Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Progressive Inquisition

I was at my local pub, and ended up in a delightful intellectual discussion with a guy at the bar.  It was a nice change from talking about guns, motorcycles, and sports (not that there's anything wrong with that) until he asked about my political leanings.  I said "libertarian-ish", and I watched him shut down.
I can't believe that you're one of those crazy right wingers.
And that was that.  All subtlety and nuance went out the window as his brain went into lockdown.  It was a disappointing but all too common Progressive reaction to heresy.

Image via Il Wik
Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake in Rome 414 years ago.  His heresy was that the Earth revolved around the Sun, and that the Sun was just a star like many others (as opposed to being the center of the Universe).  A century earlier or later and he probably would have survived the auto da fe but in 1600 the Catholic Church felt besieged by the Reformation as a fragmentation of doctrine spread across Christendom.

And so the Church Establishment decided that Bruno had to burn.  One of the Cardinals who passed sentence on him later went on to become Pope Paul V.  Bruno knew what was happening and replied to the council when they passed sentence: Perhaps you pronounce this sentence against me with greater fear than I receive it.

The Inquisition was born not from a sense of confidence, but of fear.  The Church's power was threatened, and that led to a disproportionate - and bloody - counter reformation.

We see this going on with today's Progressive intellectuals, as with my pub acquaintance.  This modern Inquisition springs from that same fear as Pope Paul V felt those centuries ago.  A world view is under assault, and increasingly severe punishments are mooted for deviations from Orthodoxy.

For example:
... today I want to highlight Naomi Orekses and Suzanne Goldenberg, who seem seem to like the idea of having climate “deniers” arrested under RICO act for thought collusion, all under the approving eye of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard.

Watch the video:  The RICO quote is about 1:12:30 in the video. Note that none of the panelists blinks an eye at the suggestion. They are all smiling after Oreskes finishes.

Translation: burn the heretics.  Their statements aren't just wrong, but are dangerous:
You heard right. RICO-style prosecution. For what tangible crime? Well, heresy.

(Has to be heresy. The amount of money I have extorted from my skepticism hovers between nada and nil.)

This put me in mind of a passage from from Dawn to Decadence by the indispensable Jacques Barzun (pp 271-272):
The smallest divergence from the absolute is grave error and wickedness. From there it is a short step to declaring war on the misbelievers. When faith is both intellectual and visceral, the overwhelming justification is that heresy imperils other souls. If the erring sheep will not recant, he or she becomes a source of error in others….[P]ersecution is a health measure that stops the spread of an infectious disease—all the more necessary that souls matter more than bodies.
Even though not all admit this, their actions prove that souls are more important than bodies. Thought crimes are in many senses worse than physical crimes; they excite more comment and are more difficult to be forgiven for.
And so back to my acquaintance at the pub:  I can't believe that you're one of those crazy right wingers.  His was a self-defense mechanism against heresy.  Jeff Cooper described how this was used by the Warsaw Pact: in To Ride, Shoot, and Tell The Truth he wrote about the heavily guarded border designed not to keep the West out, but to keep the Warsaw Pact populations in:
Behind the inner fence lies a belt of Zombie-land five kilometers deep. No one moves here except those whose duties demand it. The fields produce. Roads and roofs are mended. There is an occasional dilapidated vehicle in motion. At first glance it seems a viable countryside. On closer inspection, however, it is death-in-life. There are perhaps two lighted windows where there should be scores. Such villages in which there are lights are inside electric fences. The sickening effect grows as the sun sets. ...

With exquisite cruelty the very existence of The Line is concealed from those it contains. The east border of the 5 km Zombie zone is marked - from the east - simply as the border. Good slaves do not cross it, not because it is fearful to behold, but because they are good slaves. Bad slaves sometimes do cross it, but because they do not know what they face they usually die.
Good Progressives do not engage in Thought Crime.  They do not do this not because they fear being burned at the stake, but because they are good Intellectual Slaves.  It didn't use to be this way:
What it ironic is that one of the giants of progressive intellectualism showed them the error of their ways, more than half a century ago.  John Kenneth Galbraith was very possibly the last of the first rate progressive intellectuals.  His 1958 The Affluent Society is something that somehow I'd missed reading.  Dad told me to take whichever of his books I'd like, and I grabbed that one for the plane ride home.

Reading it, it's easy to see why it was so hugely influential.  It is clear, it is logically consistent, it progresses step by logical step towards its conclusion.  Much of it has turned out to be wrong in the last 50-odd years, but none of it is the weak beer offered up by today's progressives.
Giordano Bruno would not have been burned in 1550, because the Church did not feel threatened.  John Kenneth Galbraith was not burned fifty years ago, because the Intellectual Establishment did not feel threatened.  Unlike my acquaintance at the pub, intellectuals did not shut their brains down fifty years ago, because they felt that they had reason and logic on their side.

Nowadays, not so much.  And so the urge to suppress comes to the fore.

An alternate explanation is that today's Intellectual Establishment is simply lazy.  Unwilling to do the heavy lifting of logical reasoning, they take the easy path of suppression.  I don't think that this is right.  The Establishment does not appear to promote based on intellectual horsepower, but rather on compliance to the Approved™ canon of dogma.  Remember that the video was filmed at Harvard.  Certainly the typical Progressive Intellectual rarely displays - very likely because he cannot - what Galbraith packed into his book.  On the contrary, the reaction when challenged is to shame and ostracize.

I can't believe that you're one of those crazy right wingers.

