I endeavored to write something, a gift to my children on fathers day this year. And perhaps not just for them, maybe to others of their generation. I wrote an essay, which I suspect turned into a monogram. I endeavored to tell the story of how the battle between truth and deception has been the center of everything that ever went wrong with mankind since Eve reached out for the apple. It was long (18 pages), and ponderous, and when I reached the end I wondered, why the heck did I write this; it is all self-evident and authoritatively proclaimed already. Who would read that, why should it be written (by me). I may, maybe, spend the effort to clean it up grammatically and upload it as a pdf in the future, but ultimately the question remains – why? The truth about truth has already been written, it has already been written about deception too. People will see that, and interpret it through one of two lenses, and ultimately, those that understand the story I would have told, they already know it and those that do not, well they do not because they cannot. And that last sentence, that is the hardest of all of this to accept, I struggle with it daily.
Ultimately, it is as silly and pointless as discussing ‘what is a woman’. That such a conversation even occurs anywhere other than a year one philosophy class is preposterous. The underlying differences in language and of natural and revealed truths, or even that such exists is such a great gulf that one side might as well be speaking French and the other Chinese. It is a pointless and meaningless conversation. What has meaning in it all are truths and presuppositions dismissed by one side long ago. Pure reason and common sense, of a sort, exist on each side, with one taking only a child's understanding of the foundations to create common knowledge for an entire culture standing astride history screaming “no’ in a very different way than Buckley meant it – nonetheless, scream this culture does, and it means it, it believes it.
I have found through numerous conversations with academically trained adherents to postmodern ideology something true. They have access to something that looks and smells a lot like common sense or pure reason. And these, they derive from the natural law written into their hearts. I know, most of my ilk believe that an insane claim, I will explain below. Also, such a person enamored with postmodern ideology might be repulsed by the terms, they may deny that natural law exists, they may use erudite sophistry to deny that truth exists – but within all of the deliberately intricate verbiage, they believe in many things that they cannot see, beliefs they would never admit even to themselves.
It ought to be no surprise at all. My dogs know something about natural law, they know fairness. Toddlers know fairness. I have fleshed out those examples before, stealing from C.S. Lewis's profoundly simple telling of it. But if a toddler knows something of natural law, what if we endowed that youngster with a Ph.D., some typing skills, provided the child with a typewriter, and assigned them an editor? It might be possible that the child could hammer out a philosophy of the world, one that comported with their understanding of natural law, as dim and incomplete as that understanding may be. And, it would be based upon some aspect of something true, even if taken out of context or applied partially – natural law would be there.
The toddler analogy may sound silly, but it is not just toddlers I speak of. I would not do a good job of writing a philosophy based upon what I perceived as right and nothing more, even if I used pages of reason to defend the claims– I would fail if I used my passing perception of the law only. And it Is not just me. Kierkegaard, Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Foucault, or any minor person and lesser figure to follow after them – none are qualified to write such a philosophy, divorced not just from the realism a proper metaphysics would inform us of, but ultimately because they all ignored the instruction manual of revealed truth humans were provided. It would not matter if the end result was the banging on a keyboard of a toddler, me rambling incoherently, or men skilled in erudite writing, all would in the end create a mish-mash mess of intellectual idealism, narcissistic confusion, and deception performed in the effort to seek truth.
Plainly stated, if we equate natural law knowledge to be something like the knowledge that fire is hot, but in this analogy, we assume we are simply born knowing fire is hot what can we do with that? We could inquire, as classical philosophy did, about the nature of ‘fire’ and how it came to be ‘hot’ and what might have made it so (again using those terms as a simple analogy of the universe, our being, and all the rest of metaphysics) These sorts of metaphysical questions point us toward truth but were never able to take us all the way there. Or, we could do, as was done beginning in the enlightenment, simply stop asking about why fire is hot, and maybe later argue about what hot really means. People at that late stage of absurdity, have no business writing philosophies that explain the world –yet, it is this that surrounds us and defines everything that we do and think that is wrong. This bad ideology is essentially a manifestation of deception and ultimately a living example of the cumulative effects of sin after the fall.
Perhaps this is why Kant was right to critique pure reason, and then at the same moment completely incorrect. Perhaps being smart enough to transcend his own understanding, reverting to the conception of a toddler is what enabled Kant to call Reid absurd, not realizing the sheer irony of that claim. There seems to really be something in the idea, supported by the words of Paul and taught by the Church for centuries that we all, everywhere and always, have access to the law. But it is through a glass, darkly. We may be without excuse for deceiving ourselves about important aspects of it, but we are also ill equipt to do it alone. We might say therefore that common sense is only useful in a culture that has the proper aids, sufficient institutional support, and subsidiary and supporting structure to help center members toward a common sense that is true. Stated differently, any group of fools, that for a time and season collectively tell one another lies about what they sense must be true, perverting it, or taking only half of it and completely ignoring any instruction manual the author of those laws written inside of them has provided….well, of course, such a group would eventually have a form of common sense. It might be very common indeed and it would most definitely be utterly wrong.
