Common Sense and Common Folk

Having recently moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, my wife and I decided, as part of our intention to integrate into the community, to attend a Vancouver Canucks hockey game. It was something of a special occasion as the game featured the only meeting of the season at the Rogers Arena between the Canucks and the Montreal Canadiens, the team I grew up rooting for and, indeed, once dreamed of playing for.

What surprised us was that the stadium seemed packed with Canadien fans, red white and blue sweaters everywhere around us, cries of “Go Habs Go” (from the team’s French nickname, les habitants) and loud cheers erupting for every Canadien goal dwarfing the vocal enthusiasm for the home team. Raised in Vancouver, Janice was appalled. Where was the municipal spirit, the fan loyalty, the pride of place? Was this the residue of rampant multiculturalism? I, of course, a native Quebecker, was delighted. And after all, win or lose, les Canadiens are a storied franchise akin to myth, going back to the founding of the National Hockey League in 1917, recalling the “flying Frenchman” of old, and comprising a pantheon of hockey greats that dominates the history of the sport. Canadien games are always sold out.

But there was something else we found equally if not more conspicuous, namely, the good nature, spirit of camaraderie, courtesy, respect and conviviality we were surrounded by. Recovering from a serious soccer injury, I was hobbling on a cane, as a result of which I was treated as a VIP. Security personnel escorted us to the Call Wicket and picked up our reserved tickets for us. The jammed corridors parted like the red sea for my halting passage. The fast-food vendors were patient, not fast, in serving us. Our row and seat neighbors were the soul of concern and graciousness. The aisle usher was unfailingly attentive. We were among real people, the so-called common folk from all walks of life, some well-off, some not so much, all standing for the anthem (no one, so to speak, taking a knee), most participating in the spirit of the game in an amiable and welcoming atmosphere.

On the Skytrain back to our new home, Janice and I, both early-retired professors after years of exposure to the nasty complexities of academic life, fell into conversation about the gaping difference between “the world” and “the academy,” between ordinary folk doing the world’s work and the cloistered parasites of the university hothouse, between lively people in the stands and bored students in the amphitheaters, between practical people and theoretical people, in short, between the do-ers and the talkers.

This summary is obviously to some extent a facile generalization -- there are some estimable people in Academe and unprepossessing people among the general public -- but it expresses a larger truth. We have far better relations and interesting encounters with tradespeople, for example, than we do with the general run of academics. Academe, we agreed, has increasingly come to resemble a hen party of professional backstabbers, cultural sycophants, sanctimonious prigs, administrative mercenaries and intellectual supremacists who regard themselves as elite opinion-makers and bellwethers of social progress. And, of course, they are the most influential pedlars of leftist hallucinations, graduating an army of gainfully unemployable millennials and propagandized radicals trained to carry forth their program of social destabilization and “egalitarian” coercion.

As British writer James Delingpole notes, the schools have turned out “a powerful electoral bloc of brainwashed little Marxists” who have been rendered “entirely unfit for any career outside the taxpayer-funded bureaucratic state.” Left-wing academics have filled their impressionable heads “with postmodernist, Marxist drivel about identity politics, microaggressions, intersectionality and entrenched social injustice.” True enough. And woe betide any instructors who still believe in freedom of speech, thought and assembly, who wish to teach standard academic subjects rather than proselytize and convert students to a political agenda, who love their disciplines as they were meant to be taught, who are grateful for a free-market economy that allows them to earn substantial incomes, and who, most likely, vote conservative. The only saving remnant in the modern university consists of the science and, perhaps, business faculties, but they too are being incrementally infected by the virus of “social justice,” feminism and Marxist indoctrination.

With few exceptions, one will find scarcely a shred of common decency in the modern university and nothing like the friendliness, unself-conscious boisterousness and hospitable reception we met with at the Rogers Arena -- and, indeed, that we meet, more often than not, in the thoroughfares of ordinary life. People who actually work for a living, who build, repair, transact and serve, tend on the whole to be respectable and pleasant. People who deal mainly in ideas and theories outside the practical sphere of application -- exempting STEM and MBA -- tend to be coasters and sybarites bloated with revisionary self-importance, as Janice and I can attest from years of uncomfortable experience in the ivory tower.

