“I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.” — Scout, from To Kill a Mockingbird
Show me a racist, and I’ll show you a fool. We now have evidence — strong scientific evidence — linking racism to stupidity. Scientists have linked racism with low intelligence in what is called a meta-analysis. That is, they have done a study of studies. Doing meta-analyses allows scientists to see wide patterns — kind of like looking at a forest instead of the trees.
Controlling for factors like education and economic status, scientists have found that lower intelligence in childhood predicts greater racism in adulthood (Busseri). In one specific study, scientists examined how well young children could notice, when water was poured from a short-fat glass into a tall-skinny glass, that the amount of water remains the same. Children usually develop this ability — called conservation — by age seven. In the study, white children of the target age who had more difficulty noticing that the amount of water stayed the same were more likely to hold negative views of black children (Herbert).
Thinking in the abstract takes intelligence. Thinking in the abstract entails the ability to recognize that things which appear to be different may in reality be the same. For example, it is because we can think abstractly that we can recognize that snow, water, and steam, despite appearances, are all the same substance. H2O is the abstraction of water.
Things which appear on the surface to be different may in reality be identical. Four quarters make a dollar; and a short-fat glass can be the equivalent of a tall-skinny glass. Reality and appearance are not the same, which confuses our more dim-witted fellows. On the surface, people appear different. Some are dark, and some are light. So they must be different, right? After all, we have a word for these differences: race.
Let’s dismantle the word race, and expose it for the fraud it is. And let us begin this dismantling by examining the whale, which, on first glance, appears to be a fish. We once called whales fish, despite several anomalies. Here are two key anomalies which led scientists to say that’s strange. First, whales birth their young live. Second, they have horizontal tails. Fish lay eggs and have vertical tails.
Focusing on these anomalies, scientists discovered that whales and dolphins and porpoises have more in common with people than with fish, despite appearances. We find evidence for this in their spines. Whale spines, like our spines, bend forward and backward. Fish spines, unlike our spines, bend side to side. Whales once walked on land, and were wolf-like creatures. Notice in this image of the early whale called dorudon that it had hind legs — for walking (“The Evolution of Whales”).
Things which appear to be the same may be in reality quite different; things which appear quite different may in reality be quite similar. And things which appear to be different may in the abstract be the same. Whales and dolphins are not fish; they are mammals, like us.
People appear to be different; and so we use the word race as if there are in reality different species of humans. There are not. Scout is right. “[T]here’s just one kind of folks. Folks” (Harper, 304).
Closer inspection proves that the word race points to a mere shadow, not to a reality. Like the people in Plato’s Cave of Ignorance, racists take pride in how they name shadows. Often, they name shadows with dehumanizing words — like the N-word. So let us cut to the chase. There is only one species of human: homo sapiens.
Understanding what a species is entails an understanding of sex. Species are distinguished from one another along reproductive lines. To have a baby requires that a sperm and an egg would successfully combine to create an individual, who could, on average, reproduce. That is, the DNA of the father and mother must be of a common kind. A hippo and a housecat cannot breed. The hippo is therefore a different species from a housecat.
Yet there are species who are nearly the same species, such as the lion and the tiger. Only about 5 million years ago, lions and tigers were the same species. Then two groups of this species got isolated and did not interbreed. Slowly, they became lions and tigers. But five million years is short in evolutionary terms; so the DNA of lions and tigers only slightly differs. With some difficulty can interbreed lions and tigers, and get the biggest cat in the world: the liger. What we cannot do is get a second generation. So lions and tigers are as near as two species can be to one another while yet remaining different species.
Humans from any part of the world can easily have children with humans from any other part of the world; and those children can easily grow up and easily have children with humans from any part of the world. Humans are not genetically diverse. Our genetic family ties are tight.
Humans have had little time to genetically drift from one another. Roughly 70,000 years ago, humans almost went extinct. We lost most of our genetic diversity. All people can trace their family tree to a population in Africa between of fewer than 10,000 individuals (“Humans”). We are all Africans.
Whereas lions and tigers have had five million years to drift apart, we have only had 70,000 years — an evolutionary eye-blink. That’s the difference between a seventy-one yard rush and a one-yard rush. Inside of a yard, a fullback can only do so many spins, tucks and turns.
In order to become separate species, we would have to remain isolated from one another for millions and millions and millions of years. I prefer to travel. And having travelled much, I have seen many of my friends fall in love with people from other cultures. I have seen whites marry blacks, blacks marry asians, and asians marry whites. In every case, the result was the same: kids.
