It is only through writing that I can really know what I think. My views develop and change. The fundamentals don’t normally change a great deal, but the details do. My method is not scholarly. I find most academic writing to be desperately dull and pointless. I rarely now write footnotes. What are they for? I hardly ever read the books or articles that are cited, so all these little footnotes do is show that someone is a scholar and that they play this academic game with success. They are published in journals which no-one reads and write books that are unreadable.
Some good work is no doubt being done in science and medicine, but I rarely come across something that I find interesting in the subjects that concern me such as history, literature, philosophy and theology. The discussion is frequently very narrow and about something that doesn’t matter, an author who ought to have been forgotten, an obscure verse in the Bible or an academic dispute that concerns no-one else. I don’t do this. It is pointless. It is only about being employed and receiving money. I sometimes think that modern day universities have one purpose only and that is to employ academics. The quality of the teaching and the quality of what is written is a disgrace compared to how things were one hundred years and more ago. The reason is that everyone is constrained and dare not say what they think.
Gradually a creeping conformity has taken over nearly every subject that is not grounded in experiment. I refuse to read anything written by Americans. It is simply too dull and depressing. The most original thinkers are tamed and made to conform to the latest political view. The most important issue is not to give offence to anyone. The words and the issues that might cause offense keep growing. Who knows what will be offensive next.
A person from 1960 would be in trouble if they arrived in the modern world. Much of what they assumed to be unquestionably true would have turned out to be false. Ordinary words that they would use and their beliefs about religion and morality would be considered to be grossly offensive today. An article that I might have published in a philosophy or theology journal in 1960 might get me sacked today. No wonder so much writing is dull and conformist when we are all scared that the western equivalent of the Komsomol will denounce us. They will arrive with their little red books demanding safe spaces and trigger warnings and if we are not careful we will end up in the paddy fields grateful still to be alive. There is a cultural revolution taking place on campus. No doubt one day it will be considered to be a great leap forward.
At the heart of this revolution is falsity. As ever I return to Dostoevsky in or to explain this. (All quotes from Pevear translation p.44)
At the start of the Brothers Karamazov there is a meeting between the father of the brothers Fedor who is a buffoon and Zosima a wise monk. Fedor continually plays the fool and tells lies. Zosima tells him “A man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point where he does not discern any truth either in himself or anywhere around him, and thus falls into disrespect towards himself and others” Because of this such a person ceases to love both himself and others and falls into a degenerate state giving himself up to coarse pleasures and eventually reaches such an extremity of vice that it amounts to bestiality.
Why should this be so? I think it can be explained in Christian existentialist terms. Kierkegaard puts forward the idea that the self is relational. A self is a relation that relates itself to itself and in doing so relates to another. This other is God, but also other people. But if a person lies to himself, his relationship to himself is distorted and founded on falsity. This also prevents the person from relating correctly both to God and other people. Because God is the foundation of an objective morality, the person who lies to himself is left with being able to relate to others only in terms of law or in terms of inclination. Whatever feels good to me I will do so long as I can get away with it. The morality that everyone in 1960 took for granted has been undermined by our great leap forward to such an extent that I cannot even describe vice as immoral. If you have a different partner every night it is me that is wrong for being critical of you. I am a “slut shamer”, you are virtuous. People thus can interact in the way that animals do without respect and solely for the purpose of pleasuring each other. The truth that once was universally acknowledged that certain actions were immoral has been discarded. Even to suggest that certain behaviour is immoral is now condemned. The immorality is to suggest that something is immoral.
In what does the lie consist? In my view it consists in denying that the person has a relationship to God and that he has a soul. Each of us feels free and unconstrained when we act in our daily lives. But the foundation of modern science is to suggest that we are all in essence animals. The great leap forward is the attempt to explain and reduce human nature to biology and the universe to atoms. This is not how I experience the world. The basic feeling I have is that I am free. But science would tell me that this feeling of freedom is an illusion. All is determined. But my ordinary consciousness tells me that I am not matter and atoms causing each other to do things. It tells me that I am something qualitatively different. Science’s attempt to deny my most basic experience means that if I accept this reductionism, I am forced to deny the foundation of my existence. If science is correct, then everything I know about myself is untrue. But this requires that I deceive myself and lie about my everyday experience of freedom. The conflict between the scientific world view about my existence and my own everyday experience means I must either be authentic as a free spiritual being or else lie to myself and deny that I am what I am. It is a desperate situation if a person’s whole existence is founded on a lie. The reason for this is that I lose the authentic relationship I have with myself. I lose the grounding for any sort of objective morality which depends on God (if God does not exist everything is permitted) and I treat everyone else in terms either of what I am legally obliged to do or in terms of my own self-interest. No wonder this ends in bestiality because science tells us we are indeed beasts.
