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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Intellectual freedom in Canada: Post-modernism the key threat?

Recently, a few of us were discussing the angry tone of new atheist works - short on ideas, long on resentment. A friend, Rob Sheldon, writes to say,
I think the 20th century was all about rationalism and modernism, the 21st century seems to be shaping up post-modernist and irrational.
He notes that, like me, he enjoyed Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism, but recalls that historical fascism (for example, Hitler and Stalin) relied upon materialism and rationalism for their anti-God propaganda. However, he writes, post–modern philosophy is not only anti-God, it is anti-rational :
I've blogged extensively on PoMo, and concluded it is essentially polytheistic. This is the phrase Paul Johnson uses to describe the multiple absolutes of feminism, eco-terrorism, abortion rights, gay rights, etc. And in polytheism, rationality is not a virtue (for it would suggest there was a single absolute that ruled all nature). So what replaces rationality?

Peter Woods explained it in an essay
"A Bee in the Mouth", as "authenticating anger". What Dawkins and Dennett and Hitchens and Harris all have is "authenticity". That's why they are rock stars.
Very interesting. I believe Rob is on to something here.

Modernism took root in the monotheistic societies of the West, and thus it inherited the passion for order, system, and method that drove, for example, Thomas Aquinas's Summa or Dante's Divine Comedy. Given a reliable source of mechanical power, one can, of course, apply the same passion to a factory as to a work of theology or literature - et voila! modern technology.

But things were not always this way in the West. The classical tales about the gods of Greek and Roman mythology from thousands of years ago were heavily edited by later, monotheistic storytellers, so that they would "work" as stories. Compare the modernized versions with, say, the meltdown of mess described in the Meridian handbook to classical mythology. Every village had its own gods, its own passions, and its own narratives. Order, system, and method were not even goals in those days.

Modernists certainly persecuted people by the millions in the twentieth century. But one could predict the direction from which their persecution would come. For example, the modernist might be convinced that "miracles never occur" so the Catholic Church (which requires an authenticated miracle before declaring a saint) is high on the modernist's hit list.

But in a post-modernist age, authenticating anger is the key criterion. So one never knows for sure from what direction the persecution will come. It could be animal rights, women's rights, gay rights, ethnic pride - there is no longer a single coherent narrative, just a bunch of angry people who want the government to fix their perceived enemies.

Peter Vere, who - as Kathy Shaidle's co-author - has just released The Tyranny of Nice, makes clear where this leads:
In the name of nice, Canada’s government is silencing Christians and pro-lifers from voicing opinions that others might find offensive. This prohibition applies even when one’s opinion is grounded in Christian truth and charity. Stating that the child in the womb is a human being is one such opinion being floated as potentially hateful. And now that Canadian law has redefined marriage to include same-sex couplings, to state publicly that marriage is between a man and a woman can lead to thousands of dollars in fines and possible jail sentences.
Note that the modernist state did not actually persecute Christians for differing with other citizens on abortion. But then the modernist state had a coherent political narrative that permitted tolerance.

The post-modernist state has masses of grievance groups, anxious to target anyone who gives them anxiety.

This is indeed somewhat like polytheism. With no organized theology, polytheists had no way of knowing whether they might have unwittingly offended a god. We post-modernists have no way of knowing if we have offended a grievance group. I say, with Ezra Levant, Fire. Them. All.

Meanwhile, here is Achmed the Dead Terrorist, explaining his own gripes and grievances:

Being dead is evidently a bummer. My favourite line: "You don't have an ass any more, you fool!"

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