Though people appear quite different, we are very much the same. There is no single gene that distinguishes, say, Japanese from French (Roach). And having two beautiful children of my own from an intercultural marriage, I can attest that only ideas separate people.
Not all ideas are equal. Some ideas are plain stupid. Stupid ideas cannot stand once we know the facts — unless we choose to ignore the facts. But what intelligent person would choose to be ignorant? What intelligent person would prefer to remain in The Cave of Ignorance? None but a caveman.
Here is why this all matters: we are a nation of laws. Not many would argue that cows should get equal protection under the law — this is because cows are a different species. We are equal before the law because we are equally human. This is the great idea which makes America exceptional: we are all created equal. The evidence is in our DNA.
Yet in the United States, we have a history of treating people who look different as less than human. As we read To Kill a Mockingbird, keep this in mind: we are equal before the law because we are equal in our humanity. Atticus Finch will prove to be a fine man who recognizes the humanity in others, and practices law according to this deep principal.
To understand the superficial differences between people, consider the following. As our ancestors migrated out of Africa, they adapted to different environments. Being human, they used the UV-B rays in sunlight to create vitamin D in their skin. We all need vitamin D. So, as they travelled north, where there is less UV-B radiation, their skin lightened. That way, they were able to get the more UV-B rays to synthesize the vitamin D they needed. It is a tradeoff: less UV protection for more vitamin D.
This adaptation in no way made them more or less human. We’ve been fully human for about 200,000 years (Avasthi).
Humans who migrated farther north got less UV light, and so grew more lightly pigmented — whiter. That’s it. It doesn’t take a genius to figure it out.
Avasthi, Amitabh. “After Near Extinction, Humans Split Into Isolated Bands.” National Geographic.
National Geographic Society, 24 Apr. 2008. Web. 21 Feb. 2015
Busseri, Michael A., and Gordon Hodson. “Bright Minds and Dark Attitudes Lower Cognitive
Ability Predicts Greater Prejudice Through Right-Wing Ideology and Low Intergroup
Contact.” Psychological Science. Association for Psychological Science, 25 July 2011.
Web. 22 Feb. 2015.
“The Evolution of Whales.” The Evolution of Whales. Berekely, n.d. Web. 19 Feb. 2015.
Lee, Harper. To Kill A Mockingbird. New York: Grand Central, 1982. Print.
Herbert, Wray. “Is Racism Just a Form of Stupidity?” Association for Psychological Science
RSS. Association for Psychological Science, 20 Aug. 2014. Web. 21 Feb. 2015.
“Humans Change the World.” Humans Change the World. Smithsonian Institute, 02 Feb.
- Web. 18 Feb. 2015.
Roach, John. “Massive Genetic Study Supports “Out of Africa” Theory.” N.p., 21 Feb. 2008. Web.
In the Morning
Tucks an apple
In my bag and
Plucks a kiss
From my cheek;
Leaves fall and
Its The Fall
And I leave
We have little problem when a Dostoyevski brings us up a set of stairs to bury an ax in an old woman’s head. But when Nabokov brings us on a little tour of the United States and has Humbert Humbert bury himself in his insane fantasy of a twelve year old nymphet, we are quick to call Nabokov an immoral pervert who encourages pedophilia. Indeed, when vandals attacked the St.Petersburg museum dedicated to Nobokov, they left a note which read, “How can you remain unafraid of God’s wrath promoting Nabokov’s pedophilia?”
Yet even literate readers level a similar charge against Nabokov.
Just this week, I debated a scientifically-minded philosopher on the topic. He told me that Nabokov is a horrible man for penning such immoral smut. He told me that such a book does not belong on any shelf a teenager might peruse. He admitted that he had not read the book.
Having got his confession, I told him that when my one year old daughter is literate and mature enough, I want her to read the book — the sooner the better. I want her to be wise to the Humbert Humberts of the world.
We should be thankful that we have such a beautiful, moral book as Lolita. We should be thankful we have this first-person account so that we may explore perversion sublimated par excellence. I for one am thankful for having been made wiser to the world for having read this first person account of a cruel, mad mind, driven to divine idolatry.
Countering, my philosopher friend gave an account of a scientific book which gives us to understand how rape is an unsavory impulse embedded in our genetic pattern, and that understanding this scientific account can help us to understand why we should not throw gasoline on that little red coal which burns in the darker corners of the human genome, of hotels, and of Hollywood.
And yet he did not think his scientific book an immoral book. Yet he, like so many, considers Lolita smut, perverse and pornographic.
I pressed him to distinguish why Nabokov’s account of a child rapist is a sick and immoral account, while the scientific account is not.
