The Chaotic Word Blogging with a Hammer


Frances Widdowson and her comments about November 20, 2009’s The Agenda

Francis Widdowson, whose recent book on aboriginal affairs in Canada has caused such a stir, was not happy about  my most recent appearance on TVO’s Agenda. “The one, supposedly scientific voice, is a psychology professor who makes nonsensical and vague references to “religious truths,”  she writes on her blog.  She took particular issue with my somewhat rushed comments about the flooding in New Orlean's  in the last 30 sec. of the program.

Perhaps I might explain what I meant more fully: Mythological representations, like those that portray Yahweh in the Old Testament, hold that the moral decay of society and the individual is indistinguishable from the wrath of God (if the archaic writings are read with some sophistication and some consideration for the intelligence of the pre-empirical writers). This is not merely my opinion; it is also the opinion of very informed historians of religion such as Mircea Eliade. There is a simple reason for this: corrupt societies are much less likely to prepare properly for "God’s anger" - experienced, not infrequently, as natural or social disaster. The US Army Corp of Engineers was, after all, publicly censured for its failure to pay attention even to its own data with regards to the strength of the New Orleans levees.

Furthermore, New Orleans, in particular, and Louisiana, in general, is famously corrupt in its political and economic society. It doesn't take genius to note what the authors of the Old Testament meant by their idea that Yahweh does not tolerate sin (hamartia, in Greek: to miss the target – an archery term). Unprepared societies, willfully blind, undermined in their efficiency by their own corruption, inevitably bring the wrath of God down upon themselves. Think metaphorically, for a moment (in the manner that the authors of the Old Testament would have thought). It wasn't a hurricane that destroyed New Orleans. The seawalls and dykes in Holland would have repelled Katrina without a tremor, because they were built by a forthright and honest people, who responded to their own knowledge and their appropriate fear of Neptune with intelligence and care. The American dykes didn't hold, because they were built by people who closed their eyes to their own data, and were stripped of funding by corrupt politicians who squandered and pocketed resources that should have been devoted to saving the city. "God" obviously doesn't approve of such behavior.

With regards to Widdowson's claim for the “empirical” knowledge of the Greeks: The methods for formal scientific empiricism and the measurement techniques upon which it depends were simply not established until the time of Bacon, Descartes and Galileo. Furthermore, anyone who has gone after the politically correct for inappropriately celebrating "native American culture" should be very careful about criticizing someone for "ignoring the entire body of knowledge accumulated by.... pre-modern cultures." I don't ignore that knowledge at all. It is for this reason that I have respect for religious beliefs, although I have never claimed to be and am not at all "an overt believer in supernatural forces." I certainly value archaic knowledge, but I never confuse it with science.

Frances Widdowson also claims that Christianity tells its believers "not to rebel against the existing order." This is a comment that only a die-hard Marxist (a particularly apt phrase), ossified into a predictable ideological viewpoint, could possibly make. Christ, historical or archetypal, was crucified precisely because he rebelled against the social order. The Pharisee Caiphas said about Christ what tyrants everywhere have always said about individuals who follow the dictates of their conscience and dare to oppose the state: " is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not."

Widdowson writes that the program "turned out to be a shameless promotion of irrationality and silliness." She also accuses me, personally, of being an "overt believer in unsubstantiated supernatural forces" who makes "nonsensical and vague references to religious truths." I think that anyone who has publicly claimed allegiance to Marxist views (according to Macleans magazine) should be very careful about making such comments. As far as I am concerned, there is absolutely no excuse for anyone to profess Marxist views at this stage of the historical game. In fact, I think a strong case can be made, ethically, that professing Marxism is as ill-advised and immoral as professing National Socialism, and psychologically, that anyone who continues to do so is opaque to contradictory evidence in a literally pathological manner.

In every country that Marxist principles have been implemented, mayhem, destruction, oppression and murder have followed. The Russian Nobel-prize winning author Alexander Solzhenitsyn's devastating critique in the 1970's (The Gulag Archipelago) demolished the last remaining shreds of Marxist intellectual credibility. He estimated that 60 million people were killed in the Soviet Union from 1919-1959 as a consequence of internal repression alone. More cautious observers put the numbers at 30 million. Solzhenitsyn also estimated that more than 100 million were killed in China, for the same reasons. This is to say nothing of Cambodia, where the probability of being killed under the communists approached 1/2.2. My students at the university know about the Nazi holocaust, of course, but have been taught almost nothing about these other larger-scale genocides, in large part because twentieth century intellectuals were frequently enamored of leftist ideas, and thus less willing to point their fingers at the communists than at the fascists.

Die-hard modern Marxists tend to believe, of course, that none of this murderousness and soul-shattering callousness was "real" communism, by which they mean, essentially, "if I had been in charge, with my true understanding of communist writ, then utopia rather than genocide would have reigned." Such a stance merely adds narcissistic arrogance to ideological delusion. If a seed produces poisonous fruit, no matter where it is planted, the seed is to blame, and not the soil. Communism has failed, excruciatingly, everywhere it has taken root. There are other reasons why the “true communism has never been tried” argument fails, as well. Solzhenitsyn took Marxism apart, axiom by painful axiom, and demonstrated to the point of agonizing clarity how the ideological premises, attractive as they were ("to each according to his need") inevitably produced their deadly consequences. So no Marxist who dares to still exist and to publicly proclaim such allegiance after the brutally ideological twentieth century should ever presume to accuse anyone else of purveying nonsense.

Marxism is nothing short of the primary exemplar of the kind of simple-minded ideological reductionism that proves almost irresistibly attractive to those for whom, in Nietzsche's prescient terms, "God is dead." Individuals who abide by the axioms of such ideologies play a dangerous but understandable game: they identify a single strong human motive, and then explain everything using a story derived from that motive. Marx did it with economics, Foucault did it with power, Freud did it with sex. Because all human endeavors are grounded, to some degree, in economics, power and sex, such stories can be made credible and coherent. However, and this is true in a technical, philosophical, sense, they cannot be made complete, because they leave so much else out. There are primary human motivations for play, exploration, aesthetic experience, religious experience, and love, among others, none of which can be reduced without catastrophic loss to explanations based on economics, power or sex. All attempts to do so merely constitute tyranny - and such tyranny is generally imposed, as fast as possible, and regardless of the consequences, by the true ideologue, who maintains belief for the psychological security and certainty that it provides, rather than for any love of the truth.

It might also be pointed out that many of the axioms of Marxism are simply wrong, scientifically: there is, for example, a extensive scientific literature demonstrating the falsehood of the idea that class identity is the primary determinant of destiny in a modern society, where individual intelligence and trait conscientiousness, both strongly genetically influenced, account for more than half of an individual's class status at the age of forty, with the circumstances of birth taken into account. Furthermore, as Daly and Wilson of McMaster University have demonstrated (in a genuine intellectual tour de force) - what tension does exist between "classes" in modern societies is generated by relative, not absolute poverty, which makes the problem psychological (jealousy, envy, resentment) rather than economic. There are similar examples too numerous to name.

There is thus no excuse whatsoever for Widdowson's Marxism, intellectually or morally. Furthermore, her critique of religious thought is completely empty, and worse, predictable, as it must be, given that it is entirely predicated on her merely algorithmic Marxism.

(In closing, I would like to state for the record that, although I disagree with Widdowson's fundamental philosophy (and even regard it as backward and dangerous) I also believe that she should be fully and unconditionally supported in her battle to bring clarity to the issue of aboriginal rights in Canada. I think attempts on the part of other academics to have her censured are a disgrace to the idea of academic freedom and, more importantly, a clear and present danger to freedom of speech.)

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