Category Archives: social science

Jonathan Haidt: The Righteous Mind

NYU professor Jonathan Haidt has risen to prominence in recent years by taking a stand against the rising tide of PC sensibilities on college campuses. Given his willingness to take on the cultish groupthink that has overtaken the political Left, I was initially enthusiastic about The Righteous Mind. Similar to what I’ve experienced with his fellow would be dissidents on the classically liberal Left, I was really taken in by this book at the outset, but its allure diminished as it progressed. The Righteous Mind is a fine piece of scholarship for anyone seeking a clear headed albeit academic perspective on moral and evolutionary psychology. However, this recommendation comes with caveats. Haidt is a liberal academic who seeks mostly to explain and classify the components of the moral apparatus while remaining within the confines of the liberal mindset. His role model of a society which respects authority and hierarchy is the one articulated by Marxist sociologist, Emile Durkheim. He unironically cites Richard Dawkins, Bertrand Russell and Barbara Ehrenreich as authortative scholars. He’s not a threat to the secular democratic consensus. He’s not a reactionary proposing a return to religious order. He’s merely a well intentioned intellectual who is making an above average effort at providing people across the conventional political spectrum a deeper empathy for the opposition.

The Righteous Mind is a good summary of the current state of evolutionary psychology, but ultimately all it does is give you a more scientific framework for understanding how liberals and conservatives process morality. The book mostly seeks to mitigate the contentious nature of political discourse. Since it comes from a Darwinian perspective, it portrays morality as an evolving, semi-malleable psychological realm which resides exclusively in the political arena. Though Haidt describes his disaffection with the dry and clinical nature of his early explorations into this field, this book suffers from the same pitfalls. There’s a part of me that thinks that this work is just an inducement to log on to YourMorals.org so that the results can be sent to progressive think tanks or the AI teams at DARPA and Google to optimize machine learning systems.

Haidt argues that there is an innate wiring for morality, but the specifics vary across cultures and they are evolutionary adaptations. Morality is not the product of pure intellectual reasoning nor can it be adequately explained or generated through rationalist attempts at universal rules. People possess moral intuitions, but there is a margin of elasticity which allows for reasoning to occur. This innate wiring can be described as a matrix of receptors that he calls Moral Foundations Theory. “Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second.” (1)

Haidt builds his case by tracing the evolution of morality in the secular philosophical sphere up to the discoveries of modern evolutionary psychology. He consolidates these discoveries with his own studies which corral all moral thought into the political arena. He posits that the morality of progressives, libertarians and social conservatives can be understood through a matrix of six different foundations. These foundations would be Care, Fairness, Loyalty, Authority, Sanctity and Liberty/oppression.

Haidt’s view of morality is roughly analogous to that of a liberal Christian Protestant theologian, but viewed through the lens of modern social science. In other words, man is prewired for moral instincts, but the moral matrix requires input from external sources in order to develop. This development may be constrained in various ways. We are guided by our moral intuitions, but there is a realm of slack that allows for moral reasoning and persuasion to occur. By laying out the moral matrix of liberal progressives, libertarians and social conservatives, Haidt hopes to elevate the public discourse to a place where disagreements can be had without being disagreeable. An honorable aim, but doomed nonetheless.

Since Haidt is himself a liberal and writing for an audience who are like minded in one way or another, the great triumph of the book is that he solidifies the proposition that all humans are wired for religious thinking. Everyone. Even you. Deal with it.

It’s not about whether you read the Bible or attend church services. Haidt’s great victory lies in the fact that he able to persuasively argue that the human mind has the capacity to sanctify anything. Even a self-proclaimed atheist sanctifies gods called “reason”, “social justice” or “democracy”. Haidt proclaims the following:

Whatever its origins, the psychology of sacredness helps bind individuals into moral communities. When someone in a moral community desecrates one of the sacred pillars supporting the community, the reaction is sure to be swift, emotional, collective, and punitive. (174)

The one thing I particularly appreciate is that Haidt is very explicit about the fact that liberals sanctify politics and deify the presidency. The highest moral reality for the secular liberal is realized through the democratic process. This is a large reason that progressives are so contemptuous of conservatives. Because the progressive sees only oppression in traditional society or conserved ideals, there is no real morality outside the context of politics. Conservatives are just contemptible Neanderthals who must be mercilessly mocked and then dragged into the future by force. This observation also goes a long way toward explaining the absolute insanity that has overtaken the Left in the Trump era. In the progressive view, an apostate has usurped the pinnacle of moral authority. Trump’s very presence in the Oval Office is nothing short of blasphemy against the Holy Writ of Progressivism.

On the flipside, I think Haidt gives progressives too much credit. He asserts that everyone cares about the Care/harm axis, “but liberals care more”(212). This is patently absurd. Liberals are quintessentially Glauconian in the sense that they care about the appearance of caring above all else. Politicized compassion is not the same as the practice of individual acts of compassion. Advocating for the passage of a law which will only expand the sphere of criminality in pursuit of some abstract notion of equality without regard for cost or outcome is not an expression of caring. Walking into a voting booth to pray to the Democracy God on the basis of altruistic sounding political rhetoric is not the same as taking individual action to improve the welfare of some disenfranchised group. Hashtags, rallies and slogans are not substitutes for volunteering in soup kitchens or being a mentor for an inner city kid with no father. Progressives have merely politicized every sphere of social interaction and sanctified government bureaucracy. To oppose any progressive initiative, policy or agency is seen as moral degeneracy. You can’t just oppose transgender bathrooms because to do so just means you’re a hate filled bigot. You can’t criticize the Department of Education because to do so means you oppose education all by itself.