I asked him if it had to do with presentation, if it had to do with our relation to pronouns, if it had to do with the fact that a scientific account is not given in the first person, but is rather given in the third person or in the passive voice, in which the personal pronoun is neatly and happily hidden, like so many in our culture.
(According to Humbert Humbert, some seventeen percent of men have enjoyed a nymphet — yet Humbert Humbert is not a scientist. He is an unreliable narrator, and Lolita is unreliably narrated.)
My philosopher friend considered, and we have yet to conclude this conversation. Nonetheless, this lively debate led me to think about what we fancy Literature to be, and what we imagine Literature to give us. Scientific Literature, the prejudice goes, gives us knowledge — impersonal, sane and sanitary. Literature Literature, on the other hand, can give us a Humbert Humbert — but not knowledge.
Literature Literature alone can present for us the first person account, alone can present us with precision an individual, and alone can widen our understanding, knowledge, and humanity as the third person or passive voice cannot. Literature Literature can show us with precision what the scientific imagination alone cannot.
“A writer should have the precision of a poet, and the imagination of a scientist.” —Nabokov
Kim Lee Homme, Author
KSA of KAIST
Busan, South Korea
Layne Hartsell, Corresponding Author
Sungkyunkwan University and Seoul Global Study Group
Seoul, South Korea
Paul Ryan argued this past August, “Our rights come from nature and God, not from government.” At face value, the statement is not shocking. Social conservatives all too often argue that our rights come from God, though it’s an impossible argument to defend philosophically. Still, it is an interesting statement, especially the part which holds that our rights stem from Nature.
With these words, Paul Ryan does more than pander. He unwittingly represents an old argument which yet lives, though in need of dentures. Still, his argument that our rights stem from nature and God is fully modern. It is well we knew its roots, though it is doubtful he does. For a vice presidential candidate of the most powerful state in history to not have a full understanding of the values which underlie the U.S. Constitution is unnerving.
Including Nature alongside God as a source for our rights echoes the central contradiction of modernity: the Cartesian split between res extensa and res cogitans, which associate, respectively, with matter and mind. Mind associates with the theologically laden word soul, and in turn with God. In traditional theology, God grants souls rights, not nature.
Though himself no philosopher king, Ryan stands guard at the gate of a modernized fortress of theology, which traditionally sees nature to be a Platonic shadow: insubstantial, illusory, and corrupt. The import of Aristotle’s work into Christianity through Aquinas’ medieval philosophy notwithstanding (for even Aristotle plationizes), this phenomenal world, this world of mere appearance, this sensual world, is not realized as God’s perfect Idea. In this sense, nature is not as a source for our rights, but something impure. In this sense, nature is body, not soul; sin, not salvation.
At the end of the Dark Ages, Western Philosophy was riddled with conjecture and superstition, even more than the GOP today. It was an epistemic nightmare, filled with fairies and phantoms, where knowledge danced with angels on the head of a pin.
In this dark age, Knowledge was integrated into a teleological system, and was expressed in the calendars. But the Church noticed that Christmas and Easter were on a collision course. If these two holidays were ever to land on the same day–well, let’s just say this anxiety led them to a little investigation, and the truth set us free.
Copernicus (1473-1543) wrote a wicked little proposition, threw the Earth from the center, and an entire age into maddening doubt. So far into doubt did it fall that doubt became the very method out of the madness. Out of this time, out of this doubt, out of this madness, Reason, not Revelation, became the arbiter of timeless and eternal Truth. In the age of Copernicus, Enlightenment philosophers elevated Reason to the throne, a juster ruler.
“Doubt thou the stars are fire; Doubt that the sun doth move; Doubt truth to be a liar;” wrote Hamlet to his Ophelia in 1600, “But never doubt I love.” Doubt, I say, became the method out of doubt, the method out of the madness, the method to discover one indubitable truth: “I think; therefore, I am.”
In the age of Nikolai Copernicus, the Sun ascended his rightful throne, and the age of Claudius Ptolemaeus fell into eternal night.
King Claudius: How is it that the clouds still hang on you?
Hamlet: Not so, my lord. I am too much i’ th’ sun. (I,ii)
In the age of Copernicus, each individual’s right to reason things out individually began to dawn, independent of the church and ancient authorities; and Liberty’s rosey fingers began to stretch just over the horizon.
Hamlet of the gravedigger in the churchyard: “By the Lord, Horatio, these three years I have taken a note of it; the age is grown so picked that the toe of the peasant comes so near the heel of the courtier, he gaffs his kibe.” (V, i)
“Let me speak,” says Horatio at the end of Act V, “to the yet unknowing world how these things came about.” Let us speak, I say, of how our rights came to be constitutionally protected. Let us thoroughly contradict Mr. Ryan and the GOP, these fishmongers, who would prefer to pander our rights for office. “Ay, to be honest, as this world goes,” Hamlet tells Polonius, “ is to be one man picked out of ten thousand.”
