SUM, ERGO COGITO
1st February 2020
Frans Hals Public Domain
It’s fashionable to talk about the ‘tribal’ nature of politics these days as though people do not consciously choose their political allegiances just as they don’t choose their genetic inheritance or as though they are not chosen for rational reasons. Thus designating political allegiance as purely tribal, while buying into a demeaning determinism, also has the effect of making the actual content of the ideologies involved seem arbitrary and equal as if there is nothing important distinguishing them from one another. However, recent years have resulted in the emergence of very clear and diagnosable differences which make it possible to make real value judgements on and comparisons between the nature of political creeds. It is possible to anatomise those things which are now abroad.
Broadly, on the left, we have the socialist/communist spectrum underpinned by the range of post-modern, Marxist orthodoxies which include identitarianism, political correctness, intersectionality and various forms of progressive utopianism. At the risk of offending admirable Classical British Liberals, I will call this group the Modern Progressive Liberals as usage now has it that this is what they are. They include most of the media, the universities, the Civil Service and the political class (including much of David Cameron's and Theresa May's Tory Party). On the right we have real conservatives and many of the ‘populist’ movements.
For me there is one conspicuous thing that distinguishes very clearly between these two strands. The French philosopher, René Descartes, around the beginning of the era which has come to be known as the Enlightenment coined the famous phrase – Cogito, ergo sum (I think, therefore I am) in order to confirm his own existence and, thereby, form a basis for an epistemology. His phrase, though taken out of context, does good service, though, in another way, by defining the nature of modern progressive liberals. The opposing conservative group can be characterised with its reversal, Sum, ergo cogito (I am, therefore I think). I will try to explain.
Conservatives tend to begin with Nature as it is. In life we are all born as flesh-bound bundles of senses, appetites and emotions. We begin in the biological and spring directly from the very biological union of our parents. Out of this, and in time, we develop the faculty of reason which is always dependent on the biological platform on which it resides. Similarly, in linear history, we began, starting at the bottom of Maszlo’s Pyramid of Needs, by addressing our simple animal needs and appetites and moved upwards to a place where the sophistications of reason could impose themselves more extensively. Thus, reason and its exercise depends on previous biological being (Sum). This being, for most people, includes an uncomplicated sense of sex rather than gender. To this form of being we can add the geographical, cultural, linguistic and historical locations in which we are spawned. These things are all in place before we use our reason to reflect on them. A humble and sane disposition to all of these pre-existing parameters is one of gratitude, celebration and open-armed embracing.
If one wished to characterise this state of being in theological terms one might say that certain accidental givens of being on which we were signally un-consulted are handed to us by God. If one is not of a religious disposition simply substitute the word Evolution for God. It makes little difference.
For the modern progressive liberal everything begins in cogito. The whole of creation only exists because it appears in his mind. The idea that his mind is dependent on preceding biology, nature or God is anathema to him and makes him very angry. His mind exists like a disembodied, untethered, free-floating, head in a jar, Futurama-style, and the whole of creation depends on it. It, according to its God complex, can select and ‘curate’ the components of being and arrange itself and the world according to his cerebral and intellectual agenda. As there are no preceding givens the world is a tabula rasa or a vacuum into which he can judiciously insert whatever is needed to accomplish a perfect ordering of things according to his lights. Like a child making a new Mr Potato Head face he will curate his sexual identity and, in politics will be loath to associate himself with the grubby realities of localism, nationalism or ‘nativism’ favouring instead grand internationalist and universalist ideas involving the New Jerusalems that the unenlightened fools before him stood in the way of being realised. He has little understanding that politics is about acknowledging the real biological, familial, geographical, cultural and linguistic attachments that motivate people at the deepest levels.
It is unwise to cross him and his starry-eyed optimism (there is little room in his mindset for any religious sense of human nature being flawed). He proclaims the prioritising of all-powerful Enlightenment rationalism above all things and will beat those who oppose him over the head with ‘reason’, ‘science’ and ‘evidence’ (usually meaning a selection of ‘studies’ by on-side social scientists that just happen to support his thesis at any given moment). He will suggest that only dribbling flat-earthers could possibly stand in his way. If they are not part of his solution they are part of the problem. For him it is an almost religious article of faith that his new, mentally-sustained gods of reason and science can remedy everything if applied in large enough doses. In saying this, I am, here, of course, not advocating the abandonment of reason or science but simply the correct location of them in the hierarchy of being.
There is a vast gulf opening in societies across the world between these two approaches and, for my money, there is no equality of value between them. Any sane judgement of their merits must conclude that the modern liberals are off-beam in terms of sanity and can only, and inevitably, come to disaster, given time. And, in fact, time is testing them to destruction. It is notable that there have already been examples of cognitive (remember Cogito, ergo sum?) dissonance afflicting some members of the leftist tribe and public cognitive meltdowns, and here, are becoming less uncommon. It is also notable how populism is springing up spontaneously and unbidden in opposition to this movement. Ordinary people can simply no longer tolerate the top-down, managerial, head in a jar approach, so intellectually prescriptive of how we should rightly think, of which we are all so weary. In part one can interpret the recent election (and the 2016 vote in the USA) result as a huge, irritated shrug which sought to dislodge the tiresome ticks and their artificial impositions which had for so long tyrannised it from off the back of human nature. These are irrepressible and instinct-driven reflexes from the heart of nature. Expect now examples of major cognitive meltdown to increase.......