In fact, when it comes to expressing disdain towards conservatives, progressives can be downright hateful and violent. When attacking conservatives, all of the flowery slogans and treacly hashtags are immediately jettisoned. The progressive Left are the very definition of double standards and selective outrage when it comes to voicing their contempt for conservatives. To his credit, he acknowledges this by citing the hate filled bile of Village Voice writer, Michael Feingold. It’s a hate that has only been amplified by the media and progressive priesthood in the Trump era.

Haidt is also guilty of trafficking presumptions of moral truth which presumably underpin the liberal West. He claims that Westerners regard life as “supremely valuable, and that the human body is more than just a walking slab of meat” (174), but this is a dubious proposition. If that were the case, abortion would not be legal. Nor would progressives callously cheer the hypothetical gunning down of an audience full of Trump supporters. He tips his hand further by suggesting that the “only ethical question about abortion” (177) becomes the point at which a fetus feels pain. Not the point at which it becomes its own distinct life.

Haidt asks you to buy into the presuppositions that comprise the liberal, Darwinian worldview. In other words, nominalism and empiricism are to be taken as a given. He describes this using the acronym WEIRD which stands for Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic.

The WEIRDer you are, the more you see a world of separate objects, rather than relationships. (113)

The bad news is that Haidt, like his fellow compatriots in the so called “intellectual dark web”, is simply trying to tend the barricades of classical liberalism in the vain hope of preserving these ideas for the future. To his credit, this book offers a potential glimmer of empathy for the hardboiled progressive who views the conservative with disdain and contempt. Progressives like to preach empathy, but it’s an empathy that seems only to extend to those who agree with the progressive worldview.

Are you even allowed to disapprove of transgenderism or gay marriage without being ostracized from society? Are you allowed to crack a joke at the expense of the Left’s favored groups without fear of losing your job? Are you even allowed to be on the Left and hold heterodox beliefs without being ldemonized?

This is the core problem of The Righteous Mind and classical liberalism. Not only is morality circumscribed to politics, but it is considered a malleable matrix that can be reshaped through social policy if properly understood. Haidt essentially asks you to accept pragmatism and relativism as givens. There are no fixed principles nor is there objective truth except the presuppositions of Darwinism and liberalism.

If morality lives in a malleable psychological scientistic realm, then social scientists will be able to adjudicate morality and no one will question their authority or methods. Who’s going to question the tenured social scientist with a fancy degree who insists that pedophilia is a congenital sexual orientation? Who’s to say that the highly respected physician at Johns Hopkins who insists that children with gender dysphoria should receive hormone blockers is wrong? How can you mount that case when morality is consigned to the realm of scientism and evolutionary relativism? What’s preventing us from removing the moral “taboo” against cannibalism? How can you mount a case against any of these positions when morality is consigned to the realm of scientism and evolutionary relativism?

Haidt also stumbles in his attempts to reconcile the dialectical tension that arose from the Enlightenment which pits the will of the individual against the collective unity embodied in the state. Invoking the work of Rockefeller University graduate, Barbara Ehrenreich, Haidt discusses the binding powers of psychedelics, cross dressing and ecstatic dancing as a way of strengthening hierarchical structures through ritualized subversion. Naturally, he lauds these practices as progressive and healthy while simultaneously cautioning against the bad kind of collective identity that fascism represented. He even invokes the magical power of oxytocin as though everyone is going to pay attention to the limited effects it has on strengthening in-group affection. True to progressive form, he mostly avoids the errors of communist states and places all of his emphasis on the one and only moral negative that exists in the progressive worldview: fascism.

He also seems to contradict himself when it comes to racial in-group preferences. He concedes that “we trust and cooperate more readily with people who look and sound like us.”(244) Because he’s making an evolutionary and Darwinian argument based around genetic adaptation to culture, he’s able to completely sidestep his own claim in favor of a politically convenient argument that runs completely contrary to his original claim.

Like Jordan Peterson, he takes a more charitable view towards religion than his atheist contemporaries . “Gods and religions, in sum, are group-level adaptations for producing cohesiveness and trust.” (306). In contrast to the New Atheists, he doesn’t see religion as a pure pathology, but merely an accessory to pathology. He recognizes that religious people are more charitable and have more children. He acknowledges that religious communities are more cohesive and maximize cooperation better than their secular counterparts. But he ultimately affirms the conclusions of Jeremy Bentham! He just wants a more nuanced felicific calculus.