Three decades later, Descartes (1596-1650) proved to have the ‘madness,’ the ‘cunning,’ and a way with words, words, words, to split the universe in two. On the one side of the split he placed God, the soul, and the Church; on the other he placed Nature, matter, and Science. This separation between church and science leads eventually to Jefferson’s Wall.
Descartes, being a subtle thinker, could see the central struggle and impasse of the age. Being both practical and clever, he convinced the Church Fathers against their own views that the New Science was correct, and that it was no threat to their claim on the soul. But to do so, he was forced to compromise, and tore the world in twain. We still hear the argument echoing this compromise, holding that the materialistic methods of science can tell us nothing about morality or rights. This argument is wrong, though it holds captive the popular imagination, much as the Church did Galileo at the end of his life.
Significantly, Paul Ryan in part admits that nature can inform our morality and rights, and so gives a tacit nod to science, crossing the Cartesian line of demarcation, to promote his politics. Since Descartes’ time, we have learned to look to nature to argue for rights, though these rights be but the best ideals we can imagine. We have learned that the best we can imagine is a world without cruelty. And cruelty, mind you, is measurable in the natural world. Therefore, science can help us to write better laws; which, in turn, the social democratic government and not God, can help us to enforce.
Descartes was unable to explain how mind and matter could have a causal relationship. How can I, a mind incarnate, decide to lift my arm, and then my arm would lift? We might ask the GOP, then, how is it that one zygote can split into two souls? Or that two zygote-souls can merge and become one person? How many homunculuses can dance on the head of a pin? Let’s maintain Jefferson’s Wall and protect our hard-won women’s rights from this moldy metaphysics.
Spinoza (1632-1677) argued that there are not two substances, but only one. Spirit and matter end up being two words for the same thing, like two sides of one coin, and so coins the famous phrase, “God or Nature.”
In effect, Spinoza removes the theologians’ authority over the soul, gaining even more political freedom for the individual, opening even wider the way for the democratic revolutions to come in the 18th century. Russell wrote that, Spinoza is perhaps the most loved of all of the philosophers, elegant he was, but was the most vilified during his lifetime, and died rejected and as a pauper. Social democracies today would not treat such an elegant man so grossly. Afghanistan–well, that’s another story.
Unlike Spinoza’s phrase, God or Nature, Ryan’s phrase is disjunct: Nature and God. It retains something of the old Cartesian compromise. This disjunct dualism cannot give a causal account of how God would interact with nature, let alone give us our rights, except on claims of Revelation–but Revelation remains mysterious and unaccountable.
Revelation is not knowledge, but faith. Only fools, tools, and slaves accept authority claims justified on revelation. Nor should we who love liberty trust in just any inner voice claiming to be God’s, no matter what is printed on the almighty dollar. Still less should we legislate on revelation.
In the spirit of individual liberty, Spinoza subjected the Bible to a radical new criticism, arguing that the Biblical authors were limited to the knowledge of their age, such as is evident to the post-Copernican: Psalm 93, “the world also is stablished, that it cannot be moved.” Or again, as is apparent to the post-Darwinian: Genesis 1:27, “So God created man in his own image”.
Mr. Ryan, tear this dualism down! This unmoving Biblical Earth is unstable ground on which to “stablish” our rights. The only thing we ‘mericans need to keep ‘stablished’ is Jefferson’s Wall.
Both Descartes and Spinoza justify their systems on what is called the ontological argument for God, which they take to be self-evident. Kant later destroys the ontological argument, leaving Jefferson bricks and mortar.
Yet, Descartes and Spinoza did much to secure reason and ensure our secular freedoms. Descartes opened the way for secular science . He won the Church’s approval of independent reasoning by justifying it on God. He taught us to look for “clear and distinct” ideas on which to found our ideas. In this spirit, Jefferson found certain “truths to be self-evident,” and declared Independence. And Spinoza argued for the freedom of speech we take for granted today, and this a full generation before Locke, whom the founding fathers mention by name.
Descartes and Spinoza took it that we could look inward and find self-evident truths. From these, we can reason our way to truth. John Locke (1632-1704) saw things differently. This empiricist would have it that we do not get knowledge of anything, let alone of God, by looking inward to Reason. Rather, he denied the doctrine of innate ideas, and held instead that there is nothing in the mind which was not first in the senses. We must look outwards.
