Logic, Reason, and Fascism

For years, I've been trying to figure out why a number of affluent, educated people in this country would suddenly (in my perception, at least) turn against logic, reason, science, history -- in short, reality.  That is, until I had the difference between Philosophical Conservatism, and Political Conservatism explained to me.

Philosophical Conservatism is a tendency -- a way of thinking.  Although I never agreed with those ideals, they were, at least, consistent.  William F. Buckley was a Philosophical Conservative.  Probably the last.

Political Conservatism is an ever-evolving set of talking points used by some, in an infantile attempt to get want what they want, when they want it, without having to go through the tedious process of discussion, debate, or even thinking things through to their logical conclusion.

Without reason and logic, one does not have opinions, one only has affectations. Here's a quote from Ortega's "Revolt of the Masses" He is writing here during the rise of Fascism, as a philosophical Liberal:

The "ideas" of the average man are not genuine ideas, nor is their possession culture. Whoever wishes to have ideas must first prepare himself to desire truth and to accept the rules of the game imposed by it. It is no use speaking of ideas when there is no acceptance of a higher authority to regulate them, a series of standards to which it is possible to appeal in a discussion. These standards are the principles on which culture rests. I am not concerned with the form they take. What I affirm is that there is no culture where there are no standards to which our fellow-man can have recourse…
Under Fascism there appears for the first time in Europe a type of man who does not want to give reasons or to be right, but simply shows himself resolved to impose his opinions. This is the new thing: the right not to be reasonable, the "reason of unreason." Here I see the most palpable manifestation of the new mentality of the masses, due to their having decided to rule society without the capacity for doing so. In their political conduct the structure of the new mentality is revealed in the rawest, most convincing manner. The average man finds himself with "ideas" in his head, but he lacks the faculty of ideation. He has no conception even of the rare atmosphere in which ideals live. He wishes to have opinions, but is unwilling to accept the conditions and presuppositions that underlie all opinion. Hence his ideas are in effect nothing more than appetites in words.
To have an idea means believing one is in possession of the reasons for having it, and consequently means believing that there is such a thing as reason, a world of intelligible truths. To have ideas, to form opinions, is identical with appealing to such an authority, submitting oneself to it, accepting its code and its decisions, and therefore believing that the highest form of intercommunication is the dialogue in which the reasons for our ideas are discussed. But the mass-man would feel himself lost if he accepted discussion, and instinctively repudiates the obligation of accepting that supreme authority lying outside himself. Hence the "new thing" in Europe is "to have done with discussions," and detestation is expressed for all forms of intercommunication, which imply acceptance of objective standards, ranging from conversation to Parliament, and taking in science. This means that there is a renunciation of the common life of barbarism. All the normal processes are suppressed in order to arrive directly at the imposition of what is desired. The hermeticism of the soul which, as we have seen before, urges the mass to intervene in the whole of public life.
Sound familiar?  Think about it the next time you watch a freak show disguised as a political debate.

As for me, I'm too damn young to see history repeat itself.

Taking two lives

Justice Antonin Scalia was once quoted as saying, "Mere factual innocence is no reason not to carry out a death sentence properly reached."  When I read that, I tried to imagine a context in which that statement wouldn't seem so obscene.  I failed.

When Troy Davis' execution was stayed yesterday, while the Supreme Court deliberated his fate, I didn't hold out much hope.  Justice Scalia's statement is only one of the many reasons why.

There was another execution yesterday.  Lawrence Brewer was put to death in Texas for the murder of James Byrd Jr.  I don't believe he should have been put to death, either.  Not because there was any doubt about his guilt.  There wasn't.

It was, in fact, one of the most heinous crimes I've ever read about. Testimony showed Brewer, John William King, and Shawn Berry, offered Byrd, 49, a ride in Berry's pickup June 7, 1998. Byrd wound up bound by his ankles with a heavy 24-foot logging chain attached to the bumper, bouncing from side to side as he desperately tried to limit his injuries by lifting himself. At a sharp left curve in the road, he whipsawed to the right and struck a concrete culvert, which decapitated him.

A pathologist testified that Byrd had been alive until that point.

I must admit that I won't lose sleep over the execution of brewer, but I'm still against the death penalty.  In this case, for a different reason.  Some people will never be dead enough.  And there are things in this world worse than death.  Life in prison is one of them.