Haidt is generally pretty good about presenting the conservative and libertarian position, but he misses the mark occasionally, too. He describes conservative opposition to the entire array of welfare as the absence of “proportionality”. What he ignores is the compulsory nature of the taxes collected to pay for them. Compelled charity is not charity at all. Any social welfare system will require the creation and maintenance of a bureaucracy within the government. Once this bureaucracy is established, the incentives immediately become corrupted. The bureaucrats will only seek self-preservation while the recipients will lose their incentive. He eventually gets around to the problem of bureaucratized compassion when he discusses the adverse effects that arise when attempting to make health insurance more affordable through government policy. Kudos to Haidt for calling out the Left’s pathological and religious obsession with using government policy as an instrument of compassion

This book was published in 2012, so it predates Trump Derangement Syndrome. Haidt’s sympathy towards the religious community extends to conservatism in general, but it’s a conservatism that’s confined to the province of classical liberalism. Haidt’s efforts to foster greater empathy for conservatives and conservatism is above and beyond the vast majority of his contemporaries, but his Twitter feed suggests a pretty typical indifference to the hostility towards conservatives that has erupted in the Trump era. When rank and file conservatives are being vilified for seeking border security that was uncontroversial under Bill Clinton, Haidt’s work feels increasingly tepid and weak.

I’m willing to give Haidt credit for trying to turn down the temperature of the political discourse, but I can’t help but think he’s missing the bigger picture issues. There’s no mention of the collapse of the family. There’s no mention of high divorce rates. There’s no mention of the effect of illegitimacy on children. There’s no mention of rising suicide rates in men. There’s no mention of the increase in antidepressants and opioids. There’s only a passing mention of “social engineering” and Haidt seems pretty blithely dismissive of the ways that society has already been socially engineered by the likes of Durkheim and Russell. How can you discuss morality and not make a connection to these outcomes? How can you be concerned about morality and not see these issues as supremely troubling? Haidt’s book is mainly geared towards educated liberals just like him while ignoring the vast swaths of the population who can’t be bothered with this shit. Most people formulate a worldview very early on and simply aren’t interested in having it challenged. I’d wager that even amongst the target demographic for this book, very few were persuaded to view the opposition with greater empathy.

If morality is consigned to genetic evolution, then eugenics and technocratic social engineering are not far behind. As much as I admire Haidt’s good intentions, I fear that these are the ends this book is serving.

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Sam Harris v. Ezra Klein, Vox and the SJW Hive Mind

Nothing captures the self-implosion of liberalism quite like the phenomenon of the SJW and the ever proliferating mind contagion known as intersectional social justice. The revolution eventually eats its own, and even its most venerated voices get sent to the gulag if they trangress the boundaries of Party approved thought. I certainly don’t agree with Sam Harris on the foundational presuppositions of his worldview, but I’m always willing to give credit where credit is due. Politically, Harris is a fairly doctrinaire old school liberal. However, he has demonstrated an ability to step beyond the boundaries of Approved Thought and take positions that are laudable and even courageous. Needless to say, when an influential voice like Harris commits ThoughtCrime, retribution is sure to follow. Harris stepped on what is perhaps the Left’s most heavily fortified and highly electrified Third Rail about a year ago when he invited AEI scholar, Charles Murray, on to his podcast to discuss race and IQ. For the uninitiated, Murray’s book, The Bell Curve, which was written in collaboration with Richard Herrnstein and published in 1994, unleashed a hellstorm of controversy because it broached the dreaded subject of IQ differences between racial and ethnic groups in one chapter. The pitchfork wielding PC zombie hordes howled in outrage at the time it was published and the deranged and predictable shrieks of racism have only intensified. So much so that Murray was assaulted at a recent appearance at Middlebury College. For having the temerity to invite Murray on to his podcast and admit that he too was swept up in the mob outrage, Harris was tarred by the intelligentsia and their Twitter goon squads for guilt by association and giving a platform to Dangerous Views. The ever vigilant gatekeepers of GoodThink at Vox proceeded to publish four pieces chastising Harris and Murray for having a reasonable conversation and violating woke protocols. Any reasonable person would find the podcast a rational, dispassionate conversation about scientific evidence, but we simply don’t live in that world anymore. According to our woke superior at Vox, Ezra Klein, we must genuflect at the altar of Past Injustices and Institutional Racism and consider the Great Harm that these conversations have precipitated in the past. Not only that, Harris must confront the reality that conversations of this nature will inevitably trigger the frothing, closeted national socialists who were just waiting for the right scientific rationale to start the lynchings and reopen the death camps all over again. Years from now, after the racial pogroms, the architects of genocide will remove the gold encased flash drive from its velvety pillow, hoist it aloft in tribute to Odin, and shout their ecstatic homilies to the prophecies of Sam Harris and Charles Murray for providing the scientific guidance they so badly lacked back in the dark days of 2017.

A chain of emails and some Twitter sparring eventually resulted in a full two hour podcast between Harris and Klein in which they proceeded to air their respective positions over the entire supercharged controversy. For his part, it was among Sam Harris’ finest hours. He was sharp and emphatic, but appropriately focused on the right issues while constantly trying to sift through Klein’s prevarications, distractions and smoke screens. Sadly, I’m doubtful that a single point penetrated the fortress of insularity and smugness with which Klein has so carefully erected about himself.