The Cartesian view is that we should look inward to Reason in order to find indubitable ideas from which to make deductions. Rejecting this view, Locke denies certainty. He argues that we gain our knowledge by experience, and make inductions about the world. No induction is certain. The very best of our knowledge is perpetually subject to error. Hence, we must always be ready to revise our so-called knowledge.
From this follows an ethics of liberty. Where certainty is wanting, to that degree lacks the justification on which to make demands of others. It is immoral to force our religious beliefs on others, as these are matters of faith, not knowledge. A just government’s role is to preserve our rights to believe, think, and speak as would help us to secure “life, liberty, and the pursuit of property”–which is the fruit of one’s own labor, so long as one does not steal another’s fruit. In this latter point we find the proper stuff of politics: what constitutes stealing.
Locke’s philosophy is without coincidence consistent with the values of modern and progressive science, which is always open to revision. This is central to the founding father’s thinking. And the later Kant, the greatest thinker of the modern age, takes Locke’s vision of liberty to be fundamentally correct, and then shows with profound force and depth what the limits of knowledge and justification are, securing the secular state’s foundation.
Both Locke and David Hume (1711-1776) hold that knowledge comes by gathering experience and systematically analyzing it. In a rather simplistic way of putting it, we do not get Truth by Reason secured by God, but rather, these British Empiricists would have it, we get knowledge by our experience of Nature. (It is little wonder, then, that British Romantics would later turn their musings to Nature; it is little wonder, then, that Darwin would be born British, and go a-sailing the wide watery world in 1831. And what evidence he collected!)
By the time David Hume presses the empiricist’s model of knowledge to its logical conclusion, he leaves us with a skepticism and a state of doubt even profounder than Descartes’. By his analysis, we have no knowledge, only habits and expectations. Descartes’ self ends up to be nothing but a bundle of associated sensations. Reason turns out to be but noodley-appendages of definition, and certainty the sauce. Whereas Descartes had difficulty showing how matter and mind could have a causal relationship; Hume could find no ground for saying even that billiard balls have a causal relationship, let alone to say that our rights come from God. Sorry, Mr. Ryan, saying it is so don’t make it so. Justifying rights is hard work.
David Hume showed us that modern reason was without foundation, and showed us that the so-called truths of reason were but definitions. For example, we may define that a bachelor is an unmarried man. Then, if we meet a man–straight or gay–who claims to be a bachelor, we can know by definition that he is not married. Or, if we define marriage as between one man and one woman, we can know by definition that lots of gay men will remain available.
Hume destroyed everything, and left us only grounds for tolerance. Both science and religion were without foundation owing to Hume’s empirical drill. To this day, nothing remains of Theological Knowledge, except holes. Nothing. There remain no epistemic grounds on which we could theologically justify anything, let alone an amendment to a secular constitution. Science has done better.
Hume famously awoke Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) from his “dogmatic slumber.” After reading Hume, Kant took to synthesize the rationalist and the empiricist traditions in a new kind of transcendental philosophy, in which philosophical knowledge begins with experience, but arises out of Reason. His influence on the American experience is profound.
American Romantic Literature expresses Kant’s transcendental synthesis, the greatest examples of which are Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman. In their art, Nature is the expression of the Divine; and knowledge arises from within as we experience nature. Nature for these Romantics becomes the outward revelation of an inward subject. This American subject is reliant on no king, on no prophet, on no priest, but is self-reliant; and thus they shun the inequality implicit in traditional theology as they express the democratization of Reason.
“The world is nothing, the man is all; in yourself is the law of all nature, and you know not yet how a globule of sap ascends; in yourself slumbers the whole of Reason; it is for you to know all, it is for you to dare all.” –R.W. Emerson
“Philosophically considered,” Emerson writes, “the universe is composed of Nature and the Soul.” This is a romantic and Kantian synthesis of the Cartesian split. This synthesis and these transcendentalists did much to expand our rights, even as they fought to free the slaves, and fought for women’s suffrage, the other slavery. In their writings, nature is not finally other than the soul, but consubstantial with it, which what Spinoza was getting at all along.
“If you have built your castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put foundations under them.” –Thoreau
To understand how Kant came to so deeply influence American Individualism; to understand how his with his radical new metaphysics he shattered what had hitherto been taken rigidly and dogmatically to be knowledge; to understand what opened the way for the free flight of the of the American Romantic Imagination; to do all this, we have to take a non-technical look at Kant’s new kind of foundation, his transcendental foundation, by which he limited knowledge in order to make room for faith and the imagination, and by which he describes how it is possible that we experience Nature at all.