It is not my intention to dissect the facts I just proclaimed, to deconstruct those that deconstruct everything, so to speak. Talk to them, a real ‘book smart’ postmodern and not just a parrot, read them (just a little) and it is clear, at the base of it all they are making unseen calls to something they perceive to be truth, and ultimately the source of that is nothing more than natural law written upon their hearts, but profoundly misunderstood and twisted. It is also clear, if you talk to them, not the simpletons that merely repeat, but those trained in the dark arts of deconstruction, that they also believe on some level that the conclusions derived from their philosophy are self-evident, that they ought to be common knowledge. The last bit is tricky, if not a single person that holds to a traditional view of the world existed, no tomes dealing with ideologies and philosophies directly opposed to them, and no knowledge whatsoever of previous oppressors, oppressed, or hegemonic power structures – just a postmodern world from inception – in such a fantasy universe, they would never agree to agree that they all literally agree that there are some concepts they believe are self-evident. Postmodernism and all the various deconstructions of deconstructions is the ultimate example of Freud’s concept of "narcissism of small differences”. Of course, you and I know, their agreement is not required to make a thing true.
The thing to take from the observation that postmoderns have within their canon a reverence for ‘common sense’ is perhaps not the proof that the common origin of common sense exists (this is self evidently clear already), but rather that postmodernism truly represents a culture of its own. This realization lends credence to the notion that two separate cultures have existed in Western civilization since the mid-20th Century. These two cultures are diametrically opposed to the other, one must kill the other and only one is capable.
It has all been very persistent, the spread of this other culture, the one that would forsake everything that came before, up to and including the definition of words and the assessment of natural facts as transient and morphable ethereal concepts; nothing is absolute, the only absolute being the current feeling of the group. The kudzu-like advance began slow, in salons and the high-minded rarefied places of true privilege, universities where men think of the world but seldom know it. It morphed into a cultural movement in the 60s and was very quickly usurped by those seeking political power. At the core of it, there is the great hypocrisy, postmodernism is an ideology of power. It spread to universities in general and then to society in general, editors of newspapers, and school teachers. Finally, it found a home in seminaries and then in entire denominations and churches. In little and small ways, all are affected by it, not everyone has a yard covered in the weed, but none are without some residual effect. It is a disease of thinking, of understanding natural facts, of hard-learned lessons that have been written into our system by the collective wisdom of all those that came before us - it is an affront to truth and an insult to God. But it is everywhere, it is ascendant, and it is determined to rid the world of everything of the old and reorder the world not based upon ultimate truth and transcendent things, but on immanent things, upon feelings and half-understood impulses that man can perceive from natural law speaking to us through our conscience. It is all a lie.
There are numerous implications to what I have just said but here is just one. Pull a bit from Spengler, wrap it in some Huntington, and yes, even apply some Freud (we collectively shudder). We can see some of this clearly. At the confluence of the two cultures vying for survival or dominance, the very center where the least grounded among us reside we observe a strange and bizarre hybridization. To expand the aquatic reference, within the estuary of our civilization, we find water that has varying degrees of salinity. And that is it, that is the crux of it. The youngsters I would write that long essay to, are estuary dwellers, by birth. Not fully creatures of the ocean, but incapable of living entirely upriver in fresh water. And, this is important, they have access to common sense, both the not entirely pure version of their parents and the briny sludge that floats in with every high tide. That hybrid, bastardized version that speaks to them of something that is true, concepts of fairness and all that, is not a tool to them, it is of little help. It serves instead, twisted and perverted as it is, as the key incentive to venture further into the salty ocean. And of course, it is also sadly true, they cannot swim upriver with us, they do not even believe that the river goes anywhere!
A father's hope this fathers day in 2022, here in this hour that is so late, is that all of the children of all the fathers might see the lies they have been told, told so often since the first day they left home with small backpacks. These lies tear at their emotions and call them to be allies in every movement and idea paraded about, things that feel good because they appeal to something that is true, but are laced with deception. We would hope they will someday see that all great lies are comprised mostly of things that are true. Maybe someday, they will find the taste of salt water repulsive and remember what their fathers told them. Those fabulous stories about the wonderful things just up the river.
The old men of my generation, those that did not drink too much of the salt water, are rowing upstream now. There is nothing good in that muck and mire of the estuary and if you swim too far into the ocean, you will be forever lost. Join us if you will, we will wait for a time.
If you feel yourself being pulled toward the ocean or develop a taste for salt, and would rather join us in fresher water there is help, here are some resources.