Throughout the entire exchange, Klein was the epitome of the sanctimonious, condescending progressive SJW cunt. Willfully dishonest, cunningly deceptive, infinitely detestable, and outrageously obtuse about the mob mentality which he actively cultivates, Klein is the quintessential establishment con man. His entire argument against Harris amounted to a question begging assumption of nebulously defined harm that these conversations inflict on blacks. We’re to recoil in horror at the supposed inevitability of a collective white uprising if such conversations carried on without the requisite deference to woke protocols. No matter how cleverly he tried to hedge his statements, he was basically insinuating that Murray, and Harris by extension, were little more than white supremacists and crypto-Nazis. Klein accuses Harris of playing his own brand of identity politics which are certain to lead to dangerous repressions and rollbacks of hard won progress. In Klein’s view, blacks are children who must be shielded from conversations about scientific data pertaining to biology. All disparities in outcome are the result of an inescapable ghost of past oppressions, an omnipresent boogeyman called “systemic racism” or material privation of one form or another.

Harris repeatedly mentioned the fact that his podcast had landed him in the crosshairs of the SPLC, and Klein dismissed this without mention as though this was utterly inconsequential. Klein knows damn well that his social media shock troops have been trained to view the word of the SPLC as holy writ, yet he blithely handwaved away Harris’ justified anger in what amounted to a verbal pat on the head for his insolent outburst. There, there Sam. Stop being so SENSITIVE. Utterly repulsive and infuriating.

What was fascinating and predictable about Klein’s appeal was that it exemplifies the Left’s selective scientific skepticism when it comes to the issue of IQ differences. On an issue like climate change, Vox are a model of credulousness and pack their Voxplainer pieces with copious links and lots of quotes from really smart people. If you don’t accept the science, you’re a knuckle dragging retard. Like, obvi. Do you even know who Bill Nye is, bro?

The issue which illuminates the real crux of Klein’s gripe against Harris can be found in this Vox piece discussing gender dysphoria. Klein is adamant that Harris is insensitive to historical harm and oblivious to the supposed future harm his podcast will inevitably wreak. This is because the Left is actively engaged in reengineering language and perception. Klein and his coterie of media propagandists are thoroughly invested in preventing people from thinking for themselves. Klein and his cohorts have conditioned their base to be hypersensitive to words. An inappropriate usage of pronouns is violence. A poorly worded question is a microaggression. The Vox piece quotes the APA by stating that “part of removing the stigma is choosing the right words”. If you just call it gender dysphoria and stop using that bigoted, patriarchal hate speech term, gender identity disorder, IT WON’T HAVE THE STIGMA AND IT WON’T CAUSE SO MUCH HARM. See? Easy peasy. Was that so difficult, conservatards?

Klein’s manipulative usage of language was on full display when he poured on the supercharged rhetoric cataloging Our Past Oppressions of People of Color. This technique is so hackneyed and overplayed, it shouldn’t need to be pointed out, but Klein wouldn’t be doing it if it weren’t effective at some level. No one disputes that what was done to blacks was horrific and unjust and those who think it was justified are an insignificant minority. But in his infinite condescension, Klein brings these things up as though Harris is an uninformed dolt who hasn’t gotten the memo. Again, Klein and his ilk continue to flog this meme because they want to simultaneously provoke indignation in blacks and guilt in whites. Progressives are pathologically fixated on sanctifying oppression and deviance while promoting themselves as ever vigilant champions of the Underdog. If you are on any of the lower rungs of the oppression hierarchy, it accords you some kind of universal moral sanction to go out into the world and lecture everyone about how unenlightened, stupid and backwards they are. It would be amazing if Klein could demonstrate a multicultural society who’ve miraculously transcended their historical racial strife and attained mass wokeness, but he can’t because America and Europe must be the torchbearers of post-Enlightenment multiracial cosmopolitanism. Does he bring up racism between Hispanics and blacks? Asians and blacks? Of course he doesn’t because he’s working from a script from which no deviation is allowed. Besides, blacks can’t be racist against whites because they have no institutional power. Checkmate, Trumptards. Now go read Michael Eric Dyson.

Klein kept the conversation centered around the black/white racial dialectic despite Harris’ attempts to broaden the scope and discuss inconvenient facts pertaining to Asians. Does Klein ever broach the subject of black success in America relative to African nations or black majority countries? Does he mention how many generations it took the Jews to rise from immigrants to middle class? Asians? All other racial and ethnic groups of European extraction? Of course he doesn’t. The narrative must remain focused on past injustices and the irredeemable sin of white racism. Where is the real world Wakanda? It doesn’t exist because the white man won’t allow it. Tariq Nasheed said so, racists.

The underlying agenda behind what Klein is saying is easy enough to discern. The Left consistently presents bigotry and differences as a seemingly ineradicable and intractable malady at the heart of Western civilization. A problem whose depths are uniquely apprehended by woke progressives like Klein. Meanwhile, they exacerbate the problem by carefully engineering the entire dialogue around race and portraying themselves as uniquely sensitive to its severity. Then, after constantly moving the goalposts around what can and cannot be discussed, they determine who is allowed to broach the subject properly and under what terms based on arbitrary designations of privilege or “allyship”. Then they gerrymander and denounce the science that doesn’t fit the narrative, and bully and defame anyone who doesn’t toe the line. Finally, in a fit of exasperation, they present themselves as the enlightened saviors who have to once again school the unwashed rubes about Systemic Racism and Historical Oppression because the lower life forms just won’t have The Difficult Conversations About Race. How many black people have you had on your podcast, Sam? We’re keeping track, you know. The quantity of black faces really matters here. Why haven’t you invited Ta Nehisi Coates? Too much white fragility? Afraid of having your PRIVILEGE challenged, are you? Hmmmmmmm??????