Kant recognized the importance of Hume’s criticism; put an end to all knowledge claims about God; and put an end to any ethics founded on unknowable and silent God. In order to get us to a more stable foundation for our rights, Kant, for once and for all, destroyed the foundation on which both Descartes and Spinoza had justified their philosophies: the ontological argument for God.
This move took away all justification for Ryan’s claim that our rights come in part from God. Yet this move saved God. Kant put God beyond the reach of Reason. Ryan and the GOP can keep God. They can play with voodoo dolls for all we care. That’s their right. And it’s a right worth protecting. But they cannot use God to justify human rights, except rhetorically.
Kant’s influence on the Bill of Rights is profound, particularly in matters separating church from state, and in matters of free speech. In the United States, we retain the right to worship freely; or to worship not at all; and to freely express our thoughts on all matters. To claim this right stems from God is insidious to these rights; for God is an absolute concept which leaves no room for contradiction. Claiming our rights in God threatens ever the consistency which equality requires. We are a nation open to all faiths and non-believers. Ours is an open society with an open road to liberty.
Afoot and light-hearted, I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me, leading where I choose.
–Whitman, “Song of The Open Road”
Kant helped to found this open road, and to make it wide enough to carry knowledge from one city to the next. Yet he made it narrow enough to prevent traveling circuses, like so many Tea Party fanatics, from freely traveling the way while failing to yield to uphill traffic, thinking that the city atop that hill belongs to them alone, though they would exempt their churches from paying a penny to help pave this road. We all want to get to that city shining upon a hill, and it is a hard climb. We would have it be a cosmopolitan city, a shining example for the world: secular, not sectarian; egalitarian, not elitist.
In order to pave this new and open road, Kant had to find in Reason a solid metaphysical foundation, not founded on eternal God, and not founded on contingent experience. He had to show that, in the first place, God is not a proper object of knowledge, that God is beyond the reach of Reason, in turn implying that no one has the right to legislate on theological grounds, though theologians have every right to their personal journey, provided they do not infringe on others’ rights to do the same.
To do so, his profound philosophy defines phenomena–the objects we find in nature–to be the proper stuff of reason and science; and he defined noumena as that which reason cannot reach without absurdity and contradiction. In this dark realm, beyond time, beyond space, and beyond the reach of reason, faith alone can light a candle.
One may freely justify one’s personal choices as choices of faith, so long as these choices do not limit others’ rights. God is an entirely private affair, incommunicable; and so God has no justification in the public sphere as a matter to be forced. On this view, universalized and generalized Reason alone is the foundation for a social ethics and the rights entailed therein. And Reason, not justified by God, is justified on a new kind of metaphysics, by which Nature appears to us as it does owing to a transcendental subject. On this view, Reason is alone communicable between subjects within a well governed and cosmopolitan society of liberty.
A shining society of liberty is founded on a hill called Reason; upon whose height we have got a universal, general and secular view. From this hill we have derived our form of government, our laws and rights, our scales, our checks and balances. Through the democratic process and rational assent, we do our best to guarantee and enshrine our rights. We must, history and wisdom tell us, ever be on guard against the forces of unreason and tyranny, to which and to whom Ryan panders. Those votes for which he panders are tragically ironic.
We have learned much since Kant. Christians often claim that Truth is unchanging, as once they claimed the earth to be fixed and firm. Likewise, they claim the ground on which our rights are based is unchanging, as God is eternally true. And there is much in Kant’s pious and puritanical philosophy which retains this ahistorical changelessness. Not even Kant could transcend his ahistorical Protestant roots.
To see this ahistoricism in Kant, we should see in him Descartes’ subject, the I-think or cogito. This subject is necessarily true, and is not dependent on temporal conditions. Kant’s cogito is the transcendent subject, which becomes in turn Emerson’s Over-Soul. Emerson’s Over-Soul expresses the founding American ideal: E Pluribus Unum.
“We see the world piece by piece, as the sun, the moon, the animal, the tree; but the whole, of which these are shining parts, is the soul.” –Emerson
This Over-Soul is logically prior to phenomena, to Nature. It is Spinoza’s evolved natura naturans, or nature-naturing. This subject, itself Nature, cannot see itself, as an eye cannot see itself, except in the mirror of Nature. It appears to itself as other than itself. It comes to know itself by projecting the most basic categories of reason. It comes to know itself through space and time. But the subject is itself logically prior to space and time, timeless and eternal.