In a way, this is nothing new. The conflict we are witnessing today, typified by the fissure between the intellectually elect and the workaday pragmatic, enjoys an ancient pedigree, going back to the philosophical clash between Plato and Aristotle which has reverberated through education and religion from the Classical Period in Greece to the present moment. Plato held to the realism of Universals -- what makes a thing or property individual is its participation in the timeless and absolute realm of ideal Forms. Something is red because it participates in the essence of Redness. There are many different kinds of triangles in the world, but we recognize them as triangles because they participate in the ideal Form or eidos of Triangle.

Aristotle is said to have developed the adversary concept of nominalism. Universals have no independent or supersensual existence; a thing or property is what it is and is recognized as such by its sensual similarity to other things in the mind of the perceiver. A universal is not an entity-in-itself but a mental concept. It all sounds rather silly, but the debate is a profound one, that is, how we go about knowing and naming disparates. What is the relation between an abstraction and a thing, between collective nouns and adjectives on the one hand and their particular instances on the other? The battle between abstract “Realism” and concrete “Nominalism” has raged for centuries.

The rancor persists to this day. According to Bruce Fleming in a fascinating essay Dogma of the Day, this philosophical divergence is behind the most visible clashes of Western society, “between the educated and the uneducated, liberals and conservatives, coastal and inland, red and blue states,” etc. Those who accept a version of the dogma of Platonic Universals, which Fleming calls “linguistic realism,” maintain that words are reality, that, as deconstructionist Jacques Derrida maintained in his 1967 volume Of Grammatology, “Il ny a pas de hors-texte” -- there is nothing outside the text -- and that words determine the shape and nature of reality. If a man says he is a woman, he is a woman. If a woman says she has been sexually assaulted, she has been sexually assaulted. If Western civilization is judged a colonialist evil, no counter-evidence can change that factoid. If “whiteness” is privilege, then it can be nothing else. (Of course, such designations apply only to a prior, ideologically determined referent, chosen by the illuminati who decide what words mean and how they are to be reified.)

As Fleming points out, “the dogma of linguistic realism determines…the content and cast of those institutions that deal in words: universities, specifically the wordiest departments, those in the humanities and social sciences.” Their denizens and adherents constitute the intellectual elite, aka the chattering classes, who have taken it upon themselves to control and arbitrate our perception of reality. They have given us the cultural monstrosity of political correctness. The words we are constrained to use are not a common currency facilitating acts of exchange but counterfeit substitutions establishing a false economy of thought. They are imaginary Universals, eternal and unchanging, unaffected by discrete and empirical particulars as these exist and function in the world “out there.”

Ultimately, such particulars do not participate in the conceptual fabrication as formulated by our school of contemporary neo-Platonists. A man who says he is a woman is still a man. A feminist who claims to be systemically oppressed is still a liar. A member of the class of virtue-signallers is not a virtuous person. The Open Society is a closed shop. Antifa is a collection of fascists. The patriarchy is a figment of the Platonic ether. And so on. But fact and truth never stopped a Progressivist, for whom a finite existent is presto transformed into a contrary essence, or a thing which does not exist is hoisted into a Universal category. Linguistic realism trumps nominal specifics.

In effect, for the proponents of linguistic realism, literature (or “texts”) determines the tenor and substance of the world rather than giving us a view of it. These neoterics have assumed the prerogative of the creator God: In the beginning was the Word. But their word is not creative, it is merely an act of the totalitarian will, imposed upon a world that is already there and obstructing or mediating our view of it. What we are witnessing, in Robert Curry’s terms from Reclaiming Common Sense: Finding Truth In A Post-Truth World, is a war on the crucial role common sense plays in our lives. Progressive academics and intellectuals have sought to elevate speculative theories and fashions above prudence, native intelligence, self-evident truths and a “shared understanding of the basic realities of life.”