But it goes further. While doing all these things, they will insist that differences don’t really exist. Racism is a horrible scourge on the human soul and yet simultaneously, race is also completely socially constructed. It’s just a tool of the oppressive white man which was used to justify slavery and shit. Conservatards are too fucking stupid to grasp this high rung of wokeness though. Black History Month is Important and Necessary, but always remember that race is just a social construct, bigots. Western societies need to dispel their outdated notions of nationalism and cultural identity and just accept that cosmopolitan multiculturalism will hasten the alchemical transformation in attitudes that awaits us. But probably after the mandatory oxytocin shots kick in. White people also need to forever prostrate themselves in penitence by ensuring that the entire welfare state/affirmative action industrial complex continues to thrive irrespective of the results it produces. If you just provide more material benefit to people despite being little more than quasi-deterministic bags of biological matter, you can rest assured you’re doing something to dismantle Systemic Racism. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t produce any tangible results either. Family stability doesn’t matter. Illegitimacy doesn’t matter. Moral education doesn’t matter. All that matters is a continuous flow of government support. Klein repeatedly uttered his fear that Murray’s conclusions would result in some great unraveling of the welfare state/affirmative action industrial complex, but there’s zero evidence that anything like that happened under previous Republican presidents. Not a single Republican president has lifted a finger to dismantle the welfare state, and Trump’s call for reform is presently in the alarm bell stage. A sober appraisal of his current efforts to rehabilitate Clinton era reforms would invite a “We’ll see” at best. The only time spending dipped was under Clinton and even progressives acknowledge that it either backfired or failed. Predictably, they’re backpedaling from one of the signature issues of the Clinton administration that Slick Willy himself has repeatedly touted as a triumph. Yet Klein acts like he’s this champion of the beleaguered underdog speaking for the huddled and voiceless masses shuddering in fear of the coming Trumpocalypse. Contemptible and pathetic.

The Left is very durable because it has allowances for deviations from the orthodoxy and gives an impression of being capable of reform and reined in from overreach. Christina Sommers, Camille Paglia, and Jonathan Haidt are a few notable voices who’ve been valiantly swimming against the tide of PC tyranny. But they’re waging their battles on single issue fronts while never relinquishing their ultimate political allegiance or challenging their core assumptions.

As much as I feel Harris dominated and landed solid points at every opportunity, this should make Harris and anyone who subscribes to his veneration of reason question the efficacy of this belief. In the face of a decades long indoctrination campaign which casts the entire sweep of Western progress as a shameful past rife with irredeemable racial injustice, how much confidence can you place in rationalism to reverse the tide? Especially after hearing Harris deploy his best defense against one of the gatekeepers of cultural consensus. I’d like to believe we can reset the classical liberal assumptions of materialism and empiricism, roll back cultural Marxism and move ahead. But it’s increasingly apparent that those foundational presuppositions are exactly what has precipitated this calamity. Harris is a bright man, but going too far off the reservation of approved thought might have consequences he’s not prepared to shoulder. So he’ll join the ranks of leftists who are bound together by a single quixotic and doomed quest: to save the Left from itself. Nice try, Sam. I know you gave it your best shot.

Dark City (1998)

Alex Proyas’ 1998 masterpiece, Dark City, may draw easy comparisons to The Matrix, but it deserves to be evaluated on its own terms. Both films deal with the idea that there is a deeper reality beyond material appearances as well as the possibility that there are malevolent forces actively shaping your perception. Both films also give you a protagonist who cracks the code of the reality with his own powers which threatens the controlled order of the world he inhabits. While The Matrix was ultimately a story of the Chosen One who liberates the huddled remains of humanity, Dark City is a story of a man who discovers that the essence of his humanity that could not be controlled made him stronger than his captors.

Playing the role of John Murdoch, Rufus Sewell awakens in a bathtub suffering from amnesia. To his dismay, he discovers a woman brutally murdered lying on the floor of his bedroom. Fleeing the scene in a panic after receiving a phone call from a mysterious Doctor Schreber, he barely escapes discovery from a trio of ghoulish looking beings known as The Strangers. When the clock strikes midnight, the entire city stops and all its inhabitants fall into a state of hypnosis except Murdoch. This state of hypnosis is induced by The Strangers using a psychokinetic power called “tuning” which allows them to reshape the city and the lives of its inhabitants. Pursued simultaneously by Inspector Frank Bumstead under suspicion of multiple murders, Murdoch is able to escape the clutches of The Strangers by tapping into his own ability to tune. Murdoch tries to recover his memories by reaching out to his torch singer wife, Emma. Murdoch’s ability to tune threatens the control The Strangers exert on the citizens of Dark City. He seeks to return to Shell Beach, the beachside town he believes to be his home, and unravel the mystery of Dark City before The Strangers catch up with him.