But my main reasoning is that the taking of a life is the ultimate crime, the ultimate selfishness.  There's no coming back from it, no way to make it right if a mistake is made.

So, a State that would sanction such a thing can, in no way, call itself civilized.  You would think such simple logic would be self-evident.  Apparently not.


I told myself that I wouldn't write a 9/11 post.  There are certainly those more lucid eloquent.  And reminding those reading this of what was quite possibly the worst day of their lives, also gave me pause.

What changed my mind was talking to some of the kids I work with.  They're all college-aged, and most hadn't even completed their first decade of existence in 2001.  They don't really see what the big deal is.  To them, those deaths are as remote as any other they hear about in the news.  I can't really blame them for that.  It's impossible to feel a sense of loss for something one has never experienced.  They have no idea what life was like before 9/11, anymore than I have any idea what it was like before Pearl Harbor, or Hiroshima.

Like most, I remember that day vividly.  Though, to some, it seems like yesterday.  To me, it seems like a million years ago - Another lifetime.  In truth, I suppose it was.

I was living in a small town in northern Arizona.  As it happened, I had stayed home sick from work that day. I was about to become much more ill.  I'd gone back to bed after calling in sick to work, and was in that place between wakefulness and sleep, when you're not sure whether you're either.  My wife decided to stay up and make coffee.

I thought I heard my wife's voice repeating, "Oh, God no."  Something in her voice - fear, shock, grief, and something that to this day I can't put a name to - brought me fully awake.  I walked into the living room, and saw my wife standing there, frozen, in front of the TV.   I noticed the TV just in time to see video of the plane hitting the first tower.  That video, among others, seemed to play on an endless loop during the course of the day.

It took a few seconds.  There was a disconnect between what I was seeing, and my mind's desperate attempt to find some other - any other - explanation for it.

We sat on the couch, barely speaking.  Barely breathing.  We watched as the second plane hit,  then the Pentagon, then flight 93.  We watched as people waved from smoking windows.  Then as some of them fell, choosing their fate, rather than having it chosen for them.  Then, as the towers themselves fell.  It seemed like things were snowballing out of control.  I wasn't worried for our own safety.  After all, what self-respecting terrorist would attack Chino Valley, AZ?

I remember the sound of my wife crying.  A combination of empathy, a pretty good imagination, and the flu, caused me to retreat into the bathroom a couple of times to throw up.  But I wasn't angry.  Not yet.

It was about mid-afternoon, and the news was showing people on the streets - relatives and friends of those missing, pictures of their loved ones in hand, desperately searching.  The looks on their faces was heart-wrenching, and haunt me to this day.  I was angry, and I wanted justice for them.

No, that's wrong.  I wanted vengeance.  I wanted them all dead.  I wanted to see their collective heads on a pike.  My rage was such that it wouldn't let me even ask who "they" were.

I had heard Osama Bin Laden's name before.  I'd even felt sympathy for the way we left him hanging during the Russian occupation of Afghanistan.  Our foreign policy is consistent, if nothing else.  What sympathy I had, evaporated with the attack on the USS Cole.

I understand their anger, even their hatred of us.  The rage I felt for a relatively short time has been theirs for a lifetime.  And it would have been so easy to hate them, coming from a culture foreign, alien, and of which I had little knowledge. 

For most of the people on this planet, life is hard, brutal, and short.  As Americans, we've been spared many of the horrors that others face daily.  Though, I fear those times are coming to an end. There are those in this country who believe that we have some sort of divine right to a risk-free existence, as if there were truly such a thing, or should be.  The  irony is, that these same people are the ones putting what safety and security we do have, at risk.  They do this by their revisionist history (or as I like to put it, lying), and vilification of the ideals that made this country great.  They would have it replaced with a sort of corporate theocracy - their twisted vision of utopia.

As I lie awake in bed that night, I worried about how we would respond as a nation, and how it would change us.  Some things ended up being worse than the scenarios that were going through my head.

Three months after 9/11, my mother died.  Two weeks after that, my father was diagnosed with lung cancer.  We lost him 6 months later.  The next few years are covered in my last post.  Suffice to say that, for me, 9/11 didn't end until around 2007.

I know that evil exists.  I've seen it.  But I still believe that, as hard as life is, most people are decent, and good, and just trying to do the best they can.  And that's what I hold onto.