For the most part, conservatives and ordinary people are the doing classes, for whom words are not the world but are in the world, specifying particulars, objects, actions and operations. It is not that the common folk are devoid of ideas but that they do not mistake ideas for concrete things. They do not, as Fleming puts it, focus on the glass in the window but on the view one sees through the glass. Of course, those who are not members of the cerebral sodality do not hold to any philosophical doctrine or engage in refined debate, but they may be said to behave as nominalists in their daily affairs. As do-ers, not talkers, their de facto opposition to representational or linguistic realism is embedded in action, in doing things in a real world and making that world work. “The polarization of the world into talkers and actors,” Fleming concludes, “is at the basis of our conflicts today.”

Janice and I were lucky to get out of the academic racket before official retirement age, even at the cost of anorexic pensions rather than bulimic salaries. We would rather go to a hockey game than to an academic lecture, to be with real people rather than paper people. Admittedly, we continue to write, but to write against the totalitarian flow, and we continue to speak, but to speak against the cultural and political pressure to shut speech down in favor of ideological conformity. We are speakers, not talkers. That is our way of doing.***

Sharing a glass of wine on our return, I see that Janice is still a tad miffed, chafing at the mixed reception accorded her favorite team by her home city. I tell her she should consider switching allegiance to les glorieux. After all, Canadien netminder Carrie Price hales from British Columbia but has no problem tending goal for the Habs. Moreover, despite the dispersions of a multicultural age -- cities full of newcomers and teams with international rosters -- the Canadiens are emblematic of a singular people and province with a distinctive heritage. Even the spelling of the name in English is unique: French “Canadiens,” not “Canadians.” They are the only nominalist team in the League, a category of one. Clearly, were our Greek philosophers still around and passionate about hockey, Plato would root for the Canucks and Aristotle for the Canadiens.

Final score: Canadiens 3, Canucks 1. Go Habs Go!

Graphic credit: SVG SILH

Founding of the NHL corrected to 1917

David Solway’s latest book is Notes from a Derelict Culture, Black House Publishing, 2019, London. A CD of his original songs, Partial to Cain, appeared in 2019.

Having recently moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, my wife and I decided, as part of our intention to integrate into the community, to attend a Vancouver Canucks hockey game. It was something of a special occasion as the game featured the only meeting of the season at the Rogers Arena between the Canucks and the Montreal Canadiens, the team I grew up rooting for and, indeed, once dreamed of playing for.

What surprised us was that the stadium seemed packed with Canadien fans, red white and blue sweaters everywhere around us, cries of “Go Habs Go” (from the team’s French nickname, les habitants) and loud cheers erupting for every Canadien goal dwarfing the vocal enthusiasm for the home team. Raised in Vancouver, Janice was appalled. Where was the municipal spirit, the fan loyalty, the pride of place? Was this the residue of rampant multiculturalism? I, of course, a native Quebecker, was delighted. And after all, win or lose, les Canadiens are a storied franchise akin to myth, going back to the founding of the National Hockey League in 1917, recalling the “flying Frenchman” of old, and comprising a pantheon of hockey greats that dominates the history of the sport. Canadien games are always sold out.

But there was something else we found equally if not more conspicuous, namely, the good nature, spirit of camaraderie, courtesy, respect and conviviality we were surrounded by. Recovering from a serious soccer injury, I was hobbling on a cane, as a result of which I was treated as a VIP. Security personnel escorted us to the Call Wicket and picked up our reserved tickets for us. The jammed corridors parted like the red sea for my halting passage. The fast-food vendors were patient, not fast, in serving us. Our row and seat neighbors were the soul of concern and graciousness. The aisle usher was unfailingly attentive. We were among real people, the so-called common folk from all walks of life, some well-off, some not so much, all standing for the anthem (no one, so to speak, taking a knee), most participating in the spirit of the game in an amiable and welcoming atmosphere.

On the Skytrain back to our new home, Janice and I, both early-retired professors after years of exposure to the nasty complexities of academic life, fell into conversation about the gaping difference between “the world” and “the academy,” between ordinary folk doing the world’s work and the cloistered parasites of the university hothouse, between lively people in the stands and bored students in the amphitheaters, between practical people and theoretical people, in short, between the do-ers and the talkers.