Dark City belongs to a venerable tradition of sci-fi films which explore the essence of identity, free will versus determinism, the effect of time and memory, and the value of our connection to the past. Given the escalating tensions in neuroscience over the role of biological factors and the nature of consciousness itself, Dark City’s emphasis on the latter theme places it a notch above The Matrix. Through tuning, The Strangers possess the ability to shape time and space, but they imprint people with stolen memories in order to discover what makes humans tick. The Strangers’ mentality can be viewed as a classic representation of collectivist materialism. With Doctor Schreber’s coerced assistance, they distill human experience into chemical combinations. Despite their apparent superiority, The Strangers cling doggedly to the belief that by continuously reshaping the physical, social, and even biochemical conditions, they can mold humanity to fit their desired ends.

The Strangers’ manipulations of reality also serve as a metaphor for the myriad ways in which globalists, social scientists, and technocrats have intervened in human affairs in the present world. Ultimately, the film is an affirmation of the existence of a sovereign individual consciousness and the ability to exercise free will, but it shows you how difficult it is to develop an awareness of Self. Not only does Murdoch struggle to recover his connection to his own past, he must work equally hard to rip away the veil of deception that has been carefully constructed all around him.

Dr. Schreber: I call them the Strangers. They abducted us and brought us here. This city, everyone in it… is their experiment. They mix and match our memories as they see fit, trying to divine what makes us unique. One day, a man might be an inspector. The next, someone entirely different. When they want to study a murderer, for instance, they simply imprint one of their citizens with a new personality. Arrange a family for him, friends, an entire history… even a lost wallet. Then they observe the results. Will a man, given the history of a killer, continue in that vein? Or are we, in fact, more than the sum of our memories?

The Strangers are one of the most chilling representations of an alien dictatorship I’ve seen on film. They share a collective consciousness, but they have no individuality. It is a society of abject servitude to the hive mind. They possess advanced scientific knowledge, but they’re so imprisoned by scientific thinking, they’re completely insensitive to the ways they’re destroying the lives of their subjects. Morality and ethics are absent from their existence.

In contrast to the messianic nature of Neo and his quest in The Matrix, Murdoch’s heroism is purely the result of his desire to attain meaning and discover the truth of reality. By asserting his individuality and claiming ownership of his own thoughts, it had a ripple effect in the other characters. He instinctively knows that the love he shared with his wife and his connection to Shell Beach were the only things that gave his life meaning and purpose.

Stylistically, Dark City is a visual tour de force. The film effortlessly updates Metropolis‘ German expressionism with a lush 90’s gothic film noir chic. The overall color palette is suffused with black and other dark tones, but it is not devoid of rich, vivid colors. Visual, stylistic, and thematic references to its forebears abound. Vertigo, Blade Runner, City of Lost Children, Total Recall, and The Crow can all be detected within Dark City’s DNA.

Dark City is a film which borrows very liberally from other films, but stands alone on its own terms. We continue debate the acquisition of truth amidst a sea of self-interested media elites, the extent to which we’re influenced by our past positively or negatively, the consequences of the endless parade of would-be social scientists peddling postmodern abstraction as policy, what role neuroscience plays in shaping happiness, and what quantum mechanics suggests about human consciousness. Dark City’s themes speak to each of these issues, and its relevance has grown in proportion. Not only does it stand very tall in the sci-fi cinematic canon, but in the annals of all film.

Atheism Versus Moral Realism

Though I consider myself an atheist, I get a little tired of the atheist contempt heaped on Christianity. There’s certainly no shortage of fundamentalist nutbags or nonsensical clips of Pat Robertson on which to pile scorn and ridicule. Hating on Christians and Christianity has become a bit of a tired cliché among atheists and progressives alike[1]. It’s especially galling when atheists will champion Christian values when they’re being upheld by a Democrat politician. Christian values become instantly legitimate when a Christian religious leader validates their bias towards the moral righteousness of a particular policy agenda. On the other hand, Islam is rightfully receiving a vigorous critique from some corners of the atheist community on the grounds that it is barbaric, backwards and counter to basic liberal principles. Each of these phenomena raises an important point often derided and dismissed by atheists: the importance of moral realism.

How can you claim moral retrogression in human behavior or in any ideology if you don’t claim that there is objective moral truth in the first place? Indeed, how can one formulate any theory of ethics, justice, or rights without some basic, universal, objective standard upon which to judge right and wrong?

Atheists argue that the belief in God is irrational because there’s no empirical proof of his existence. Atheists also tend to claim a mantle of moral superiority, myself included, since we view the world through the cold lens of hard reason, rationalism and empiricism. This belief in the power of reason reaches back to the Enlightenment and that the exercise of this capacity alone will guide us to a secular moral truth. Since God is a delusion, how can one uphold religious morality as a standard by which to guide our own actions let alone judge others? Surely, only a sad and limited consciousness would embrace the antiquated notion of a Supreme Being. Isn’t this belief in a Supreme Being, in fact, the very reason that people commit such horrible atrocities in God’s name, reject science and hold bigoted and exclusionary beliefs to this day? MUH CRUSADES, CLIMATE CHANGE DENIAL, HOMOPHOBIC BAKERS, AND ABORTION DOCTOR MURDERERS, AMIRITE?! Though it is a debate that been waged for centuries, conservative theist YouTuber, The Distributist, argued very persuasively that even if you are an atheist, you cannot disregard or take lightly the theist argument for the existence of God on the basis of morality.

