Saturday, March 10, 2007


Wretchard captures the essence of what bothers me most about today's sensibility toward the past. In the post, he discusses a movie review of "300", which is about the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. The review includes the following presumably serious statement by the reviewer:
One of the few war movies I've seen in the past two decades that doesn't include at least some nod in the direction of antiwar sentiment, 300 is a mythic ode to righteous bellicosity.
Wretchard then goes on to comment:

I have no idea whether 300 is a good movie, but Steven's review is an entertaining example of how all events, including those which happened nearly 500 years BC, must be judged according to prisms of contemporary political correctness. Miller had to remember, for example, "that we're in the middle of an actual war". Did he not realize his duty to denounce it? But what if Miller had made a movie about the fight against Hitler? Would it have been necessary to remind the audience that Hitler was a nonsmoking, animal-loving, vegetarian artist? Or had he remade Zulu to include some white faces among Prince Dabulamanzi's impis?

The most interesting thing about those who habitually denounce ethnocentricity and cultural blindness is that they are not without such sentiments themselves, the difference being that their cultural point of view is rooted in the mid-20th century, rather than say, ancient Lacedaemonia.

Once upon a time intellectuals who sought to understand the modern world looked to the giants of intellectual thought from humanity's past. In the wisdom of their writings we would be able to find the words and meanings relevant to analyzing the events of today. But now, it is as if history has been turned upside down. We no longer look to the past to understand ourselves and our journey--instead we use our present feelings and our modern understandings and prejudices to reinterpret and deconstruct the past.

Is it any wonder that we are horribly confused and disoriented, not knowing who we are or where we are going? Is it any wonder that today's events do not seem to have any rhyme or reason? Modern philosophical assumptions distort and/or obscure any appreciation of our own past. Where once we strove to understand the thinkers and events of the past by placing them within their own context and culture; it is now common practice to judge them by contemporary standards and inclinations.

That this rather perversely condescending and ultimately nihilistic tendency is a direct result of the essential narcissism of our times there is no doubt. Only a narcissist of the most pathological sort could or would haughtily dismiss Plato or Aristotle as merely primitive Greeks; or reject the writings of a Thomas Jefferson or John Adams because they were white male slaveholders. Only a self-absorbed postmodernist who believes he has all the answers to not only current problems, but that his superior and perfect intellect has nothing to gain by considering the admittedly imperfect thinkers and ideas of the past.

The dilemma of the postmodern narcissist is thus an unqualified belief in his or her own righteousness and moral obligation to judge the past; that is simultaneously combined with an aggressive ignorance about it.

Their behavior begs the question, how can we possibly understand our present selves--we who represent the sum of more than 5000 years of civilization--if we dismiss all that has gone before us and made us who we are?

When the very philosophical foundations that have made it possible for us to live and thrive in this modern world are abandoned because they were conceived and acted on by imperfect human beings (unlike today's "intellectuals" whose perfection is apparent to all), then what is left but the pointless and pervasive nihilism currently promulgated via postmodern political rhetoric?

The nihilism has been concealed within the doctrines of political correctness and multiculturalism, both of which cleverly assert their own absolute and inviolate truth, even as they advocate the most blatant relativism and subjectivity.

One of the most critical tasks that must be accomplished in order to unravel reason, truth and reality from human experience is a reinterpretation of the past . By deconstructing the ideas, events, and thinkers of the past; forcing them into our own postmodern procrustean template, we have essentially cut ourselves adrift from history and removed our philosophy from any anchor in the real world.

Somewhere in the last fifty years or so, the entire field of philosophy has been completely hijacked by its most narcissistically-inclined branch--politics. Metaphysics, epistemology, and even ethics, are all now subservient to politics. Normally there is a heirarchical relationship between all the branches; with the base being metaphysics, the study and the nature of existence. Epistemology is dependent on and closely related to metaphysics, and it is the study of how we know reality and existence; while ethics, the study of how humans should act, is dependent on epistemology. Politics--or how humans should interact in society--should be dependent on ethics. Yet in our postmodern world we have turned it all upside down. We are told how we should properly interact and it has become the ethical standard of behavior. Having set up this relativistic ethical standard; postmodern intellectuals can now question both how we know reality and even insist that it does not exist separately and independenly from our senses.

The entire purpose of this vast philosophical inversion is give the advocates and followers of totalitarian collectivism--particularly socialism and communism--a carte blanche to rewrite the history of the last century that clearly and undeniably demonstrated their ideology's intellectual and moral bankruptcy. It also permits the deconstruction of reality and truth necessary to undermine and distort the history of humanity's struggle for individual freedom.

The resulting relativistic rhetoric that emanates from postmodern philosophy has obscured and hidden the actual events of the past (they must be recreated in movies that conform to the dogma of today); ridiculed the actors and thinkers of the past simply because they were not "modern"; casually dismissed or undermined man's cognitive faculty--the essential tool for perceiving the world; altered the very meaning of words; and inverted any and all criteria by which we are able to make moral judgements.

This philosophical disintegration is celebrated by postmodernists as "freeing" ourselves from the tyranny of the past; but it is really a calculated attempt to radically dissociate our thinking from any of those unpleasant and inconvenient dictates of an "oppressive" reality that is always threatening to undermine the narcissistic belief that we are the center of the universe; and place limits on our unbridled sense of moral superiority.

Victor Davis Hanson wrote recently:
Our current crisis is not yet a catastrophe, but a real loss of confidence of the spirit. The hard-won effort of the Western Enlightenment of some 2,500 years that, along with Judeo-Christian benevolence, is the foundation of our material progress, common decency, and scientific excellence, is at risk in this new millennium.

But our newest foes of Reason are not the enraged Athenian democrats who tried and executed Socrates. And they are not the Christian zealots of the medieval church who persecuted philosophers of heliocentricity. Nor are they Nazis who burned books and turned Western science against its own to murder millions en masse.

No, the culprits are now more often us. In the most affluent, and leisured age in the history of Western civilization--never more powerful in its military reach, never more prosperous in our material bounty--we have become complacent, and then scared of the most recent face of barbarism from the primordial extremists of the Middle East.
We have so embraced multiculturalism and political correctness that we no longer have the intellectual tools to fight--or even face--the barbarism.

And let me conclude with a quote from Douglas Murray (page 218), and as you read it, think of the postmodern movie reviewer from the beginning of this piece:
Cultures which have forgotten about war, or believe it is a thing of the past, can neither imagine, nor imagine the need for, conflict. Portions of America are as attracted to such dreams as their European cousins....Though they cannot imagine the apocalypse, only a generation brought up on self-esteem would draw from that the conclusion that the apocalypse cannot therefore happen.

The postmodern narcissistic dilemma we face is that the politically correct prism through which we perceive and interpret the world around us, is entirely dysfunctional and useless; but it sure makes us feel good, doesn't it?

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