This summary is obviously to some extent a facile generalization -- there are some estimable people in Academe and unprepossessing people among the general public -- but it expresses a larger truth. We have far better relations and interesting encounters with tradespeople, for example, than we do with the general run of academics. Academe, we agreed, has increasingly come to resemble a hen party of professional backstabbers, cultural sycophants, sanctimonious prigs, administrative mercenaries and intellectual supremacists who regard themselves as elite opinion-makers and bellwethers of social progress. And, of course, they are the most influential pedlars of leftist hallucinations, graduating an army of gainfully unemployable millennials and propagandized radicals trained to carry forth their program of social destabilization and “egalitarian” coercion.

As British writer James Delingpole notes, the schools have turned out “a powerful electoral bloc of brainwashed little Marxists” who have been rendered “entirely unfit for any career outside the taxpayer-funded bureaucratic state.” Left-wing academics have filled their impressionable heads “with postmodernist, Marxist drivel about identity politics, microaggressions, intersectionality and entrenched social injustice.” True enough. And woe betide any instructors who still believe in freedom of speech, thought and assembly, who wish to teach standard academic subjects rather than proselytize and convert students to a political agenda, who love their disciplines as they were meant to be taught, who are grateful for a free-market economy that allows them to earn substantial incomes, and who, most likely, vote conservative. The only saving remnant in the modern university consists of the science and, perhaps, business faculties, but they too are being incrementally infected by the virus of “social justice,” feminism and Marxist indoctrination.

With few exceptions, one will find scarcely a shred of common decency in the modern university and nothing like the friendliness, unself-conscious boisterousness and hospitable reception we met with at the Rogers Arena -- and, indeed, that we meet, more often than not, in the thoroughfares of ordinary life. People who actually work for a living, who build, repair, transact and serve, tend on the whole to be respectable and pleasant. People who deal mainly in ideas and theories outside the practical sphere of application -- exempting STEM and MBA -- tend to be coasters and sybarites bloated with revisionary self-importance, as Janice and I can attest from years of uncomfortable experience in the ivory tower.

In a way, this is nothing new. The conflict we are witnessing today, typified by the fissure between the intellectually elect and the workaday pragmatic, enjoys an ancient pedigree, going back to the philosophical clash between Plato and Aristotle which has reverberated through education and religion from the Classical Period in Greece to the present moment. Plato held to the realism of Universals -- what makes a thing or property individual is its participation in the timeless and absolute realm of ideal Forms. Something is red because it participates in the essence of Redness. There are many different kinds of triangles in the world, but we recognize them as triangles because they participate in the ideal Form or eidos of Triangle.

Aristotle is said to have developed the adversary concept of nominalism. Universals have no independent or supersensual existence; a thing or property is what it is and is recognized as such by its sensual similarity to other things in the mind of the perceiver. A universal is not an entity-in-itself but a mental concept. It all sounds rather silly, but the debate is a profound one, that is, how we go about knowing and naming disparates. What is the relation between an abstraction and a thing, between collective nouns and adjectives on the one hand and their particular instances on the other? The battle between abstract “Realism” and concrete “Nominalism” has raged for centuries.

The rancor persists to this day. According to Bruce Fleming in a fascinating essay Dogma of the Day, this philosophical divergence is behind the most visible clashes of Western society, “between the educated and the uneducated, liberals and conservatives, coastal and inland, red and blue states,” etc. Those who accept a version of the dogma of Platonic Universals, which Fleming calls “linguistic realism,” maintain that words are reality, that, as deconstructionist Jacques Derrida maintained in his 1967 volume Of Grammatology, “Il ny a pas de hors-texte” -- there is nothing outside the text -- and that words determine the shape and nature of reality. If a man says he is a woman, he is a woman. If a woman says she has been sexually assaulted, she has been sexually assaulted. If Western civilization is judged a colonialist evil, no counter-evidence can change that factoid. If “whiteness” is privilege, then it can be nothing else. (Of course, such designations apply only to a prior, ideologically determined referent, chosen by the illuminati who decide what words mean and how they are to be reified.)