By Kant’s account, we can only know of the subject that it is as a subject for predicates, which, paradoxically, are spatiotemporally constructed. Nothing more of the subject is knowable; for, to describe that which is logically prior to spatiotemporal predication results in an absurd claim, almost as if to say that which produces the shadow is itself shadow. In short, it begs the question. Better stated, this subject transcends question, and is logically prior to all the categories which are presupposed by any question.
This subject then, being itself logically prior to temporality, cannot be said to change. The categories by which the first man made sense of his experience are the same as those of our own, just as his rights, though of them he would have been ignorant, as yet not having unearthed his Reason, eternally at one with “the starry heavens above, and the moral law within.”
By the time Kant’s philosophy evolves into the nineteenth century, philosophers like Hegel begin to understand that Truth is historical and it evolves. In keeping with his century’s genius, Darwin shows that the human subject itself has evolved. It follows that Reason is not timeless, but is a result of blind evolution. There is no timeless source for our rights. Indeed, the Bible itself is a narrative of evolving notions of righteousness.
We can no longer say that our rights are rooted in God, for there is no way to prove his existence. And, we can no longer say that our rights are rooted in timeless Reason, the laws of which are discoverable through meditation on phenomenal nature. We must now argue that our rights have evolved out of environmental pressures acting with innate genetic and epigenetic structures–but we cannot expect the GOP to bring this realization into their rhetoric. They continue to deny Darwin a fair hearing.
Our rights are sacred, even if secular; and they are hard won. They are not timeless, but historically contingent. We can prefer them as a people of our time, as a people who would not want to regress into the timeless dogmas of the past, knowing what cruelties can stem out of such authoritarian structures. We prefer the rights we have won, and would prefer to win more, while at the same time not eroding or taking away those of others.
Our rights are not guaranteed by God. Nor are they rooted in nature. Like many, I have watched enough of National Geographic to know Nature’s cruel blood thirst. Let lambs protest. Eagles will dive all the same.
Our rights are not guaranteed at all, except that we would develop them and enshrine them in Law, which a government–kept in check by the sacred freedom of speech and rule of law based on justice and normalization–can help us to guarantee. Democracy is dynamic, ever evolving, ever reaching for the promise of a more perfect union.
Our rights are best understood historically, humanistically, scientifically, and not theologically. The evidence of history has shown how cruel theology can be toward our marginalized citizens: women, minorities, homesexuals, and children. The very point of rights is to rid ourselves of cruelty, to respect the humanity of the other, as we ourselves would be respected. Of intolerance alone should we be intolerant.
Theocratic authoritarianism is just under the surface of many of the GOP’s social positions, and would have us be one nation under God. But this theocratic vision cannot stave off the naturalist’s empirical investigation. Ryans’ statement already contains the contradiction which Spinoza attempted to remedy just a short century before the philosophical revolution of Kant, and two round centuries before Darwin’s deliverance of philosophy from other-worldliness.
For all we know, we are alone in the universe. None but ourselves can help us. This fact greater than theology justifies that we would embrace the Christian Ideal that is part of our heritage. Let us create the Brotherhood of Man. And let yet widen this circle to include also our sisters, our homosexuals, all our creeds, religious or atheistic. Let us yet build that shining city upon our hill cosmopolitan. Let admit that all are born equal. Let us make room for our universal and evolving citizen.
The Lord of The Flies is a kind of Eden in reverse, with a touch of wicked irony, which finds paradise to be run by a group not unlike the Taliban.
Rather than starting with children who realize their nudity, feel shame, and so clothe themselves, Golding presents us with boys wrecked on an island wearing school uniforms. They are civilized, and dress as would make a father proud, with tight haircuts. But in this tropical paradise without fatherly supervision, and with girls conspicuously absent, the boys begin to strip down to swim. Ralph, the main character, even releases the “snake clasp” of his belt.
This stripping off of clothing is the stripping off of civilization, a peeling back of the layers of human nature, in order to discover our original nature. As the book progresses, this natural self grows ever dirtier, ever more disgusting, cruel, savage and shameless. “What is the dirtiest thing?” asks a boy trying to explain why things fall apart, why the center cannot hold.
By the end of the book, Ralph’s rival, Jack, sits atop his throne: a tyrant. The symbol of free speech and cooperation is shattered: the conch. Democratically elected Ralph’s most valued partner is dead: scientific Piggy. This return to the innocent paradise reveals a veritable hell on earth, like Swat Valley in Pakistan, where the Taliban shot Malala Yousafzai in the head for fighting for her rights.
When in the opening pages the boys discover the conch, it is cream colored with fading pink. The boys then elect Ralph their leader, and whoever holds this conch has the right to speak. By the closing pages, the conch is sun-bleached white, without a trace of pink, and patriarchal authority is become absolute. Significantly, as Jack strips his layers of clothing away, and takes small steps toward savagery and tyranny, he takes to painting his face white and red, the combination of which is pink.
