Bob Godwin recently posted an entry on his blog making reference to me. He cited comments I made in response to his brief comments on my blog as “sinister piffle” indicative of leftist “ideas that are patently absurd and/or dangerous.” This was what he said as a set up for his “straw man” critique of my perspective:
This came up in our recent drama involving a reader who writes that, “I assumed that because you and the rest of the One Cosmos community were obviously so intelligent and articulate, there would be an openness to discussion to political and religious perspectives differing from your own.” He claims that his perspective “is not readily subject to definitive labels but is fluidly transforming into something that increasingly draws from all aspects of the political spectrum,” and that “whatever one's religion or spiritual path might be, compassion, kindness, and what one famous psychotherapist called ‘unconditional positive regard’ should ideally inform one's every interaction with others, even when we don't like what they believe or have to say.”
This is most of what he proceeded to say in response to the above:
This is a fine example of how the Left is always able to play the “compassion card” in order to promulgate ideas that are patently absurd and/or dangerous. For I do not say that I possess objective truth. Rather, I say that objective truth exists, and that I attempt to align myself with it. Now, to even suggest that objective truth exists places you in diametrical opposition to the entire project of the intellectual Left, which is to say that truth is relative, that no culture is better than any other, that “truth” is simply a function of power, that "perception is reality," etc.
I think I can speak for all One Cosmos readers--at least those readers who understand my message--that it is a gross distortion to suggest that we are not open to “a discussion of political and religious perspectives differing from our own.” My book alone disproves such nonsense, as it draws upon virtually every discipline and religion known to man. By comparison, leftist thought is ridiculously hidebound and parochial. What we are absolutely closed to is any discussion that suggests that truth is relative and that all points of view are of equal value… My philosophy is precisely the opposite of this reader, who says that his “is not readily subject to definitive labels but is fluidly transforming into something that increasingly draws from all aspects of the political spectrum.” In other words, his philosophy is not grounded in anything permanent or transcendent, but simply in whatever various people happen to believe at the moment, no matter where they are in the political spectrum: presumably left, right, Marxist, socialist, radical environmentalist, feminist, homosexual activist, whatever.
Our reader is certainly free to believe any and all fashionable political ideas he wishes to believe, but he cannot do so and call himself American (and please, I do not mean this primarily in a patriotic, but a philosophical sense). For our founders most definitely believed in permanent and transcendent values that it was the purpose of government to protect and conserve. In other words, they did not cobble together an ad hoc philosophy based upon whatever ideas were floating around at the time. Rather, they deeply meditated on our human nature and our divine blueprint, and tried to design a political system that accounted for the former but facilitated the latter. They would have been appalled by any philosophy that denied antecedent truth or elevated the relative to the absolute.
But our reader is not in accord with our Founding Fathers. Rather, he holds the deviant postmodern view that “whatever one's religion or spiritual path might be, compassion, kindness, and what one famous psychotherapist called ‘unconditional positive regard’ should ideally inform one's every interaction with others, even when we don't like what they believe or have to say.”
This is leftist thought par excellence. While it sounds generous and compassionate, nothing could be more tyrannical and totalitarian, for this type of pseudo-thinking begins in amorality but inevitably ends in immorality. How can it not? To give “unconditional positive regard” to everyone? Who is worthy of such an attitude except for an infant? Furthermore, to value everything without condition is logically to value nothing, for it obliterates the very hierarchy that informs you of what is worthy of value.
This type of sinister piffle goes directly against the idea of the transcendent unity of mankind. In other words, I believe that because Truth is one, so too is mankind. Take away the notion of transcendent truth, and we are left with a bunch of warring tribes, all with their relative nonsense--as Kimball says, “African knowledge,” “female language,” “Eurocentric science,” or “the idea that history is a ‘myth,’ that the truths of science are merely ‘fictions’ dressed up in forbidding clothes, that reason and language are powerless to discover the truth--more, that truth itself is a deceitful ideological construct: these and other absurdities are now part of the standard intellectual diet of Western intellectuals.” “Whether working in the academy or other cultural institutions, they bring us the same news: there is ‘no such thing’ as intrinsic merit; ‘quality’ is only an ideological construction; aesthetic value is a distillation of social power; etc., etc.”