As Fleming points out, “the dogma of linguistic realism determines…the content and cast of those institutions that deal in words: universities, specifically the wordiest departments, those in the humanities and social sciences.” Their denizens and adherents constitute the intellectual elite, aka the chattering classes, who have taken it upon themselves to control and arbitrate our perception of reality. They have given us the cultural monstrosity of political correctness. The words we are constrained to use are not a common currency facilitating acts of exchange but counterfeit substitutions establishing a false economy of thought. They are imaginary Universals, eternal and unchanging, unaffected by discrete and empirical particulars as these exist and function in the world “out there.”

Ultimately, such particulars do not participate in the conceptual fabrication as formulated by our school of contemporary neo-Platonists. A man who says he is a woman is still a man. A feminist who claims to be systemically oppressed is still a liar. A member of the class of virtue-signallers is not a virtuous person. The Open Society is a closed shop. Antifa is a collection of fascists. The patriarchy is a figment of the Platonic ether. And so on. But fact and truth never stopped a Progressivist, for whom a finite existent is presto transformed into a contrary essence, or a thing which does not exist is hoisted into a Universal category. Linguistic realism trumps nominal specifics.

In effect, for the proponents of linguistic realism, literature (or “texts”) determines the tenor and substance of the world rather than giving us a view of it. These neoterics have assumed the prerogative of the creator God: In the beginning was the Word. But their word is not creative, it is merely an act of the totalitarian will, imposed upon a world that is already there and obstructing or mediating our view of it. What we are witnessing, in Robert Curry’s terms from Reclaiming Common Sense: Finding Truth In A Post-Truth World, is a war on the crucial role common sense plays in our lives. Progressive academics and intellectuals have sought to elevate speculative theories and fashions above prudence, native intelligence, self-evident truths and a “shared understanding of the basic realities of life.”

For the most part, conservatives and ordinary people are the doing classes, for whom words are not the world but are in the world, specifying particulars, objects, actions and operations. It is not that the common folk are devoid of ideas but that they do not mistake ideas for concrete things. They do not, as Fleming puts it, focus on the glass in the window but on the view one sees through the glass. Of course, those who are not members of the cerebral sodality do not hold to any philosophical doctrine or engage in refined debate, but they may be said to behave as nominalists in their daily affairs. As do-ers, not talkers, their de facto opposition to representational or linguistic realism is embedded in action, in doing things in a real world and making that world work. “The polarization of the world into talkers and actors,” Fleming concludes, “is at the basis of our conflicts today.”

Janice and I were lucky to get out of the academic racket before official retirement age, even at the cost of anorexic pensions rather than bulimic salaries. We would rather go to a hockey game than to an academic lecture, to be with real people rather than paper people. Admittedly, we continue to write, but to write against the totalitarian flow, and we continue to speak, but to speak against the cultural and political pressure to shut speech down in favor of ideological conformity. We are speakers, not talkers. That is our way of doing.***

Sharing a glass of wine on our return, I see that Janice is still a tad miffed, chafing at the mixed reception accorded her favorite team by her home city. I tell her she should consider switching allegiance to les glorieux. After all, Canadien netminder Carrie Price hales from British Columbia but has no problem tending goal for the Habs. Moreover, despite the dispersions of a multicultural age -- cities full of newcomers and teams with international rosters -- the Canadiens are emblematic of a singular people and province with a distinctive heritage. Even the spelling of the name in English is unique: French “Canadiens,” not “Canadians.” They are the only nominalist team in the League, a category of one. Clearly, were our Greek philosophers still around and passionate about hockey, Plato would root for the Canucks and Aristotle for the Canadiens.

Final score: Canadiens 3, Canucks 1. Go Habs Go!

Graphic credit: SVG SILH

Founding of the NHL corrected to 1917

David Solway’s latest book is Notes from a Derelict Culture, Black House Publishing, 2019, London. A CD of his original songs, Partial to Cain, appeared in 2019.