Wednesday, April 01, 2015

The Self-Destructive Cycle of Self-Infantilization: We're All Babies Now!

Three articles, three separate sets of circumstances, the same problem. The problem is the self-infantilization of our culture, and it will lead to wide-spread and unsavory consequences.

At the National Review Online, Charles Cooke writes about the chilling effect of liberal emovitism in, "The New 'McCarthyism' Exists, but it Has Nothing to Do with Ted Cruz." He cites the case of a Purdue-based doctoral student and teacher named Fredrik deBoer who publicly lamented the state of his students, and thus the state of his teaching.

Fredrik deBoer took to Twitter to rail bitterly against the toxic climate that the advocates of “tolerance” have created on his campus. “Students,” deBoer wrote, are “very quick learners,” and they have realized that they can use our present hysteria to advance their interests. Indeed, far from helping to educate, deBoer added, our current penchant for hyper-sensitivity is having a deleterious effect on the quality of the critical training he is expected to provide. “If you question even the most obviously dishonest and self-interested invocation of trauma/triggering/etc,” deBoer lamented, “you will be criticized severely.”

And then a liberal friend of deBoer's adds her two-cents on the situation.

Writing anonymously on the “White Hot Harlots” blog, a “passionate leftist” friend of deBoer’s painted a disquietingly similar picture. “Saying anything that goes against liberal orthodoxy,” he declared, “is now grounds for a firin’.” Indeed, “even if you make a reasonable and respectful case, if you so much as cause your liberal students a second of complication or doubt you face the risk of demonstrations, public call-outs, and severe professional consequences.”... in fact. “I would not get fired for pissing off a Republican,” our anonymous friend insists. Rather, “liberal students scare the s*** out of me.

These teachers at public universities have come face-to-face with the intellectual climate created by secular progressivism - a climate of reason, free-exchange, and pursuit of the truth has been replaced with violent and threatening displays of emotion.

At the magazine, First Things, Mark Bauerlein writes about how it has become difficult to impossible to interact with this kind of emotivism in, "The Rhetoric of Anti-Discrimination." His article focuses on a briefing by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights titled, "Examining workplace Discrimination Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Americans." In it he quotes the transgendered representative at length making it obvious that the only argument offered up in favor of their position was an appeal to emotion. Bauerlein concludes,

What argument can be made against this cry of the heart? Who wants to stand up and deny suffering? The preceding person on the panel spoke against the ENDA revisions by noting mostly the costly and unreasonable litigation that will follow, but you can see how feeble that objection is relative to the pain of these vulnerable souls. So some businesses have to pay a few dollars more—isn’t that worth the healing that will go with it?

Given our current cultural climate and the values of equality, diversity, tolerance, and non-judgmentalism, I see no effective answer to these emotional pleas. There are principled answers, yes, but none that pass muster in public settings.

In other words, we have come to a point in our cultural discourse where reason and argumentation are no longer convincing in the public square because they have been effectively replaced with appeals to emotion. What can you say to disagree with how a person feels?

And then thirdly, a now well-known article that was published in the New York Times authored by Judith Shulevitz titled, "In College and Hiding From Scary Ideas." In it, she details a campus group's reaction to a debate about what is allegedly the "rape culture" on campus. This woman's group effectively quashed the debate and erected a safe room where people could go if they heard rhetoric that "invalidated their experience." The organizer of the safe room remarked that she was hurt by hearing people disagree with her deeply held and sincere beliefs. The author analyzes the situation well and cites what I think is a perfect moniker for this trend - "self-infantilization." She writes,

Still, it’s disconcerting to see students clamor for a kind of intrusive supervision that would have outraged students a few generations ago. But those were hardier souls. Now students’ needs are anticipated by a small army of service professionals — mental health counselors, student-life deans and the like. This new bureaucracy may be exacerbating students’ “self-infantilization,” as Judith Shapiro, the former president of Barnard College, suggested in an essay for Inside Higher Ed.

