April 13, 2010
Absolutely Fabulists: Liberal Mythmaking
Following 9/11, there was a debate over the need for "inclusiveness" in a proposed 9/11 Memorial based on the iconic photograph of three white firemen raising an American flag at Ground Zero. At the far end of a broad spectrum of sentiments was the hope that "the artistic expression of diversity would supersede any concern over factual correctness"[i].
On this view, a memorial depicting a factual account of the event would have been racist, sexist, and divisive. The logic of diversity takes otherwise straightforward matters and twists them into politicized knots. Facts be damned.
Although there were only three firemen in the original "factually correct" picture, the more "diverse" version would have required a veritable battalion to cover all of the various interest groups. After all, it takes a village to raise a flag.
The evident absurdity of this disparagement as mere "factual correctness" of what normal people simply call "reality" should not encourage anyone to dismiss its advocate as a solitary voice, however. This is not an aberration -- quite the contrary. It is indeed emblematic of the liberal approach to reality, and a prime example of liberal mythmaking.
Karl Marx, the original voice of "hope and change," said it best in the eleventh of his "Theses on Feuerbach": "Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it."
In this, he was merely extending the logic (such as it was) of others who had come before him, including René Descartes and Immanuel Kant, who made the human mind -- rather than the world -- the starting point for scientific inquiry.
The goal of these earlier thinkers was, broadly speaking, scientific rather than political. Even so, Marx would later use a Hegelian variation on Kant's position to make the political argument that external reality is an obstacle to be overcome, rather than a fact to be objectively, dispassionately, and scientifically understood. The good Marxist knows that the world is but raw matter to be reworked into the shape predetermined by the ideological mind.
Of course, putting ideas first and remaking the world in one's own image can be a good thing. Such is the story of the American Founding. Much later, the seemingly unreachable dream of true racial equality was "midwifed" from the realm of ideas into flesh-and-blood reality by the heroes and journeymen of the civil rights movement. The nation responded to Dr. King's words because he challenged the American people to live up to their ideals. He also drew from the deep well of our shared cultural and religious heritage.
What, then, distinguishes the Founders and Dr. King from the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and his Alinskyite White House protégé?
In a word: Memory.
What has historically distinguished conservative (or what used to be called "classical liberal") political thought from that of leftists is that conservatives remember their mistakes and consequently can learn from them. Conservatism adapts its ideology to contrary evidence; liberalism reinterprets contrary evidence to fit its ideology.
For example, our Founders crafted our Constitution using the failed Articles of Confederation as both inspiration and object lesson.
In contrast, no matter how many times statism fails, the left mystically assures itself -- and us -- that "this time" it will work, somehow.
Historical ignorance and misology -- i.e., the hatred of logic and reason -- are part and parcel of the liberal mindset. Remembering the past spotlights the left's repeated failures. Logic demonstrates the inevitability of those same failures.
The left is stuck in an endless cycle of error because it rejects negative feedback on its ideas. Like Kant and Marx, they know that their ideas are correct (even though they aren't). Thus, if the available data contradicts the ideas that they know to be true a priori, then reality must be wrong. If it weren't for liberals' insistence on inflicting their ideas on the rest of us, their devotion to repeatedly debunked notions would almost be funny. Almost.
We are living in the midst of the topsy-turvy spectacle of these absurd ideas come to life.
How many times have you heard someone utter the ludicrous, self-contradictory but commonplace "Well, Communism may not work, but it's a great idea"?
How often have crime statistics been either suppressed or attacked as "racist" because they revealed patterns of criminality that were deemed insufficiently "diverse"?
The War on Poverty, the Great Society, AFDC, and related programs have broken up the very communities they were supposed to strengthen. Yet liberals resist any substantive reform tooth and nail.
Now, in the ultimate suspension of reality, our government has passed a health care bill that does not provide health care. This same law will cost at least a trillion dollars, yet somehow will magically lower the deficit.
This leads to an inescapable conclusion: Although we may excuse some liberals as merely ignorant and irrational, contemporary liberalism itself is explicit in its duplicity and misology.
What can one say of a person who elevates considerations of "diversity" over facts, who blindly praises a failed ideology that has killed over 100 million people, who believes that accurate scientific data can be "racist," and who insists on spending trillions in order to weaken the bonds that hold together American families, particularly among the poor?
At a minimum, he is a fool. More likely, he is a liar with an agenda.
Liberals can no more arrive in their imagined Utopia by the light of their mythic worldview than I could get from Albuquerque to Houston with a map of Narnia.
In response to the repeated implosion of their misbegotten notions, liberals have to deny past failures by either forgetting them or falsely casting them as successes. Either approach requires the denial of memory and logic.
So we get a bowdlerized FDR, who supposedly saved us from the Great Depression, when he actually prolonged it.
We get a sanitized Bill Clinton, who was the victim of a vast right-wing conspiracy, rather than his own emotional and sexual incontinence.
And we even get a misunderstood Castro, who would have done such great things for Cuba if it hadn't been for those wicked Yanquis and their nasty embargo.
Because the liberal worldview cannot survive in the clear, open air of free and unfettered rational discourse, it moves in a subterranean world of dark conspiracies, in which every failure is first blamed on nebulous enemies (Halliburton, the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy, etc.) and later either recast as a success or forgotten entirely. This requires the denial of both objective reality and reason itself.
For the liberal fabulists in their Ministry of Truth, the past that cannot be rewritten soon finds itself shoved down the nearest Memory Hole, to be consumed by the waiting fires below.
Daniel H. Fernald holds a Ph.D. in philosophy and rhetoric from Emory University and is currently an Associate Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in South Korea. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[i] Jonah Goldberg, "Facts & Firemen," National Review Online, January 18, 2002: www.nationalreview.com/goldberg/goldbergprint011802.html