20 July 2024 07:25:13 GMT

The Third Rock Forum - Society

Article Title
The Age of Unreason
Paul G
Topic Section(s)
Human Rights
Submitted : 05-10-2022 15:31
Amended : 06-10-2022 11:35
Status : Approved:  
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Dislikes : 0

In today's world it is perfectly possible to point out to someone that their arguments on a particular issue are inconsistent and for them to reply that they realise their arguments are consistent but that they see no reason to resolve the inconsistency because "they feel comfortable" with their position.

Indeed how people feel about an issue now takes precedence over any rational analysis of the facts and factors involved. How is this justified by the "I feel comfortable with it" brigade.   They reply that their feelings on an issue cannot be challenged because they are "authentic", because they arise from "lived experience".  The less fanatical then concede that there is some element of subjectivity in their position. The more fanatical insist that if I don't acknowledge the "authenticity of their lived experience" and "buy into it", then I am beyond the pale.  This arrogance is one aspect of the new individualism

This latter position is clearly completely irrational.  If each of us is entitled to base our attitudes on our own authentic lived experience and to then impose these attitudes on others (or at least demand that they show these attitudes respect), there is certain to be a maelstrom of innumerable irresolvable disputes. What does the "I feel comfortable with inconsistencies" proponent who is entirely uncomfortable with any form of racism say to the fascist who declares that he is entirely comfortable with the concept of his own racial superiority?  

There was a time when those who oppose racism would argue their case (that there is no basis in fact to justify racism, that it offends against the principles of universal human rights, that it is pernicious within any society, etc) but such arguments from reason,  authority or social pragmatism no longer hold any traction with the new individualism.  As a self-obsessed, self-identified individualist, what do you do?  The answer is simple.  You  say nothing; you "cancel" them.  You don't allow them speak; you declare them and their views unacceptable and effectively refuse to acknowledge their existence - ironically exactly what totalitarian regimes, such as fascists, tend to do to those who disagree with them.

The new individualism fragments society and stultifies debate.  It is a solipsistic world in which the only constructive discussion can be between like-minded individuals (if any can be found) who are simply happy to confirm each other's idiosyncratic "lived experiences".  

It also degrades the quality of discourse in general because it denies any agreed criteria for assessing the value or legitimacy of whatever is said.

But you say, fear not!  There is a bulwark that will be able to withstand this new individualistic philistinism. Our universities, the champions of free speech and rational debate, will defend us against such intellectual idiocy.

Sadly not so.  The most enthusiastic advocates of the new individualism, and of "cancel" culture, are our universities.  Sadder still, much of the driving force behind this movement comes from the students themselves who seem to be able to whip their pusillanimous tutors and lecturers into line by insisting that they lose their jobs if they try to stand against them.

The spread of unreason has infiltrated our judicial system.

Let us take the example of offensive behaviour, including offensive speech..  The official definition is:

"For your conduct or language to be offensive at law it must be calculated to wound the feelings, arouse anger or resentment or disgust or outrage in the mind of a reasonable person. Your conduct must also be placed in the context of all the surrounding circumstances." 

Given that legislation involving the subjective experience of both the perpetrator and the victim is inevitably difficult to formulate, the definition above seems a good effort but it does depend heavily on the inclusion of some element of objectivity.

This requirement for some element of objectivity is supplied by the "mind of a reasonable person"  Whether or not speech or behaviour is offensive must be assessed on the criteria.employed by "a reasonable person".

In a society with a homogeneous culture and agreed common values, the concept of a reasonable person as a fair arbiter makes sense. In a multicultural society, it is not quite so simple.  What might seem inoffensive to a 'reasonable' agnostic or Christian might be judged as profoundly offensive by a 'reasonable' Muslim, and vice versa.   Clearly, in a world of misaligned or even conflicting value systems, the judgement of the 'reasonable' person will depend entirely upon the value system from which the "reasonable person" is drawn.

Given that a multicultural society prides itself on the respect it gives to the culture and values of its various communities, the concept of a single, agreed reasonable mind inevitably becomes problematic.

In a society which seems obsessed with identifying smaller and smaller, precisely defined groups, each with their own intensely held beliefs within their the own specific world view, the concept of the mind of a reasonable person becomes entirely redundant. As a result, there has been a tendency to abandon the element of objectivity

The solution that appeals to many is simple.  Anyone who behaves in a way or says anything deemed to be offensive by anyone else is guilty of giving offence. In a way, this formulation is self evidently true.  But the consequences of accepting such a formulation as a legal definition, and abandoning any element of objectivity, are deeply undesirable:

1. It gives the person who takes offence absolute discretion in choosing whom to accuse.  "Offenders" have no case to argue in their defence.

2. In theory, it gives this absolute discretion to everyone, including the hypersensitive, the eccentric, the extremist and the insane.  (I say "in theory" because there are unwritten rules that determine who has the right to take offence and who does not.  For your offence to be taken seriously,  you must be one of the establishment-approved minority interest groups (EAMIGs).

3. It leads to the phenomenon of "cancel culture", in which those who hold views antithetical to the creed of a particular group, are blanked, ostracised and silenced.

4. It militates against free speech and encourages insularity within society.

Perhaps the most dangerous repercussion of the abandonment of any element of objectivity is the extraordinary degradation of public discourse. Freedom of expression in social gatherings is now strictly limited to what is currently deemed to be "acceptable" (i.e. in conformity with the current orthodoxy, as promoted by the establishment and endorsed by the media).  This orthodoxy seems to emerge from the establishment's subservience to these EAMIGs, a limited number of highly-motivated, well-organised pressure groups, many of which represent minority interests in society, and which are often out of step with the current views (unpublicised and now rarely openly unexpressed) of the majority.  

A good example of this phenomenon is the current debate about the right of transgender individuals to self-identify.  A small proportion of the population feel they are in a body with the wrong sexual physiology.  Some of these people feel the need to change their gender and advanced societies can offer a programme of psychological, hormonal and surgical treatment to effect the transition.  The debate centres on whether trans people can self-identify as the other sex or whether they must be in some way certified as having completed their journey from one sex to the other. The trans community favour self- identification. Some women's groups object, fearful that some men may abuse self-identification and that giving trans people access to women-only spaces compromises not only their security but also their sense of what it is to be female.

The argument for self-identification seems to depend on the premises that::

- what a person feels about themselves is critically important and transcends all other considerations
- there are no objective criteria that can be applied to determine the gender of the individual.

Individuals have been cancelled for saying  that, biologicallly-speaking, there are only two sexes, male and female;  or for answering - when asked to define a woman - that it is a human with a vagina.

The number of trans people is small, a tiny percentage of the population, but the issue has preoccupied the media to an extent out of all proportion to coverage of issues of importance to the population as a whole. 

In the end, the judiciary or Parliament will have to decide who is right but, if there is to be no objective point of reference, if the issue is to be decided on how strongly each side feels, we are entering a world of chimeras. After all, there is no end to what people might declare themselves to be. 

We must restore reason and reality (what most people observce of the world through their senses) to pre-eminence in judging all issues, even if we offend those who are incapable of reason and dismissive of reality.  Of course, we must not blank or cancel such people; rather we should engage with them and ruthlessly expose their intellectual inadequacies and their disregard of objective evidence.