“There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments, and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance – that principle is contempt prior to investigation.” ~William Paley~
I know the final phrase in this title seems oxymoronic or counterintuitive but let`s explore the premise of this phrase. I enjoy reading books on philosophy and essays by some of the great thinkers of the past. I like fiction but I`m a non-fiction, history nerd. Many of these readings are well known and are required reading in secondary school and college. The names include: Socrates, Plato, Cicero, Aristotle, John Locke, Friedrich Nietzsche, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Karl Marx. There are too many to name here but you get my point.
I`ve been blessed to attend college at a much later than normal time in my life. I was registered at North Georgia College (now The University of North Georgia) in the spring of 1984 but never went to school. Thirty years later, I`m finishing my degree in English and I can appreciate things so much more with a seasoned and more matured mind. I`m having the time of my life doing this at 49. However, I`m bothered by some things I see among the “intellectuals” that I interact with in and out of the classroom. But it`s not just there, intellectuals in general fall into the mindset I`m going to discuss.
The lack of true debate in today`s society
It seems that so many intellectuals put up a wall of pretense with a bold marquee that says, “No absolute truths.” Some do this to protect themselves, others do so because, to them, it somehow gives the appearance of greater intellect to hold a “middle-of-the-road” position on the issues of life. Philosophers, artisans, and writers should always be open to debate the most uncomfortable topics in life; historically, they are the front line in the battles of human liberty and freedom. As a writer, I refuse to be censored by political correctness or bumper sticker slogans that when followed to their logical end are vacant of any wisdom or rationality.
What good can come from educating ourselves, or to read the philosophers of the past (good and bad), or to study classical literature and thought, if we are no longer able to debate?
Debate leads to logical conclusions and truth
The Greeks were the fathers of debate. The great Mars Hill overlooking Athens once held some of the greatest debates offered by a few of the very men I mentioned in the opening paragraph. Today, it seems, we simply regurgitate ideas and philosophies never questioning the truth of their premise, the history of their practice, and the empirical evidence of their success, or failure. This is the very essence of “intellectual stupefaction”; to be so educated, yet, unwilling to challenge the prepackaged narratives, unable to discern wisdom from foolishness, good from evil, right from wrong, or that there may, in fact, be absolute truths in life. We writers must challenge any and all attacks on free speech or debate; we must write about the difficult, the joyous, the painful, the politically incorrect, and the poetic…no matter the cost.
Intellectual stupefaction originates from taking all ideologies, all philosophies, and all spiritual beliefs and mixing them into a nasty little pot of moral and spiritual relativism with no absolutes aloud and no debate on their foundations. In this “pot” lies a pool of grey gunk that can never be black or white. I contend that there are absolutes in this world including absolutes about truth and spirit. Human history is replete with stories that prove certain truths about humanity, the world, socioeconomic systems, government, freedom, and the spiritual realm.
Political correctness controls today`s Narratives
The most amazing thing is that rather than realizing the similarities of cultural mores, moralities, and mythical stories as a possible connection to a deep seated coherence in our world, intellectuals see these stories as proof of their “mythological” foundations. They see these stories as myths without considering the possibility that they are based in fact. For example: they say that all cultures have a “flood story” or a “creation story.” They see this as proof of similar cultural myths rather than the possibility that they are human historical fact. I would argue that this proves, in the converse, that a flood did occur at some point in the past because all cultures seem to have a flood story.
The problem is that to say such a thing is icky. It`s politically incorrect. It doesn`t fit into the acceptable narratives. It`s socially repugnant to suggest, for example, that Nietzsche was a very intelligent but resentful, unhappy, and quite insane man. Or, the big one, that Karl Marx, by default, singlehandedly killed more people with an economic theory than any human being on Earth. Then there is the big, big one: the fact that humanity has always believed in a God or gods and that billions of people over time cannot be wrong—can they?
These are ideas that make people want to squirm if you say them aloud in intellectual circles but history and empirical evidence shows these statements to be factual. I once made the claim to a Ph.D. that the three most influential individuals in the last 2000 years are Jesus Christ, John Locke, and Karl Marx. Each of the three men has made an impact in the world that began from their appearance on the word stage and continues to influence the world to this very day. Given the current religious bigotry that exists, especially the rise of anti-Semitism, to speak such things is almost a death sentence on college campuses or in intellectual circles. Our newspapers are practically copied and pasted across the spectrum of headlines; one news outlet sets the narrative and they all fall in line—on either side of the political aisle. Writers must be thinkers as well as writers. The themes in this post may seem political in nature and I suppose to some degree they are; however, the greater point is that we must confront, as writers, this growing leviathan of political correctness and censored speech—even the speech we detest the most.