The white and red of Jack’s mask are separated by a black line from his right ear to the left side of his jaw; even as boys and girls would be separated and put into separate roles; even as a personality would be split by tyrannical misogynistic father figures; even as a culture would whisper into a boy’s ear what it deems right and what it deems wrong, superior and inferior; even as a boy is like to repeat what he is told: right ear to the left of his jaw, this black line. And Jack often shows his teeth to tell the fat and effeminate Piggy to Shut up!
Pink we understand in The West to be at once a color of femininity, and of vulnerability. In men, we take femininity and vulnerability to be signs of weakness and inferiority. The misogynist loathes femininity, and would attack any signs of femininity other men even as he would repress it in himself, telling it Shut up!
When Jack paints his face white and red, he covers his sense of shame and inferiority and discovers in his reflection an awesome stranger: a powerful, manly hunter, who spills the blood of little pink piggies. As Golding strips even more layers of civilization off of his characters, he describes Jack hunting. Jack creeps through the green forest, wearing it as it were his clothes.
By the time he gains his throne, this naked emperor’s face is painted green and black. And his hair now grown long is pulled back “like a girl.” This boy-patriarch has managed from behind his mask to release what Father Culture had condemned in him, and to repress as he has been repressed. This he does with the full force of hatred. And he takes power, thrusting his spear into the air, as only one with a profound sense of inferiority would, compensating for his former impotence, like a Taliban fighter would hold his RPG Launcher up for the world to see, though his face were covered, compensating for his sense of powerlessness.
Jack’s society is replete with punishment, whipping, and torture. No one dares to challenge his power. His henchman, Roger, is cruel, masked, and sharpens a stick at both ends as he hunts for the head of the last living democrat of the rival tribe, for by now the white conch of democracy free speech has been shattered.
Looking into Pakistan’s Swat Valley, I see Jack’s society. After years of war in the region, the layers of civilization have been stripped away, and the savage has taken power. The Taliban whips who would disobey their power, while wearing bushy beards and black masks. They cut off the heads of dissenters and leave them on display for all to see, like a crude offering to their God, The Lord of The Flies.
The Taliban have shot a little girl in the head for raising her democratic voice, and demanding her right to an education. She is a powerful little girl, the fading pink over which savages tyrannize, and which they fear, as fundamentalists fear the feminine. Her education reflects their ignorance, and threatens their power. For, where civil education is strong, The Taliban are weak.
This little girl, Malala Yousafzai, like millions of women in the middle east, wants to take off the mask she has been forced to wear, and put on modern clothes. She has the right to wear school uniform–which each of our boys stripped off before descending into savagery.
But now a word on savagery. It is not so clear as the ignorant poster recently posted in New York subways would have it. “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.” (Perhaps we can tease out some further irony if we recall that when the Egyptian-American columnist defaced the poster, she did so with pink spray paint.)
No, it is not so simple as to say that muslims are savage and we westerners or the Israelis are civilized. Mind you, this little girl from Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai, with her progressive and strong mind, is also a muslim. And Jack, mind you, is a Christian English choir-boy, who becomes the beast, all the while thinking the English are best at everything.
The hijab, along with its other, more oppressive, counterparts, is a symbol which belongs to a particular vocabulary; in which, what is man and what is woman is defined in a way antithetical to the vocabulary of equal rights; and to use the vocabulary of human rights in order to justify this symbol is paradoxical and absurd as to use democratic systems in order to elect a tyrant.
Yes, I support, in principal, that a woman would have a choice to wear or not wear the hijab, just as I support, in principal, that a person would have the choice to practice this or that religion freely. It does not follow that I would not criticize this or that religion; and therefore, I criticize the wrong-headedness of those who would speak of the freedom of the hijab.
The hijab implies a set of gender roles in accordance with a system and model of the universe, human nature, and government, which is incompatible with the human rights I take to be the greatest achievement of humankind.
Yes, the argument is riddled with paradox: the freedom to wear what would negate that freedom. I get it.
Part of the problem with the veil, which is more oppressive than the hijab, is that it is a community value, a symbol in a mode of community, and mode of communication itself; and these communities are seeking to become a part of a newer mode of community which would not have the woman so defined, as we have found that there are profound benefits to understanding gender differently.
Then, these kind of arguments go to push these vocabularies into the dusty old shelves of antiquated lexicons–lexicons which worked on binary oppositions, and set one term of each opposition as less worthy, as more object than subject.
This I wrote in response to this article.