maybe without knowing their origin? – and will say them so as deliberately to demolish an opponents arguments or character - or normally both. This is the bread and butter of political life right now.
The grandchildren of the early Freudians are these ‘critical theorists’ whose ‘second-level criticism’ is so abrasive, corrosive, and destructive, because reductive, and ever trenchantly ad hominen _sub specie__ _aeternitatis. The Freudian view of humanity opened the way on its successful widespread adoption, to the appointment of validity to undercutting, undermining, people, history, events, movements. Thus effectively abolishing any idea there might be any ‘good faith’, or ‘true earnest’ and quashing the thought that prima facie a thing might be simply what it appears to be.
The desire and trajectory has become ever to dig deeper, and sadly, in critical theory works, to delve for dirt.
I have a book beside me titled ‘In a Dark Time’ It won says the title page The Martin Luther King Memorial Prize in 1984, which again, as you will see, is a heavy irony and also a heavy sadness.
It appears to be a collection of writings about the age of The Cold War; and it aims to be ‘deep’ about the innate and ingrained iniquity within men and women. The book holds many snippets, often, it seems, from people who have succumbed to the post-Freudian ‘second-level critical’ view of life, the universe, and everything. Here’s one of the snippets – fairly typical:
“The logic of killing others in order to affirm our own life unlocks much that puzzles us in history, much that with our modern minds we seem unable to comprehend, such as the Roman arena games. If the killing of a captive affirms the power of your life, how much does the actual massive staging of a life and death struggle affirm a whole society? The continual grinding sacrifice of animal and human life in the arenas was all of a piece with the repressions of a society that was dedicated to war and lived in the teeth of death…The more death you saw unfold before your eyes and the more you thrust thumbs downwards the more you bought off your own life…. The longer people looked at the death of someone else the more pleasure they could have in sensing the security and good fortune of their own survival.
The whole meaning of a victory celebration…. is that we experience the power of our lives and the visible decrease of the enemy: it is a sort of staging of the whole meaning of war – which is why the public display, humiliation, and execution of the prisoners is so important. “They are weak; and we are strong and live”. The Roman arena games were in this sense, a continued staging of victory even in the absence of a war; each civilian experienced the same powers that otherwise he would have to earn in war. If we are repulsed by the bloodthirstiness of those games, it is because we choose to banish from our consciousness what true excitement is.”
Are you able to call to mind a less fitting Memorial to Martin Luther King?
The ideas expressed in this item about the Roman arena are, perhaps as his stepchildren, descendants of Freud’s. The same reductive approach, the same dismissal of all things higher in human life and feeling; and display in all their crudity the dreadful lines of distorted dystopian logic.
There’s a sort of revelling in dismal things some people enjoy.
Now that we have destroyed the house, we are dismayed to find we have to sleep out and bivouac against the cold outer wall.
Nothing seems available but St Paul’s ‘eat drink and be merry’.
“A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”
Notice the use more than once of each of the words ‘staging’, ‘killing’, ‘affirms’ ‘power’ and ‘pleasure’. The idea of staging, of a performance, is a ‘critical theory’ favourite, and rests akin to its similar use of the word ‘story’ to describe any set of beliefs a person might hold dear.
The way that this ‘critical theory’ uses such words seems to me to tend towards fictionalising common experience and thought; thus allowing entrance to other favourite themes – volition to choose multiple identities – freedom to be anything one wants – as if life were a soap or a theatrical drama.
The very authenticity which ‘critical theorists’ claim to be liberating us all into is called into question.
If all is mere staging and story, where is truth and value?
“A poor player who struts and frets his life upon the stage and then is heard no more”
Power is connected to (witnessing) death; and (witnessing) death by generating power generates pleasure. Killing affirms.
It’s cardboard Nietzsche-mit-Freud. It’s sadly so much like to what we have descended today.
Let us all who are willing pray for a Jacob’s Ladder to be let down from Heaven upon which might those of us in need climb back up and assert a claim to the universal heritage of which so many of us have dispossessed. To many it has been denied them from birth and by the antipathies in the circumstances of our age