The Last Crusade 42: The Saint and the Cynic

I have not done a Last Crusade column in quite some time, and I have four or five more topics to cover before I gather the columns together in a book format. (I had a publisher express interest, but he suffered fiscal setbacks, so the project is up in the air.)

As sort of a make-believe guest appearance, however, I’d like to post a link to a discussion between Jordan Peterson and Ben Shapiro, which touches on more than one topic the Last Crusade was called into being to confront.

In this interview, among other topics, Dr. Peterson mentions the interview with Sam Harris. Poor Mr. Harris, and others who occupy Mr. Harris’ humble mental plateau, seem to insist on misunderstanding a rather simple claim Dr. Peterson is making about truth: that if your theory does not work in practice, it ain’t true.

The simple claim, as any true claim must be, is based on more nuanced and profound claims that are not so simple.

Dr. Peterson here refers to Piaget’s theory of moral development in children which you may recall from your schooling: that younger children can play a game, for example, like marbles, and the game is satisfactory to one and all, but none can give an articulate account of the rules that agrees with any other child’s account.

An older child can not only articulate the rules, but make suggestions for variations or new rules meant to improve the game.

In other words, an older child can see, if dimly, an underlying principle the rules are meant to serve, and which acts as a standard for judging the fitness of rules.

Older children yet can articulate principles of fairness, of competition, etc., on which rule-making for games is based.

Hence, Piaget proposes that an inarticulate understanding of how things work precedes an articulate understanding. You learn the game by playing it out.

The social evolution of man from ape-man to civilized man to space-man allegedly follows this pattern. The rituals, rites, customs and religious practices of a people, even before they have a theology or legal system to articulate them, work to satisfy, more or less, the participants.

Then, when writing is invented, they are codified into laws, such as the Code of Hammurabi, the Twelve Tablets of Numa, or, on a slightly higher plane, as the Ten Commandments, or the Eightfold Path of the Buddha. Saint Thomas Aquinas is a later step, articulating and bringing to light what is implicit in the Law of Moses.

Sam Harris makes the claim that science does not prove the existence of God, ergo it is not true. Jordan Peterson points at the Soviet Union and Maoist China, points at the one hundred million innocent souls murdered, and says, “Are you sure that is the sole test of truth? Look at the practical results of your theory set in motion.”

Dr. Peterson’s challenge to poor Sam Harris was the eternal challenge of a practical man to the unanchored and unballasted intellectual aloft in Cloudcuckooland: if your theory works in theory, but you cannot play it out in practice without disaster, in what sense is it true? The model does not work when set in motion, hence it does not fit the world.

Since the Cloudcuckooland intellectuals are the ones making the claim to be oh-so-much-more intellectually superior to the rest of the world (including those with a better education and higher IQ test scores than they), the irony that their vaunted abstract reasoning falls like a house of card with the least touch of practical implementation shows which side actually has reason on its side.

How anyone can be dishonest enough to propose this means Jordan “Tell the Damn Truth!” Peterson does not believe in objective, literal truth, or how anyone can be gullible enough to believe that proposition, is a testament to the power of rhetoric.

Rhetoric, we must hasten to add, is adornment. It is icing on the cake. A beautiful woman adorns herself for a night on the town to enhance her allure, and the practice is not deceptive. But when the same art is used to hide warts and pockmarks and make a sick woman seem healthy, then it becomes a trick.

Likewise, rhetoric used to enhance a sound argument is not deceitful. Rhetoric used to cover the fact that the argument is not sound, to gloss over gaps in logic, to change the subject quickly so that no onlooker notices the obvious flaws, that is a much more sinister use of the art. A pile of icing with no cake beneath is not a sound meal, nor even a good dessert.

There are ideas that possess people like unclean spirits.

When a man is possessed, he cannot be reasoned with, because he loves the one fixed idea possessing him more than he loves truth, and he will say anything to elude answering honest questions in himself that challenge his one fixed idea.

Once truth is no longer available to defend the unclean spirit, only rhetoric of the dishonest and insubstantial kind mentioned above is available.

If have you have noticed how humble real philosophers are, and how they admit how little they know, but what little they know is real with a shocking reality; and if you have noticed how Leftists (who are the most numerous type of men possessed by false spirits) always prefer the appearance to the reality, always fetishize the lingerie and ignore the real woman, always prefer airy theory to practical fact; then you should notice as well how much of the speech of men possessed by false spirits consists of boasting about knowledge and wisdom they do not possess.