But why are students so eager to self-infantilize? Their parents should probably share the blame. Eric Posner, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, wrote on Slate last month that although universities cosset students more than they used to, that’s what they have to do, because today’s undergraduates are more puerile than their predecessors. “Perhaps overprogrammed children engineered to the specifications of college admissions offices no longer experience the risks and challenges that breed maturity,” he wrote. But “if college students are children, then they should be protected like children.”

Examples of this new cultural reality could be produced ad-infinitum, ad-nauseam from the arenas of academia, government, politics, entertainment, and the media. For a long time people have lamented the rise of the power of the appeal to emotion in politics, and certainly that is a common problem, but this is different. This is systemic. This is engendered by, and I would say made necessary by, secular progressivism, and today the culture-shapers have themselves been shaped by this brand of emotivism and lack the intellectual tools to make any other appeal.

So, how did this happen?

For my thesis in graduate school I chose to read the collected works of Richard Rorty who was at the time the leading American philosophical proponent of what was then called postmodernism. People still use the term, but is has been made gauche by those who are its disciples. (That happens when an idea is so bad that its disciples refuse to give up the worldview but deny the title, as if changing the label will remove the stain.) Postmodernism had its roots in a philosophy that proclaimed suspicion of all truth claims. Rorty once infamously declared that "truth is what my colleagues let me get away with." It was argued that appeals to truth failed and did not do justice to how various cultures viewed the world and taught their children how to live. Then postmodernism took another step and went from suspicion of truth to the belief that any appeal to truth was an act of power over another human being, and thus our modern notion of "tolerance" was born. To be tolerant, in this new postmodern world, was to avoid making truth claims or judgment claims of others, and those who did were labeled intolerant.

This is a terrible view of tolerance. In reality, tolerance is reserved for those with whom you disagree. In this new view of tolerance, it is reserved only for those who agree with you, and those who disagree are labeled as intolerant. And being labeled intolerant is now the worst thing that can be said about  a person.  It is a terrible definition, but it has won the day. The catch with this view is that it was destined for self-destruction the day it became cultural cache. It rejects reality, grounds any concept of "truth," "good," or "right," in personal preferences, and raises emotion to the highest level of public discourse. As a result we have, in more ways than one, lost our minds and replaced them with our tear ducts. And moving forward, all we need is the next set of whiners to make their case and make it louder than the last group of whiners, and the definition of what is socially acceptable will change. The whole worldview is a self-collapsing cycle of public protests and threats of litigation.

Postmodernism ironically reduced itself to appeals to power, and over time has further reduced itself to appeals to emotional power. When truth beyond your preferences is gone, the only way to get your way is to exercise power over other human beings. Argument is gone, power reigns. And this is the very core of the secular progressive worldview, which is why I argue that the reduction of all human interaction to power and emotion is a necessary consequence of this way of seeing things. This also explains why secular progressives accuse everyone else of making power-plays to get their way - it is projection pure and simple. They have no argument, by virtue of their postmodern worldview, so they sling emotion and hope it sticks.

For the young mind, the result is exactly what our three authors noted. The uniquely human capacity for reason and reflection is diminished in favor of emotion coddling. More and more, older children are unable to make the crucial distinction between what reality really is like (for example, other smart people disagree with you and deserve to be heard) from their sincerely held beliefs (leading to climate where dissenting points of view are labeled as "hate" or "intolerance").

This leads to what is now the new fundamentalism. More on that later.

For now it will suffice to say that Christians ought to have nothing to do with this rampant self-infantilization. Christians are people of truth, not propaganda. Christians are people of self-sacrificing love, not coercive hate. Christians are unafraid of other points of view, for all truth is God's truth. Christians are people who are being built and matured in the image of Christ and in the kingdom of God, not letting themselves get stuck in the early Freudian stages of infant development.

In addition, Christians are people of hope. There really is a powerful and redemptive truth out there than can change a life and free it from its childish shackles.

1 comment:

Paul Coleman said...

Well said. I have observed these things even outside of the academic circle.