In the video, The Distributist responds to Vernaculis’ snide, condescending response Dr. Peter Kreeft’s moral case for the existence of God. In Kreeft’s video, he lays out all of the classic secular arguments for morality and why morality cannot be regarded as a set of preferences. These arguments include:

  • Evolution
  • Reason
  • Conscience
  • Human Nature
  • Utilitarianism

In each case, both Kreeft and The Distributist argue that from these premises, morality will devolve in a few predictable ways. It will be subjectively constructed and enforced. It will potentially regress backwards or will arise from an a posteriori analysis which may or may not serve as a useful moral foundation for an evolving society. The latter case assumes of course that civilization has weathered the vagaries of a society based on a relativistic morality in the first place. Since mankind is subject to flaws, has the ability to make choices, and the establishment of moral normativity and ethics is necessary if one hopes to have a shot at actual civilization, it follows that one can only appeal to an external, immutable moral absolute which is both universally accessible and exists outside man and nature. The Distributist and Kreeft both conclude that if there is absolute moral law, there must be an absolute lawgiver. Ergo, God exists.

Not bad.

Setting aside whether one accepts the argument at all, why would a world of moral absolutes be preferable to moral relativism? Wouldn’t that lead to a RELIGIOUS TYRANNY??

No.

For example, if murder is objectively wrong, it it was wrong in the past and remains wrong today. The fact that those vested with moral authority commit murder (e.g. priests, politicians, monarchs) doesn’t invalidate the moral law. Rather, it only proves that the person in question failed to live up to the law in his life choices. Just as the unchanging laws of nature have allowed for vast scientific and technological discovery, an unchanging moral law provides an equally sound basis from which to make moral choices.

Using any of the other bases for formulating morality, one could arrive at a valid moral rationale for murder, and history has borne this out. Stalin was an atheist and saw no moral transgression in murdering millions of his citizens. He was the leader of the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat who was merely facilitating the historical inevitability of a socialist worker’s paradise. It was justified on both evolutionary and utilitarian grounds. Checkmate, moral realism!

Regardless of whether one accepts that moral objectivity proves the existence of God, it raises a deep challenge for the atheist who isn’t a moral relativist. It requires that the atheist instantiate a metaphysical construct of Good and Evil which isn’t tied to any supernatural being or phenomenon. It’s certainly possible to impart morality and ethics without religious beliefs, but religion is meant to express some kind of eternal moral truth in the universe. Needless to say, this raises all kinds of questions around whether a religious text that commands you to stone your wife, condemn homosexuality or refrain from eating bacon can really be regarded as some kind of eternal moral truth. The point is there is indeed a necessity for objective morality as a foundational proposition from which one exercises free will.

Notable atheists, Sam Harris and Stefan Molyneux in particular, have attempted to proffer theories of morality that are grounded in science and logic. However, I propose that this is a fundamental epistemological error and the consignment of morality to the realm of science or logic negates and nullifies that which makes us human. Humans are driven by many factors, but by and large, we aspire to express love, be of service to others and do the Right Thing by our fellow humans. Even if you have no religious belief, humans aspire to reach the ineffable and the infinite through earthly works and human relationships. We extol examples of heroism, charity, goodwill and kindness and condemn acts of predation, cruelty, indifference and violence. We champion art which affirms our deepest yearnings for love, connectedness, companionship and eternal beauty. We want to be reminded that our lives have meaning, that doing the Right Thing actually matters. We want to know that it is possible to affect change for the better. By inserting morality into the realm of science or logic, we’re subsuming these aspects of ourselves which cannot be quantified or proven through a logical proposition and building a world of mechanistic determinism.

Sadly, atheism has long been the province of the socialist Left throughout the world. While there are certainly atheist libertarians, the overwhelming majority of atheists have built a new global church of atheism in the government which has replaced moral realism with an endless array of moral wrongs to be punished and rights to be conferred. This cult of moral relativism has reached its apotheosis in the agenda of the modern day social justice warrior. Feminism, multiculturalism, and scientism all converge within the progressive agenda to form a set of moral precepts which are easily sold by ideologues, academic hacks, would-be intellectuals and politicians. Rape statistics are used by feminists not because they actually care about rape victims, but because they wish to inculcate shame and guilt in men for having the Original Sin of an XY chromosomal pair. Environmentalist doomsayers who inveigh against consumption, fossil fuels and “climate science deniers” are no different from your garden variety Baptist preacher invoking the fires of Eternal Damnation. #Blacklivesmatter activists are far more concerned with policing what people say and think than attending to the needs of the black community. The higher priority is to have white people atone for White Privilege by implementing an agenda of “economic justice”. What do all these agendas have in common? They all lead down the road towards the new and improved globalist serfdom.