There is something else on which this whole lie depends. Let us return to Zosima. He says “A man who lies to himself is often the first to take offense. It sometimes feels very good to take offense. Doesn’t it?” The whole essence of our great leap forward is that we take offence. When I was a student in Cambridge no-one even noticed the old statues. I didn’t know who they were and I didn’t care. I had more important things to concern me. But now someone somewhere takes great pleasure in being offended. First they object to a statue of Cecil Rhodes. If this succeeds they take pleasure in objecting to someone else. Likewise someone finds that a novel from the past has ideas or words that are not current today. Someone must be offended. There are whole industries devoted to people being offended or alternatively to those who want to show that they are so liberal that they always use the currently fashionable term.
I write in a provocative fashion, because it is how I develop my thought. I want to write original articles that contain challenging thoughts. I will no doubt sometimes offend. But the Christian message itself is “offence to the Jews and folly to the Greeks.” This is the nature of truth. The deepest truths cannot be thought. They involve going beyond the bounds of reason. You climb up the ladder and then you throw it away. Truth therefore is folly. Moreover, telling someone he is wrong will always lead to him finding it offensive, especially if he wishes to remain in the wrong. In order to challenge the established way of thinking I therefore have to write things that will sometimes appear strange, (folly), and may also appear to be offensive. This is especially the case if I argue well.
But what we have above all is manufactured offence. Again Zosima describes the person who lies to himself “And surely he knows that no one has offended him, and that he himself has invented the offense and told lies just for the beauty of it, that he has exaggerated for the sake of effect, that he has picked on a word and made a mountain out of a pea”. I come across this so frequently that it has become the essence of our great leap forward. Someone picks out a word in one of my blogs and shares it on social media. Suddenly hundreds or indeed thousands of people tell me how offended they are by this word. They describe me in the worst possible terms. They find ever more innovative ways to show how much they hate me. But not one of them is really offended. It’s all completely inauthentic and false. They want to score points. They dislike my politics. They want to find a way to stop me writing. But not one of these people is really, genuinely offended. They are all the equivalent of the five year old who tells teacher that little Johnny was doing something wrong. The five year old is not offended by Johnny she just wants to suck up to the teacher and get Johnny into trouble. This is the essence of lying to yourself. It is self-deception. It damages you. It doesn’t touch me.
How many words have I written in my 200 plus blogs? Perhaps half a million. Yet still someone may point to a single word that I wrote two years ago and try to use it to condemn me. He only condemns himself.
We have reached the stage where the slightest slip on social media can lead to a storm of protest. But this inhibits all of us. We each have to watch what we say in case we say the wrong word. Suddenly a word that all of us have used without a problem becomes problematic. Who knows what it will be next week. I never once thought the word “Jock” was offensive. But now it may be added to the long list of words that cannot be said. But this is all founded on a lie. The person who objects to the word “Jock” doesn’t really do so. He just wants to be offended.
Whole areas of academic life are now controlled by this false sense of offence and it makes it almost impossible to write freely. It is such good fun for an 18 year old student to scare an elderly professor half to death because he fails to use the latest term for something. Fifty years ago nice people described black people as “coloured”. But that term is no longer fashionable. Fair enough. I too can see the problem with it. We all have a colour after all. But if someone who has not kept up with the fashion inadvertently uses this obsolete term is there any reason to take such an offence? Of course not, but it gives people such a warm feeling inside to condemn others. Look at how they apologise and abase themselves because they made a mistake. There is no greater joy than seeing a sinner repent.
The person who feels continual offense “likes feeling offended, it gives him great pleasure, and thus he reaches the point of real hostility”. The hostility is this. There are lots and lots of people who go about trying to ruin other’s lives because they happen to say something that they pretend offends them. An academic may be sacked for the slip of a tongue. An off-colour joke may lead to a criminal conviction. An argument that contradicts the established orthodoxy may lead to a visit from the police. Someone may be banned from speaking publically at a university because he holds a view that was common place in 1960. No wonder so much writing is dull when the consequences of writing in an interesting way can be so devastating.
This is all founded on a lie. First we lie to ourselves. We lie about what we are. We deny our experiences and we reject what is evident to our senses. We reject 2000 years of religion and 2000 years of moral tradition and in the space of 60 years we construct a worldview that would baffle our grandparents. This too is a lie. Then we say that anyone who does not accept our modern world view must be condemned. They are not even allowed to think that this world view may have flaws. Anyone who does so will find themselves out of a job or in jail. We then call this state of self-censorship “freedom of speech”.
But there may be hope. Ordinary people in Britain rejected this whole modern worldview when they voted for Brexit. No wonder the Stepford Students were so angry. It was a step. A first step. We must cease lying and start telling the truth. God help us if we don’t.
This post was originally published by the author 30 September 2016: http://effiedeans.blogspot.com/2016/09/the-great-leap-forward.html