What, You Read Satre or Something?
links to Jonah Goldberg’s latest NRO column
on the “Dangerous Ideas” of postmodernism fueling the modern lefty morons. I normally like Goldberg’s articles, but this one just pisses me off. I suppose I'm just not a conservative in my heart of hearts. A brief excerpt from his buildup that I found particularly unsound:
But beneath all the clichés, posturing and, breast-beating from "lovers of liberty" and civil libertarians of all parties, there's an inescapable fact. Some ideas are dangerous. If you are a reasonable person, you will concede this point — even if you disagree with me on which ideas were dangerous. My list includes those notions which constitute the cores of Nazism, Stalinism, communism, postmodernism, Maoism, relativism, scientific socialism, Hale-Boppism, running-with-scissorsism, et al. If you're on the left you might take a few of those off and add capitalism, conservatism, manifest destiny, whatever.
I am apparently not a reasonable person (this should come as no surprise to my small number of regular readers). I hate postmodernism as much as the next guy. Postmodernism and its descendents are irrational, hypocritical, and generally stupid, but saying that ideas are responsible for the worst death and destruction of the twentieth century is silly. To paraphrase the famous quote, ideas don’t kill people, people kill people. Ideas are excuses for evil actions done by people suffering from small penises or other hate inducing conditions.
There are big differences in ideology between Stalinists, Fascists, Nazis, and Maoists, but each of these creeds is remembered more for the vile acts committed in their names, than the actual ideas they espoused. Goldberg’s whole concept of “Dangerous Ideas” seems to imply that an ideas is simply waiting to hijack unsuspecting people’s brains and use them for its own nefarious purposes. It’s the same outlook as the liberal who sees the soldier trained to use a gun as nothing but a killer, even if the guy is a marine cook. Understanding an idea is not the same as accepting it. People in a free society choose their actions, and they choose what to believe.
Ideas would be dangerous if human minds were blank slates, and could be filled with whatever random memes got pumped in. This seems to be what Goldberg fears. The “Blank Slate” is an existentialist argument, and once you’ve gone existentialist, you might as well sign up for the postmodernist fan club, because you’ve bought into the whole cultural determinist mindset.
Ideas are like technology, in that they have no intrinsic morality, but actions do. Some actions are evil, according to god (if you’re religious), natural law (if you’re more of the agnostic / deist persuasion) or some kind of preprogrammed social instincts (for you strict Darwinists out there). People are not blank slates, and added to that, humans are supposedly rational creatures. Some people choose to do evil acts, regardless of ideology, and ideas are often used by these evil people to commit horrendous crimes.
Freedom involves choices, and choices involve consequences. When it comes down to it, are you hosting your memes, or are your memes hosting you?
If you’re really concerned about the dangers of postmodern memes, create reasonable alternatives that are more effective in enticing those juicy blank brains. Calling ideas dangerous is to be afraid of them, and fear leads to attempts at suppression. Running away from a faulty idea in fear or hiding it in shadows (which Goldberg doesn’t go quite so far as to advocate) will only give the idea a festering underground quality that the kids love. Only by bringing worthless ideologies into the open can you show their stupidity and evil for all to see, and completely discredit them.
Witness the suppression and censorship of anti-Semitism and Nazism in Europe, versus the open debunking and ridicule of those ideals in the United States. In the USA, we’ve got KKK meetings attended by 10 inbred racists harmlessly ranting to 100’s of self-important journalists. In Europe, we’ve got synagogue burnings quietly hushed up and neo-fascist candidates getting 20% of the vote. Oh, yeah, if ideas are dangerous, then censorship certainly works guys…