What's funny is that I'm not a conservative.  But it doesn't matter, because I'm a heretic.
To make the distinction unmistakably clear: Civilization is the vital force in human history; culture is that inert mass of institutions and organizations which accumulate around and tend to drag down the advance of life; Civilization is Giordano Bruno facing death by fire; culture is the Cardinal Bellarmino, after ten years of inquisition, sending Bruno to the stake in the Campo di Fiori...
- Edward Abbey

To this day,the Catholic Church has come down on the side of culture, not civilization:
In 1942, Cardinal Giovanni Mercati, who discovered a number of lost documents relating to Bruno's trial, stated that the Church was perfectly justified in condemning him. On the 400th anniversary of Bruno's death, in 2000, Cardinal Angelo Sodano declared Bruno's death to be a "sad episode" but, despite his regret, he defended Bruno's prosecutors, maintaining that the Inquisitors "had the desire to serve freedom and promote the common good and did everything possible to save his life."
Today's Inquisitors like Naomi Orekses no doubt feel that they too are serving freedom and the preservation of life.
INFIDEL, n. In New York, one who does not believe in the Christian religion; in Constantinople, one who does. (See GIAOUR.) A kind of scoundrel imperfectly reverent of, and niggardly contributory to, divines, ecclesiastics, popes, parsons, canons, monks, mollahs, voodoos, presbyters, hierophants, prelates, obeah-men, abbes, nuns, missionaries, exhorters, deacons, friars, hadjis, high-priests, muezzins, brahmins, medicine-men, confessors, eminences, elders, primates, prebendaries, pilgrims, prophets, imaums, beneficiaries, clerks, vicars-choral, archbishops, bishops, abbots, priors, preachers, padres, abbotesses, caloyers, palmers, curates, patriarchs, bonezs, santons, beadsmen, canonesses, residentiaries, diocesans, deans, subdeans, rural deans, abdals, charm-sellers, archdeacons, hierarchs, class-leaders, incumbents, capitulars, sheiks, talapoins, postulants, scribes, gooroos, precentors, beadles, fakeers, sextons, reverences, revivalists, cenobites, perpetual curates, chaplains, mudjoes, readers, novices, vicars, pastors, rabbis, ulemas, lamas, sacristans, vergers, dervises, lectors, church wardens, cardinals, prioresses, suffragans, acolytes, rectors, cures, sophis, mutifs and pumpums.
- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary
Or of Ivy League credentialed Progressives.


Ratus said...

Thanks BP.

deadmandance said...

"Perhaps you pronounce this sentence against me with greater fear than I receive it."

Powerful stuff. I'm saving this one; have a couple liberal friends who I want to try and reach.

juvat said...

Bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, two outs, full count. Here's the pitch, Borepatch hits it out of the park!!!!

OMMAG said...


There is no person more afraid than a progressive forced to face a real fact, idea or opinion.

B said...

It's not laziness, but rather fear.

Fear that your opinion might somehow rub off on him...

Make him think...Undermine the tenets of his philosophy with facts and logic.

Best to stay away from "those" people....You never know what you might catch.

Chris said...

I love it when their heads go all 'splodey. As a card-carrying anarchist (no, really, I had business cards printed), I get that from both "sides". I've also become pretty good at figuring out what their hot buttons are, and alternating agreement with something they cherish and then ridiculing some other dogma baggage they carry.

Jester said...

As you have alluded to in previous posts the thing that I'm seeing of late is when each of their favored things (IE Obamacare) gets shown to how rotted it really is they change the subject and yell even louder. (Minimum wage laws anyone?)They are never defeated for long if at all, they just go in circles till a few years later they will be back at a even more new and even more improved version of Obamacare.. and when that blows up they will yell (I wager in 5 to 10 years) for another minimum wage hike. And so on and so forth.

OldAFSarge said...

You nailed it BP, this is the scenario that frightens me most.

Glen Filthie said...

It is the way the human animal rolls. We all feel we have the right to tell each other how to live - even libertarians. I have had them tell me I HAVE to "tolerate" things like the use of illegal drugs, mainstreaming homosexuality, polygamy because...personal rights and freedoms!!!! We can't have the lord's prayer in schools, or have kids pledge allegiance or salute their flag because that would infringe on their rights and freedoms - but they never say how.


If 'green' becomes the law of the land I will screw this land for all it's worth and probably do a lot better in that environment because stupid people will be running it. I will render unto Ceasar what is Ceasar's but I won't bow down to him - I will fleece him for every coin he has!

Morals, ethics and principles are good things to have, but if you are stupid they can be mighty dangerous.

Weetabix said...

Others: "What are your political leanings?"

Me (in my best Wayne's World voice): "Was it Dick Van Patten or Kierkegaard who said, 'If you label me, you negate me.'?"

(punctuation got a bit difficult there toward the end...)

Cap'n Jan said...

Just wow. Naomi Orekses, historian of science, should at least know what science IS (and is not), she clearly does not. Science is not consensus of 'the people'. It has nothing to do with what people 'believe'. It is a process of determining 'truth', as far as it can be determined through observation and experiment. Climate Science is playing with 'models', where many of the parameters are not even know, but 'approximated', based on nothing real.

As a modeler myself (performance, chip originally, server side software most recently), I like this quote from quite possibly the greatest mathematical mind that ever existed... including all of them. (Maybe not, but right this minute I think he is... But then there is Gauss, Bayes, Turing on other days...) ANYway, Von Neumann quote: "With four parameters I can fit an elephant, and with five I can make him wiggle his trunk." But the trick here is to know what the parameters represent and that they are correct, else you may end up with a bathtub full of colorful machine parts.

MY QUOTE. Q. How many parameters are in a climate model? A. All of them.


Fair Winds, Following Seas (yes, this is one of mine ;->),

Cap'n Jan
Not a historian of science
BUT I took a couple of semesters of the History of Science while in Kollage. From a physicist who also taught these classes. (Even B.S. degrees require some liberal arts credits. ;-> So why not make it count?)

Old NFO said...

If one doesn't 'toe the line', one WILL pay... sigh