The Dangers of Intellectual Arrogance
There's a certain level of hubris that inevitably comes along with calling oneself progressive. After all, if yours is the path of progress, what does that make every other way? "Backwards." And in fact, that was a word that was hurled repeatedly throughout this past campaign season as Obama sought to show that he was the true Captain, trimming the sails for a harbor known only as Forward. Why have a destination when you can simply have a direction? And not any of those pesky cardinal directions, let's just focus on moving. That way, if we need to change course, we can always claim it was part of the plan; I mean, we've been moving forward the entire time.
The progressive mindset is on exquisite display in something George Clooney said several years ago while discussing American history, "The liberals were always right in the end." According to Clooney, from the Salem witch trials right down to the civil rights movement, progressives have been leading the charge Forward while conservatives have merely been an impediment, holding back so much potential progress.
Of course, his statement is absurd. There has been no group of people in American history, or world history for that matter, that has been correct one hundred percent of the time. People, along with groups and organizations, make good decisions and bad decisions. Sometimes they make mistakes or misjudge information. They even occasionally lie and cheat. It's not a conservative or a progressive thing. It is a human thing. And that's where progressive ideology makes a huge mistake. It discounts human nature as something that is essentially good and improvable. But it isn't, at least not to the degree that many progressives believe. Jesus Christ put it succinctly when he said; "No one is good except God alone." Whatever you believe about his status as God, his words can't be denied. Humanity is corruptible. It's a fact easily ascertained by either watching the news or a daycare.
The intellectual arrogance is a veritable black plague that has infected nearly every place of higher education in the Western world. Instead of approaching the world and its mysteries with the kind of humble spirit that caused Isaac Newton to declare, "If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants," many leftists seem to think that progressive ideology alone will lift them higher than any supposed giant from the past. For people who claim to value diversity, there is an alarming lack of it within the brains of 'intellectuals.' Instead, universities increasingly look like religious sects, each espousing their version of the one true way to heaven on earth.
I've watched as this infection has spread among many of my college-educated friends and colleagues. They view Philosophy 101 as if the collective wisdom of all humanity has been distilled into a shot glass, ready to be downed like so much liquor at a frat party. It may burn a little as it goes down but it sure gives you a buzz to know that you're always right. People go from genuinely wrestling with the difficult questions of life (Is there a God? Does absolute truth exist? Are right and wrong immutable?) to writing them off like they're the equivalent of 'Is there a tooth fairy?' Questions that have plagued humanity for thousands of years are easily answered by the progressive mindset. For liberals, the way forward is straight and the gate is narrow and if you'd only listen to them, all your questions could be answered.
"But everyone does that!" you may retort. Don't conservatives claim that theirs is the only way as well? Aren't all of those crazy, right wing religious people just as intellectually arrogant as the leftists? That may be. But they don't claim to be dispassionate, intellectual gods who are passing down objective decrees from the Olympus that is modern academia. On top of that, conservative ideology stresses the frailties and weaknesses of man. Humans are seen as corrupt through the eyes of the conservative. In the progressive's eyes, he is a demi-god in chrysalis.
The danger of intellectual arrogance (whether of the conservative or progressive variety) is clear: it leads to eventual failure and keeps the offender in ignorance.
According to Homer, after blinding the Cyclops and escaping from his clutches, Odysseus couldn't just slip away. Like any good braggart, he had to have the last word. And so rather than enjoy his success in humility, he, like Rachel Maddow in an election-night frenzy, let his ego take over. He cried out, "Cyclops, if any one asks you who it was that put your eye out and spoiled your beauty, say it was the valiant warrior Odysseus, son of Laertes, who lives in Ithaca." As a result of his boasts, he was cursed to wander the seas for several years more. It doesn't matter how well things seem to be going in your favor; pride is never the answer.
Pride blinds us to our own weaknesses. It keeps us moving forward without regard for whether we're truly moving in the right direction. The effects of the policy aren't what matters. The progressive vision is right and any other vision is wrong and it's as simple as that.
This is what makes Barack Obama's characterization of himself as 'pragmatic' so laughable. In 2008, he admitted in a television interview that he would raise capital gains taxes even if he knew that he would take in less revenue. His reason? "Purposes of fairness." The whole point of raising taxes is to take in more revenue, and yet, incredibly, he said he'd still do it if it took in less! And why? Because that's what the progressive way demands. Soaking the rich is like a sacrament to the progressive mindset and no amount of argumentation or evidence could convince a true believer otherwise.
This is why pride always ends in failure. Pride forces us to stay the course, even when the ship is headed for an iceberg. That's what makes intellectual arrogance so dangerous. When faced with the facts of life, the proud person shrugs and continues to march forward, even if it's off of a cliff.
So what's the cure? Humility, and a large dose of it. If we're ever going to have an intelligent debate in this nation again, we're going to have to get humble. We must recognize when we're wrong and be willing to change course. We must also recognize when we're right and be willing to stand up for our principles regardless of the opposition we may face. But, whether we rethink things or remain constant, we must do either in humility.
As a young man, Benjamin Franklin, attempted to achieve moral perfection by practicing a different virtue every week. His last one was humility, which he described simply as "imitate Jesus and Socrates." I think it would be a good start for our politicians and media to imitate Franklin.