"Unconditional positive regard" is the Ultimate Value for a person who has none. Does it include respecting “those religious codes which demand that the barren woman be cast out and the adulteress be punished with death? What about those cultures in which the testimony of one man counts for that of two women? In which female circumcision is practiced? In which slavery flourishes? In which mixed marriages are forbidden and polygamy encouraged? Multiculturalism... requires that we respect such practices. To criticize them is to be dismissed as ‘racist’ and ‘ethnocentric.’”
Leftist thought is actually profoundly anti-Enlightenment, for it fosters a spurious freedom: “Enlightenment looks to culture as a repository of values that transcend the self, postmodernism looks to the fleeting desires of the isolated self as the only legitimate source of value. Questions of ‘lifestyle’... come to occupy the place once inhabited by moral convictions and intellectual principles. For the postmodernist, then, ‘culture is no longer seen as a means of emancipation, but as one of the élitist obstacles to this’.... In order to realize the freedom that postmodernism promises--freedom understood as the emancipation from values that transcend the self--culture must be transformed into a field of arbitrary ‘options.’”
So are One Cosmos readers intolerant? You bet--if they agree with me, they are. Intolerant of the totolerantarianism that masquerades as “unconditional positive regard,” the horizontal license that mocks vertical liberty, and the tyrannical absolutism that passes itself off as moral and cultural relativism. The unity of mankind cannot be found in its superficial diversity, only in that unchanging end toward which its diversity is converging. Mankind is one because the transcendent Truth to which human beings have unique access is One. Leftism in any form whatsoever proceeds in the opposite, descending direction: E Unum Pluribus, out of One, many. Gravity takes care of the rest.
I apologize for quoting all of this material instead of condensing it into a summary. However, in this case, I thought it best to let Bob speak for himself before I addressed what he said. This way, no one can accuse me of misrepresenting him. I’ve allowed him to represent himself with his customarily sparkling and learned prose.
It’s reassuring that Bob says he doesn’t claim to “possess objective truth,” because one reading his blog could readily come to just the opposite conclusion—that he and those who are an accepted part of the OC community are absolutely convinced not only that there are absolute truths but also that they know precisely what they are about politics, spirituality, economics, and everything else worth discussing and are rightfully and scornfully “intolerant” of anyone or anything that contradicts them. And, of course, two of the absolute truths that they possess are that I’m a tyrannical and totalitarian,” “pseudo-thinking,” amoral and immoral leftist, and that leftism is one of the great scourges of the Earth. It’s refreshing to hear Bob imply that he’s not absolutely certain that this is true. He IS implying this, is he not? If not, then doesn’t his disclaimer ring hollow?
For the record, I share Bob’s belief in the existence of objective truth and his desire to be aligned with it. Nowhere have I suggested otherwise. He might realize this if he responded to what I’ve actually posted here and on his blog instead of critiquing his simplistic idea of me as a stereotypical leftist and distorting everything I say through that warped interpretation. What I HAVE suggested is that truth is not to be found solely at one pole of the political spectrum but at all across the spectrum—left, right, and center. All bands of the spectrum have true and important things to tell us about ourselves and our society and culture, and we would be remiss or worse if we didn’t take them all into account and weave them all together into the best approximation of absolute truth of which we’re humanly capable.
For instance, socialists are correct in arguing that unadulterated capitalism engenders exploitation and obscenely unjust distributions of wealth and power that create widespread and egregious poverty and suffering. Capitalists are correct in arguing that unadulterated socialism has traditionally resulted in totalitarian states that suppress our spiritual need for transcendence, our psychological need for development and expression of our uniquely individual qualities and capacities, and the economic need for efficient rendering of reliable services and the efficient production of quality goods at affordable prices. The ideological center is correct that we need to somehow optimally meld capitalism with socialism in a manner that provides all of us with the best opportunity to avoid needless suffering and to pursue true happiness.
