It’s kinda clunky, and I’m not super-happy with it, but it’s the best I could do.
So I’ve tried to come up with a new one. Not all leftists are liberals, and not all liberals are leftists, but they are all impaired to some degree by the same mindset. David Stove called it “cognitive Calvinism.” He explained it like this:
Calvinists believe in the total depravity of human nature: if an impulse is one of ours, it is bad, because it is one of ours. The argument,
- Our knowledge is our knowledge,
- It is not knowledge of real things,
could seem valid only to someone who felt that any knowledge we have could not be the real thing, because we have it.
He’s talking about an argument he calls “The Gem,” aka The Worst Argument in the World, which deserves the top link on every conservative blog’s sidebar from now until the end of time. It’s the one-stop explanation of the Fundamental Contradiction of Liberalism, the fact that there’s no such thing as a fact.
Briefly: A Gem starts from a tautology and ends by presenting some emotionally appealing conclusion as if it followed logically from the premise. But nothing follows logically from a tautology by definition. So, Stove argues, we’d easily see that
We can know things only
- as they are related to us
- under our forms of perception and understanding
- insofar as they fall under our conceptual schemes,
is a tautology (“we can only know what we can know”) if we weren’t emotionally wedded to the idea that we cannot know things as they are in themselves.
Stove thinks it’s only “cognitive Calvinists” who find Gem arguments appealing (as opposed to “politically useful” or even “true” (for those of us who don’t recognize that they are Gems)). And, on the surface at least, “we cannot know things as they are in themselves” is a pretty depressing comment on mankind’s mental powers. But Stove was a philosopher, and was used to arguing with fellow philosophers (the whole Gem-argument is laid out in a long discussion of Victorian Idealism, one of the driest and deadest relics of that long-vanished era). Out here in the real world, where the intellectual level is much lower but the self-regard level is somehow much, much higher, people have no problem making the leap from “we cannot know things as they are in themselves” to “I possess the entire Truth.”
Hence, Neo-Calvinism. Like the original Calvinists, Our Betters have granted themselves a plenary indulgence from the consequences of their theories. Calvinists knew they were among the Elect, because the one sure sign of Election is an affinity for Calvinism. And so while all knowledge has heretofore been Western / white / patriarchal / imperialist / whatever, and while of course we are utterly incapable of transcending the cognitive biases of our class situation — so proclaimeth St. Karl of the Holy Dialectic — the light of Divine Grace has descended on Our Betters. They have been Saved. They are, in Tom Sowell’s wonderful phrase, the Anointed.
Which is a term that would probably work well enough in context. But I like “neo-Calvinist” because it calls back to the intellectual roots of Puritanism. As Max Weber famously argued, Protestantism is not a religion of the proletariat. Puritan* social histories are full of relatively unlettered, low-status people engaging in recondite theological debates, and one of the reasons the Salem witchcraft trials are so fascinating even to non-lesbians is the intellectual wattage of the judges. Cotton Mather could produce 500 pages of densely-reasoned, impeccably logical prose to justify putting you on the rack. As we are well aware, Our Betters love the form and the feel and the sound of intellectual debate, even as they’re “arguing” straight from the amygdala. It’s Cotton Mather logic — of course “spectral evidence” is admissible in court, because the girls are being tormented by witches, and witches use specters to torment. QED.
“Neo-Calvinist” also gives a shout out to the prissy, moralizing, censorious nature of Our Betters. In all matters except sex — these days, in all matters perhaps gay sex — they are prigs and scolds. Bad speech must of course be banned, but also bad cars, bad lightbulbs, bad toilets, bad trash cans, bad songs, bad movies, bad shows, bad channels, bad books, bad websites, bad everything. The Church of Correct Thought has its liturgies, its rituals, and of course its sacrifices, and participation is not optional. You are sinners in the hands of an angry God, and since there’s no such thing as God, Our Betters will have to pinch hit for Him.
Once you look for it, you see this kind of thing everywhere. This post was inspired by yet another takedown of “Vox,” this stupid news-explaining-blog-thing that has gotten the right blogsphere so worked up. Professional jealousy aside — and what is this, 2002? Didn’t we go through this “throw zillions of dollars at talking-point-spewing bloggers thing” a decade ago? and wasn’t it a comprehensive disaster? — I really fail to see how this is any different from anything else the left media do. How is Ezra Klein pretending to be objective while “explaining” that of course progressives are metaphysically correct about everything any different from any random MSNBC / CNN / ABC / CBS / New York Times knucklehead pretending to do the same thing? Hell, I doubt if you could get more than a few of Rachel Maddow’s supporters to admit she’s anything but an up-front, straight-talkin’, truth-tellin’, honest-to-Gaia journalist.
Klein’s just an extra-sanctimonious jerkoff, even by the left’s world-class standards. Which is great for me, I guess — I got a new word out of it — but I don’t see how it needs thousands of words of impassioned “analysis” elsewhere. He’s just another neo-Calvinist, pretending his prejudices are God’s will. Same as it ever was.
UPDATE: Just for giggles. It appears this “Vox” site screwed the pooch on one of the very first stories it reported. They claimed that Kentucky, which just lost the NCAA men’s basketball championship game, “has a graduation rate of 82 percent” for its ballers. Except, ummm…. it doesn’t. Not even close. That 82% figure is from ten years ago. Their entire philosophy now is one-and-done, and there’s exactly one senior on the whole team. Serious you guys, this is top-notch journalism.
*I’m well aware that not all Calvinists, much less all Protestants, are Puritans. But it’s the sense of the word, not precise doctrinal definitions, that matter.Loading Likes...