I regularly find political discourse tiresome, if not outright irritating. Partisans of various “sides” and views argue past each other over this or that policy proposal. Yet, they approach these proposals with radically different visions of the world. Needless to say, such folks rarely come to an agreement. Their discord even engenders in them seeds of misology; men of worldly experience begin to distrust reason’s ability to assist both in theoretical matters and in practical affairs. As Socrates warns in Plato’s Republic, men who come unworthily to philosophy risk becoming haters of what they previously found attractive. These jaded folks then become either indifferent to the world or willing participants in the war of wills. You may ask how relativists maintain the energy to fight their battles when they do not believe in truth or in morality. Some are simply intellectually inconsistent, but others have bought into the idea that human life, individually and collectively, is nothing but the exercise and imposition of some will (preferably their own) over others.
Rather than ceding ground to the misologues, I think that rational engagement must deal with the roots of an issue rather than the leaves. Fundamental questions about nature, the human being’s place in and with the world, and existence generally precede, even if subconsciously, all posterior ethical and political concerns. I am not claiming, of course, that we are metaphysicists before we develop ideas about the world. Rather, our inherited or absorbed views and values contain thousands of assumptions about reality of which we might not even be consciously aware. One of the endless goals of intellectual growth is to become aware of such assumptions and, when possible, to assess them critically.
Of great assistance in this endeavor is the encounter of other world views—other horizons of knowledge and experience. We have such encounters in our human relations, in travels, and in reading works from other cultures and ages. In such encounters, we become aware of our implicit beliefs and unexamined opinions. We glimpse other perspectives, and we can begin to think through a dialectical process in consideration of the divergent visions of the world. I recommend interested readers to consider the German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer, one of Heidegger’s many brilliant students. Gadamer, as his Heraclitean mentor and all the pessimistic Germans after Kant, appears to insist that we never transcend the limitations of our horizon, but perhaps we can, in Simpsonian language, “embiggen” our understanding of the world through such reflection.
If there is any value in “diversity” as the multiculturalists intend, it surely lies in this sort of activity. Yet, it benefits only a certain kind of person at a certain level of maturity. The temptation to simplistic relativism accompanies the initial philosophical discovery that nature and convention differ. This jarring realization can be the first conception of higher wisdom, but few human beings seem capable of such gestation. The average embryo of the spirit mutates and degenerates after such trauma. Received wisdom, discovered, collected, winnowed, and preserved by the ancients and past down in tradition, best preserves the sanity of the many. Mindless conformity for the masses makes for secure, well adjusted societies, where the bovine herd can live out its days of grazing in peace.
The Left, like the Enlightenment in general, has many insights, but then it misses their significance and couples them with inexcusable stupidity. Stifling dogmatic convention distorts truth and hinders the ability to discover truth. Yet, it is politically necessary. Human communities need their noble lies; even the most fortunate situation must involve the most truthful deceptions and simplifications possible. In Leftists’ commitment to their fantasies of equality and universal enlightenment, they fatally err. Our dying civilization is their bequeathed gift.