Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The Light Of Reason

The Light Of Reason , which is both a blog and, at least in this case, a source of well-lit reason, answers the question: why aren't conservatives outraged about what Rove did?

(T)he question assumes that the ideas conservatives talk about actually mean something to them. That in turn means something else, and something much more important: it assumes that conservatives’ ideas properly connect back to the facts out there in the world to which they refer. Rather than engage in a technical discussion about epistemology, let me put the point more simply: ideas and concepts are the means by which we hold knowledge—but the knowledge expressed in terms of ideas must always refer back to specifics in reality. If the ideas don’t ultimately refer back to reality in this manner, they are literally meaningless. They refer to nothing. Everything that exists is something particular. Ideas as such don’t exist at all, except as symbols and summations of the particulars in a certain category to which they refer.

But conservatives lionize a President who speaks of “freedom,” as he enacts a program which threatens civil liberties here at home on the most fundamental level (some recent examples: here, here and here), and who speaks of “progress” in Iraq as that country descends further into bloody chaos with each day that passes. Bush is a man for whom concepts mean precisely nothing. The phrases he employs to justify his actions are devoid of content, and they refer to no specifics at all. And almost all his actions lead to results in reality which contradict the “ideas” he says he supports in utterly disastrous ways.

This is much deeper, and much worse, than mere hypocrisy, which is almost clean in intellectual terms by comparison. When someone is hypocritical, there is at least the hope of reaching him if we are able to make him see and acknowledge how his words are contradicted by his actions (and/or by other words). If someone alters his behavior after understanding his error, it is because he acknowledges at least to some extent the connection between words and particulars.

But if someone uses words and concepts in a manner which consistently reveals that those words mean absolutely nothing to him, it is not possible to reach him at all. There is nothing to reach—in the sense that there is no mind there capable of understanding what you are saying. On the most basic level, such people do not know how to think. When someone functions in this way—that is, when he is not capable of thinking in the most rudimentary manner—there is one method of survival that tends to overshadow all the others: membership in a group, or tribe, which he hopes will protect him.

It is this kind of tribalism that conservatives exhibit today in a very extreme form. (Many liberals are guilty of it, too, but they’re not in power now and therefore less of a danger.) We see this tribalism in Bush, who speaks of “loyalty” to his friends as one of his supreme values, and we see it in conservatives generally. This is why they defend Rove so desperately: the attacks on Rove are perceived as attacks on their tribe, and it is the tribe that must always be protected against outsiders. In this case, the law, the press, and those who criticize Rove and the Bush administration are all outsiders. Outsiders are the enemy, and they must be destroyed.

In other words, reasoning with these folks is like wrestling with a pig: you just get dirty, and the pig enjoys it.

Silber also makes a plausible argument that George II's disregard for the CIA has an Oedipal component.


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