One is tempted to define “intellectual” as a man who puts on an elaborate, outward show of the intelligence he does not have.

The possessed man no longer even tries to examine his fixed idea, no longer questions it, and no longer answers questions about it.

The truth of the fixed idea is now suddenly beyond question: to question is now a moral failing, a sign of cowardice, ignorance, or folly. It is heresy. If someone questions the fixed idea, he is perhaps the paid stooge of sinister conspirators, the Moneyed Powers or the Jews or the Establishment or the Patriarchy.

So no response to any question can contain an honest answer: the responses have to be non-responses. The response must be a barbed witticism, a meme, a mocking jape, a sniff of dismissal, a counter-attack, a change of topic, ad hominem tu quoque. “You are too short for this ride.” Anything to change the subject.

In other words, the man possessed by a devilish idea speaks like a devil: what comes out of his mouth is witty, charming, and cynical when the devil is in a good mood, and bitter, resentful and fleering when not.

The unclean spirit never makes jokes. His only laughter is laughing at people he holds in contempt.

Pride and cynicism leap to the aid of the unclean spirit. He will take any honest attempt to explore his one fixed idea to be either a personal attack or contemptible folly. In the first case, he need not answer because the question is insulting; in the second case, because the question is foolish; but in any case, he will not answer. Introspection, honest self-examination, philosophy itself, all are now outside his personal Overton Window. To question the fixed idea is beyond discussion.

Cynicism is a delicate philosophy. It cannot withstand even the tiniest spark of hope. When Dr. Peterson challenges his listeners to clean their rooms, he is asking each one to imitate the act of the Creator making the world out of chaos. This is done through the Logos, a Greek word that means Word, but which is at once reason (goodness) and right reason (virtue) and right proportion (beauty).

In Christian theology, the Logos is Christ, the living Word of God. Logos not only is the active principle which brings the world into being out of Chaos, he is also the redeemer and the ruler, Savior and Lord. He is, in His own person, reason, right reason, and righteousness. He is Truth.

God is deeper than man. What God reveals to Man, man in part can know. Other parts are understood without being known. These we Christian called Mysteries of the Faith.

Cynics scoff at mysteries, and heretics are forever busy trying to eliminate them and replace them with something more easily articulated. Heretics confuse what is easily articulated with what is logically reasonable.

The mystery of how Christ can be fully God and fully Man confounds the Nestorians and Monophysites alike. It is indeed a doctrine difficult to articulate without paradox. But then again, love is both fully selfless and fully selfish, and yet we all have seen lovers in love.

The usual Christian answer to the confusions and hesitations of an agnostic who is repelled by the inarticulate truths contained in our mysteries is to take a leap of faith. Join us, and look at the faith from the inside. This is as when a child, who cannot explain the rules of marbles to another child, invites him to join the game. When you play the game, you will fall in love with it, and then you will know the rules (whether you can put them into words or not.)

Cynics dislike inarticulate truths. The idea that there is a reason above human reason, laws above human laws, principles men know in their souls but they cannot neatly capture in their mouths, all that disgusts them. The Cynic thinks it is a fraud.

And, to be sure, frauds do use the idea that some things cannot be put into literal words clearly as an excuse to elude honest skepticism about their claims.

But the difference between a cynic and a skeptic is the difference between a propagandist and a philosopher. The skeptic, the true skeptic, is humble, and no idea is too sacred to examine closely. The cynic is arrogant, and no idea is really worth examining, because nothing is sacred.

Cynics hate the Logos as devils hate heaven. The only use a cynic makes of reason is to undermine claims of virtue and beauty, which the Cynic by his nature thinks are foolish, childish, and self-delusional.

Especially to a Cynic who preaches the coming breakdown of society, the coming race war, the coming disaster, the idea is anathema that a man might work toward preventing that disaster, if he work toward it in any way but by using the one fixed idea which diabolically possesses the cynic’s dark brain.

Cynicism is to truth what collectivism is to politics.

The cynic thinks trusting reason is folly, and following common decency is a chump’s game. The priest is merely trying to control you. He does not want to save your damned soul, he mere want you to put money in the collection plate. There is no truth in the pulpit, no truth in the books of scholars and scientists, and nothing a statesman says is true. There are no heroes and no saints: all human behavior can be explained by one simple, sordid motive.

