The other day my little four-year-old boy was chatting with Grandma and Grandpa over Skype. We are teaching him to write, so the grandparents were giving him words and he was trying to spell them out. I wasn’t paying much attention until I heard a kerfuffle and tuned in. He had written down the entire left-hand side the paper, and instead of turning the page over he had started writing right to left on the other side of the sheet. The words had also become gibberish. “No,” Grandma was saying, “You have go from left to right.” “No, no, no!” my little boy said emphatically. “These are un-words!”
First of all, wow. The fact that his little four year old brain understood (and came up with himself) an entity that represented the negation of something. Somebody call MIT!
The urban dictionary describes antimatter as, “literally matter which is the inverse or opposite of matter; particles which have charges opposite of regular matter.” Now, antimatter exists in physics, and rudimentary atoms have been made by man for brief periods of time before they degrade. All of this is very experimental, and I’m not a physicist, but it certainly seems like my son might become one!
At any rate, it would appear that we’re living in the age of anti-words: un-words as my son would say, un-ideas. Un-philosophies. I read about the newest one yesterday, intersectionality. It’s evidently the newest thing on college campuses, sort of a “meta-analysis” that combines multiple theories of discrimination (race, gender, etc.) into one overarching doctrine of oppression. “On the surface, it’s a recent neo-Marxist theory that argues that social oppression does not simply apply to single categories of identity — such as race, gender, sexual orientation, class, etc. — but to all of them in an interlocking system of hierarchy and power,” as Andrew Sullivan has described it.
Of course, this is essentially tribal – the glorification of un-ideas. The belief that everything about us exists in our blood and genes and experiences derived from our physical characteristics alone – divorced from the intellectual or cognitive. The divorce of great ideas from their imperfect vehicles has been part of the nature of philosophical inquiry since the beginning of time. It’s called Objectivity, and it takes us back to Plato – and the very foundations of western thought, “Plato argued powerfully in favor of the objectivity of values such as truth, good and beauty. Objective values are those that lie outside of the individual and are not dependent on his/her perception of belief.” (The opposite of course are relativists – but even relativists have to allow legitimacy to values emerging from ‘agreement of cultures’, and wouldn’t accept the apriori rejection of one part of culture simply because that segment did not fit into what Orwell called a “smelly little orthodoxy.” As the above article indicates, this is more what a religion would do, not a philosophy.)
Yes, Jefferson owned slaves and we all knew that was wrong but that doesn’t make the “Declaration of Independence” any less grand. Yes the agora-democracy of ancient Greece extended only to landowners and men, but that does not mean this was not a revolutionary game-changing idea. “If you think that arguments and ideas can have a life independent of ‘white supremacy,’ (as an example) you are complicit in evil,” the un-idea of intersectionality states.
Of course this isn’t new – I’m reminded by an excellent book I read by Leonard Peikoff, “The Cause of Hitler’s Germany.” In this book Peikoff describes the advance of un-philosophy and un-knowledge across the Wiemar Republic’s intellectual landscape. Glorification of music that was not melodious, of novels that were nonsense, of philosophies like nihilism and Gnosticism that were really also un-philosophies. Into the vacuum, the state – nature does abhor a vacuum after all. By the time Hitler showed up the entire country was a bunch of know-nothings and easily fell to the idiocy.
Un-ideas. Of course it gets worse, because these un-ideas are not only held, but due to the peculiar nature of the ideas, their neo-Marxian focus on oppression through the warping of ideas of ‘morality’ to fit their ends, the holding of un-ideas means you are forbidden from engaging with any ideas outside their “classic orthodoxy through which all of human experience is explained — and through which all speech must be filtered.”
I really do feel sorry for these kids – and if it wasn’t so sobering apropos of our nation’s future, I would feel compassion. It must be sad to be denied the awesome works of the mind – Tocqueville and Melville and Augustine and St. Bede – because for one or another reason, their race or their opinions or their beliefs or their faith, they didn’t pass the filter test. It must be a dark world where nothing makes sense and everything is askew; it must be scary. But, given that they are our future – I feel sorry for us a well.
As Yaron Brook has said, “We are entering a very scary period.”