Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Where the Preposterous is Normal

From time to time I've opined that when we focus upon and celebrate the things that make us different it divides us rather than unites us. When we pigeon-hole ourselves on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation we are no longer one nation but a loose confederation of competing interest groups tied together by nothing more than cultural inertia.

John Leo writes in City Journal about one particularly risible manifestation of the Frankenstein monster that our fascination with "diversity" has created:

Commencement weekend is hard to plan at the University of California, Los Angeles. The university now has so many separate identity-group graduations that scheduling them not to conflict with one another is a challenge. The women's studies graduation and the Chicana/Chicano studies graduation are both set for 10 AM Saturday. The broader Hispanic graduation, "Raza," is in near-conflict with the black graduation, which starts just an hour later.

Planning was easier before a new crop of ethnic groups pushed for inclusion. Students of Asian heritage were once content with the Asian-Pacific Islanders ceremony. But now there are separate Filipino and Vietnamese commencements, and some talk of a Cambodian one in the future. Years ago, UCLA sponsored an Iranian graduation, but the school's commencement office couldn't tell me if the event was still around. The entire Middle East may yet be a fertile source for UCLA commencements.

Not all ethnic and racial graduations are well attended. The 2003 figures at UCLA showed that while 300 of 855 Hispanic students attended, only 170 out of 1,874 Asian-Americans did.

Some students are presumably eligible for four or five graduations. A gay student with a Native American father and a Filipino mother could attend the Asian, Filipino, and American Indian ceremonies, plus the mainstream graduation and the Lavender Graduation for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered students.

But the core reason for separatist graduations is the obvious one: on campus, assimilation is a hostile force, the domestic version of American imperialism. On many campuses, identity-group training begins with separate freshman orientation programs for nonwhites, who arrive earlier and are encouraged to bond before the first Caucasian freshmen arrive. Some schools have separate orientations for gays as well. Administrations tend to foster separatism by arguing that bias is everywhere, justifying double standards that favor identity groups.

As in so many areas of American life, the preposterous is now normal.

Read the whole sad story at the link. It's ironic that a nation which, at the prompting of the left, did so much to banish all forms of invidious segregation, is now, again at the prompting of the left, doing so much to reestablish it.


Stuck in the Cave

At the Claremont Institute Tom West reflects on the philosophical assumptions of the late Richard Rorty:

In the New York Times obituary Rorty is quoted as saying, "At 12, I knew that the point of being human was to spend one's life fighting social injustice."

Rorty saw his life as fundamentally political (fighting injustice on the basis of conviction, not knowledge) and not philosophical. At the age of 12, after all, one does not "know" the purpose of life; one has opinions or faith.

In his book Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, Rorty wrote, "About two hundred years ago, the idea that truth was made rather than found began to take hold of the imagination of Europe." In other words, it was believed that human reason can discover nothing of importance about the world except for man's utter dependency on his contingent historical setting and circumstances - on "truth" that is "made" by man. The meaning of reality is determined not by reason but by will or command. Rorty's postmodern "philosophy" was perfectly consistent with his choice for the political life over the philosophic life, the life of faith or submission to authority over the life of reason.

In his book Persecution and the Art of Writing, Leo Strauss wrote that "it is in contrast to the essentially solitary philosopher that the truly good or pious man is called 'the guardian of his city,' phulax poleos." Rorty saw himself deep down not as a philosopher in Strauss's sense, but as "fighting social injustice." Rorty saw himself as a "guardian of his city" (the utopian "city" of today's liberalism). To justify his political-religious commitment, Rorty enthusiastically embraced postmodernism. One wonders, then, if postmodernism is nothing more than a sophisticated set of arguments which are meant to make men at home with what Locke called "the smoke of their own chimneys," i.e., with whatever authoritative opinions they happen to be shaped by, whether before or after the age of 12.

Plato's metaphor of the cave implies that most of us live most of the time blinded by the smoke of our own chimneys, stuck inside our contingent political, religious, and moral convictions. But for Plato, unlike Rorty, there is an escape. Philosophy, as Plato understood it, was the successful effort to ascend from the cave to the light of the sun, to see things as they really are.

Rorty's response to Plato was that there is no escape from the cave, and so there is no point in even making the effort. Rorty's position seems to have been anticipated in this 1948 remark of Strauss: "People may become so frightened of the ascent to the light of the sun, and so desirous of making that ascent utterly impossible to any of their descendants, that they dig a deep pit beneath the cave in which they were born, and withdraw into that pit."

This use of arguments borrowed from philosophers to deny that philosophy in the Socratic sense is possible or necessary is an old story. It is no accident that the philosophers whose teachings were most influential in the American founding held views closer to the Socratic understanding of philosophy as ascent from the cave (from the smoke of one's own chimney) than to Rorty's understanding.

Rorty was typical of many thinkers whose starting point is atheism. From that assumption everything Rorty said is understandable. Atheism leads one who follows its implications consistently, to epistemological and metaphysical despair. If there is no God then there is no truth worth knowing and no values which are any better than any other. We are chained in our philosophic caves, truth is whatever we want it to be, and there's no escape.

Ideas have consequences and no opposing pair of ideas is more gravid with consequences than atheism and theism, both for this life and the next. Richard Rorty's thought is an outstanding example.