In other words, when a Cynic is questioned, all he need do, all he ever does, is attribute a cynical and sordid motive to the speaker of the question. By dismissing the questioner, he pretends the question is dismissed. He changes the subject or ends the conversation, and goes his way. Truth is always snubbed.

The cynical always, always, always pretends to be a mindreader, who can sniff out the secret motive the questioner has in his own heart, and, as expected, the secret motive is always disingenuous. This is how, for example, cynics on the Left can sniff out the fact that Milo Yiannopoulos and Ben Shapiro are Nazi sympathizers.

If ever the Cynic were to admit that men might from time to time have an honest motivation or be asking an honest question, his whole structure of self-delusion would collapse. He would confront the humility philosophers know: that we know nothing. It would be like death to him, like crucifixion.

It is no small thing truth asks the Cynic to surrender. Truth is harsher than God asking Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.

Likewise, in politics, justice is always snubbed. The Collectivist never addresses whether any particular individual is guilty or innocent, competent or incompetent, praiseworthy or blameworthy. Individuals never enter into the equation.

When is the last time, for example, you heard someone complain that blacks or women were underrepresented in a given field, to take my own fields as an example, science fiction writers? Did the someone follow up with evidence of the individual competence of the individual writers? Or even evidence of individual preference as to what kind of stories the writer likes to write and read?

None of that is ever addressed. Anyone even raising the question is savaged for uttering anathema. If a man is successful in a given field, the collectivist attributes his success to an unfair conspiracy based on that man’s group identity.

I wish I were exaggerating. The Science Fiction field, if I may again use an example from my own personal experience, underwent our own small melee in the culture war merely because one faction wanted the Hugo Award to be awarded on the basis of merit, regardless of identity-group, and the other wanted the Hugo Award to be granted to token minorities on the basis of their identity-group status, regardless of merit. Merely for saying “An award that purports to be for merit should be based on merit” to this day my weblog is on blocklists blocking out racism and hate speech.

Merit, success, justice, fairplay, are the very ideas on which Western Civilization is based, and which the Collectivist promoting identity politics seek to abolish and overthrow. The hundred million deaths by Collectivism in the Twentieth Century have not sated Molloch and Baphomet. They demand more blood. ever more.

Collectivism is conspiracy theory politics: its explains the differences between the wealth of nations and the success of people within nations based on a different invisible conspiracy group. For Marx it was capitalists; for feminists, the Patriarchy; for Nazis, the Jews were to blame; for Jihadists, the Great Satan. The labels are more or less interchangeable.

How do collectivists explain the difference between successful versus wretched cultured? Answer: they do not. It is racist even to ask that question. All cultures are defined as being equal in worth and equal in their ability to contribute to Western Culture.

Any difference is success is due to some unlawful or sordid act of evil on the part of the successful: colonial oppression, or the slave trade, or whathaveyou. The fact that the failed and wretched cultures also held slaves is glossed over or ignored. Any questions are answered by accusing the motives of the questioner. The question itself is never addressed.

Likewise again, when dealing with ethics rather than politics, the Cynics adopt a similar leitmotif.

Different cynics propose different single motives to be the single motive to explain everything.

Marx proposed it was the self interest of economic categories, which he mislabeled classes. Hence, for Marx, everything is class war.

Cultural Marxists propose that the one motive prompting all behavior is the self interest of identity groups, mostly race, but sex and sexual orientation can be thrown in as garnishes. Hence, for Cultural Marxists, everything is race war. Everything is the war between the sexes.

Freudians and pseudo-Freudians (As a child, I came across this idea from a science fiction writer, of all people) propose that the sole motive of human behavior is sexual competition. Hence, for the Freudian, everything is an unresolved Oedipal sexual trauma. For the pseudo-Freudians, everything is a mating dance.

For the Darwinian, everything is survival of the fittest. For the Nietszchean, everything is the will to power.

How, then, do all these cynical philosophies account for saintly acts or heroic acts? Simple: the cynic says the saints and heroes never existed, that their true and deeply buried motives were selfish and crooked, and that everything you’ve heard about such people is a lie.

All well and good, until and unless you meet someone who, even if he cannot articulate the rules by which he lives his life, lives a sacred or heroic life.

Even small and humble heroes who, instead of slaying a dragon, clean a messy room and keep it clean, shows heroism.

This is why the simple act of cleaning your room is an heroic act. If you live in a household filled with cynics, they will put every psychological obstacle in your way that the mind of man can invent. The very idea of orderly improvement brings any unwanted hint of hope that undermines their worldview.