Another example of truth coming from all bands of the ideological spectrum concerns the understanding of the causes of social problems and their solutions. People on the left tend to blame poverty, crime, and other social problems on “the system” and strive to solve these problems by throwing more tax money at the system. People on the right tend to blame these social problems on individuals and focus on severely punishing crime and removing what they perceive as the “big government” economic and social disincentives to developing personal responsibility and initiative. People in the center intuitively understand that these problems result from interacting systemic AND individual factors and that we need to find ways to foster individual responsibility and initiative AND have a social system in place, supported by federal, state, and local tax dollars as well as by private charities, that encourages and empowers people to grow in this regard.
Thus, when I wrote that my perspective is “fluidly transforming into something that increasingly draws from all aspects of the political spectrum,” I was NOT saying that I don’t believe in objective or transcendent truths. I was saying that I’m more willing to look all over for them and more able to find elements of them everywhere I look, including the political right. As Ken Wilber says, no one is smart enough to be completely right or wrong. Everyone has a piece of the truth, and our task as human beings seeking truth is to open our minds and hearts to finding it everywhere it exists. Contrary to what Bob says, this doesn’t mean that I’m simply latching on to whatever people happen to fashionably believe at the moment, and that as fashion changes, so will my beliefs because they have no grounding in “anything permanent or transcendent.”
These are some of the “transcendent” truths I hold as self-evident:
(1) We are all instantiations or manifestations of a divine Ultimate Reality called different things by different people and different religions.
(2) Our foremost purpose is to be happy in the Aristotelian sense of fulfilling our highest human and personal potential.
(3) Our highest moral potential is to love, honor, and respect everyone as instantiations or manifestations of the divine, and to do our reasonable best to foster their “pursuit of happiness.” We may disagree on the particulars of our “reasonable best,” but we are not fulfilling our moral potential when we mock, ridicule, demean, and devalue, much less hate, those who disagree with us or even do harm to us. As the Bible says, we may hate the sin, but we should endeavor to love and go on loving the sinner. This, aside from what Carl Rogers may have meant, is what I mean by according every human being “unconditional positive regard.”
Frankly I was rather surprised that Bob--a clinical psychologist who says he believes in absolute, objective truths such as the “transcendent unity of mankind,” specializes in “the treatment of psychological barriers to spiritual growth,” and sub-specializes in transpersonal psychology—would condemn my embrace of “unconditional positive regard—with such sneering vehemence, calling it “sinister,” “totalitarian,” and “tyrannical.” But what was really shocking was his insistence that it is perhaps only an infant who is worthy of such regard and that people intrinsically have no value but must earn it, presumably by believing and acting the way Bob thinks they should believe and act and by not, under any circumstances, judging by the obvious contempt for Islam and leftism that pervades his blog, being Muslim or leftist. It’s ironic that Bob, who repeatedly stresses in his blog the importance of sound intellectual discernment and distinctions seems unable to distinguish between human beings, who are intrinsically worthy of our unconditional love and respect, and the things they believe and do, which are not. I agree with Bob that we should emphatically NOT positively regard such actions as casting out “barren” women, executing women for adultery, making the legal testimony of one man equal to that of two women, forcing little girls to undergo ritual circumcision, perpetrating slavery, and suicide bombing, but I disagree with his apparent conviction that should hate the “sinner” along with the “sin.” I’m very surprised that Bob, who appears to be Christian, would disagree.
Yet, at this point, I guess I shouldn’t be terribly surprised at anything Bob says and does, unless he were to suddenly admit that he was wrong about something or that there is actually merit in anything I’ve said. I won’t hold my breath waiting for such a surprise.
10 Sunday Reads - My easy like Sunday morning train reads: • • Bust Your Phone Again? These Teens Are Here to Help—For a Price (Wall Street Journal) see also The iPhone on...
2 hours ago