Moral relativism is little more than a recipe for a recursive loop of existential ennui, angst, cynicism, anxiety, and nihilism. It also provides a readymade validation of Marxist alienation. The cult of scientism is pushing us into a society that’s increasingly automated, mechanized, deterministic and disconnected from ourselves and one another. The identity politics of guilt and shame are creating more division and enshrining a culture of victimhood and censorship. As the problems wrought by the relativists proliferate, the atheist priesthood doubles down and agitates for an ever expanding sphere of government sanctions, dispensations, accommodations and privileges.

The advancement of human liberty and the market economy has afforded modern society the luxury of rejecting religious belief. Christianity remains a punching bag for atheists, but at this point, it appears to be little more than a license to hate conservatives. We live in a world where burning a Bible scarcely raises an eyebrow, but a drawing of Muhammad is a potential death sentence. Clearly, not all religions are equal, but the obvious moral depravity of Islam is continually overlooked by the progressive wing of the atheist community because it’s apparently a far worse sin to appear “bigoted” towards Muslims. As far as “scientific” moralism goes, Sam Harris’ handwaving away of Hillary Clinton’s vote for the Iraq War and career of corruption should tell you everything you need to know about how reliable this theory of morality is. The verdict is in on moral relativism and it is a recipe for self destruction.

Classical liberalism has given us the freedom to pursue life on our own terms even if it involves no religious belief. But atheists aren’t adding to human progress by embracing moral relativism.

[1] Most atheists also self-identify as progressive.

Herbert Marcuse: Repressive Tolerance

If you’re paying any attention to the state of free speech on college campuses, you wouldn’t be unreasonable to conclude that this time honored, liberal principle is under siege.  But how did college campuses, the very institutions charged with upholding the principles of Western thought, become incubation chambers of intolerance?  Whose ideas have supplanted the propositions which have driven progress of Western civilization since the Protestant Reformation and taken root in the minds of students and faculty alike?   I contend that the current repression of free speech, embodied by the progressive social justice warrior, which conveniently silences conservative and libertarian views can certainly be traced in part or in whole to the influence of Herbert Marcuse.

German émigré, founder of the Frankfurt School of social science and former employee of the Office of Strategic Services and Office of War Information, Herbert Marcuse espoused a heady brand of warmed over Marxist socio-economic criticism whose influence reverberates to this day. The fact that he worked in the US federal government in an office which disseminated war propaganda and was sympathetic to Marxist thought yet is revered as the father of the allegedly dissident New Left movement is revealing all by itself.  Marcuse published several works, but his essay, Repressive Tolerance, which was originally featured in A Critique of Pure Tolerance opens a very clear window of insight into the mentality and behavior of campus faculty and students alike.

Marcuse starts with a classically Marxist thesis.  The traditional liberal premise of equality of liberty and equality before the law only serves to prop up a bourgeois false consciousness and perpetuate a “tolerance” of oppressive forces which perpetuate injustice and inequality.  Consequently, the attainment of objective truth is compromised because the bourgeois media desensitizes the proles to the inhumanity and injustice which surrounds him.

The toleration of the systematic moronization of children and adults alike by publicity and propaganda, the release of destructiveness in aggressive driving, the recruitment for and training of special forces, the impotent and benevolent tolerance toward outright deception in merchandizing, waste, and planned obsolescence are not distortions and aberrations, they are the essence of a system which fosters tolerance as a means for perpetuating the struggle for existence and suppressing the alternatives. The authorities in education, morals, and psychology are vociferous against the increase in juvenile delinquency; they are less vociferous against the proud presentation, in word and deed and pictures, of ever more powerful missiles, rockets, bombs–the mature delinquency of a whole civilization.

Through the reasoning of his convoluted Hegelian dialectic, he concludes that the only way to redress this systematic injustice is to actively suppress the political thought and speech of those on the Right.  Because after all, the Right not only represents the interests of the ruling, empowered class, but is the incubation chamber of every repressive regime since the emergence of the democratic nation state. All revolutionary change, has emerged “from below” (i.e. the proles). Since the repressive capitalist class is on the Right, and the champions of social justice and revolutionary change are on the Left, the best way to ensure that a true reign of justice prevails is to silence the voices of the Right and actively promote the voices of the Left.

Liberating tolerance, then, would mean intolerance against movements from the Right and toleration of movements from the Left. As to the scope of this tolerance and intolerance: … it would extend to the stage of action as well as of discussion and propaganda, of deed as well as of word.

Sound familiar? Not only is it a repurposing of the classic Marxist dichotomy of proles versus bourgeoisie, it maps to the observable behavior of social justice warriors on campuses throughout the Western world. This basic template of thought also translates into virtually all intersectional feminist/queer/race theory that is the bedrock of the entire plague of social justice advocacy poisoning campuses and media throughout the world.

I don’t know how much the work of Marcuse and his Frankfurt School contemporaries is actually taught in campuses, but I suspect that it has receded into the background as more contemporary “thinkers” have taken his place. “Repressive Tolerance” taken its proper place as a product his former employers at the OSS would have appreciated: propaganda for the Left.

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