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Some links, some rambling
I’ll be away for a week or so. I’ll be out of Yorkshire for some of that time, but it might be alright anyway.
Acceptance is a form of moral degeneration
One of the often repeated but seldom considered ethical maxims of our shallow age is the idea that tolerance is a good start but that acceptance is what we really need. This article in Psychology Today epitomises the tone and depth of the usual treatment. It looks vaguely academic, but is really just an orderly presentation of the prevailing middle-class ethos without any real justification.
The idea that tolerance is a good start but that acceptance is better is bullshit.
The idea is that moving from tolerance to acceptance is a good idea because you move from begrudgingly saying ‘I can live with X’ to wholeheartedly saying ‘X is OK’. In other words you’ve moved from a world in which, to use an obviously relevant historical example, you say ‘Obviously Catholicism is wrong, but I think things will go better if we let them be wrong’ to one in which you say something like ‘For a Catholic, Catholicism is true; and that’s the important bit’. This is taken to be more morally sophisticated because it is more empathetic.
It isn’t morally sophisticated. It’s an infantile mistaking of mushy warm-heartedness for goodness. It replaces a notion of truth grounded in the world with one grounded in the desires of the self. If you’re going to do that, then you might as well grind morality - along with philosophy, art, and science – into a fine paste, flush it down the toilet, buy a lifetime’s supply of heroin, and so quickly replace all your desires with a single new one that you are extremely well placed to satisfy.
No Catholic worth the name thinks Catholicism is true just because it’s true to them, no genuine feminist thinks women deserve equal rights just because she believes that they do, and no true Yorkshireman thinks that it is the power of his conviction that makes Yorkshire the greatest place on Earth. All of these people, and all people, believe that their ways of life are grounded in objective reality, not in their selves.
Choose the ideology you despise most in the world. Admit that at least some of its adherents really believe that it is objectively true. In doing so, you have already transcended acceptance; for if acceptance were to admit to the existence of objective truth, then its logic would collapse entirely. Acceptance is not a virtue. It is a cowardice that refuses to even acknowledge the importance of morality.
Tolerance is better. It does not deny the existence of objective reality. It is quite happy admit that a person might be wrong about something important to them; but does not assume that just because another person is wrong, you should have the right or ability to correct them. It knows that assuming unlimited power to correct the errors of others leads only to atrocities. Tolerance is not some easy first step. Real tolerance, the type that consists of more than just repeating whatever beige pieties the clerical caste are churning out this week, requires discipline and a willingness to sacrifice part of your own power over the world. It was the hard-won fruit of the Wars of Religion. It is an old soldier’s virtue, one for the scarred and the hardened.
Tolerance, unlike acceptance, is good. It is not inherently a moral degeneration. Unfortunately, though, it became one when, an iteration of secularism ago, it was elevated to the top of society. That is not its place. It is supposed to be the soldier and never the king. Tolerance gets its authority from a greater virtue, humility; for at the root of toleration is the acknowledgement that it might be me who is in error after all. Locke, these days misused by his friends and scorned by enemies who haven’t read him, was plain about that on the very first page of his Letter: ‘Whosoever will list himself under the banner of Christ, must, in the first place and above all things, make war upon his own lusts and vices’. Do not be too distracted by the Christian language. The point is general. It applies to anyone who wishes to be on the side of good, simply because being good is not easy for humans. That is a hard truth about us though; so, as life got comfortable, we conveniently forgot it. We laid aside first humility, the king who wears rags, and then tolerance, the old soldier slow to draw his sword. Instead, we have acceptance, a trendy therapist we pay well to tell us that we’re all OK just the way we are.
Of the moment
The philosophers behind the texts by Bharath Vallabha: ‘It was assumed classical philosophical education could be packaged into syllabi and produced for mass consumption. The culture wars in academic philosophy, indistinguishable from the culture wars on social media, are the inevitable result.’
Walking the world by Chris Arnade. A recent trip took him through Yorkshire. Here (possibly subscriber only) are his reflections on a Weatherspoons in Huddersfield: ‘There are more outwardly broken people per square foot in the Cherry Tree than almost anywhere I’ve been in the world. Drug dealers, alcoholics (functioning and not), mentally and physically disabled, the very poor, and the very lonely. One could come here and turn it into a scene straight from a John Waters movie. With the regulars as things to be gawked at, mocked, pitied, or all three’. Chris never gawks, though, wherever he goes. He listens to people, then relays back what he hears and sees.
Where are all the workers? by Jeff Haanen: ‘Yet the pandemic took a yellow highlighter over growing economic inequality and held the truth up to the masses. You can go home, work from a laptop with a latte on your desk, and still pull down $100,000 per year? And here we are either fired or made into “heroes” so we can keep this whole system running while making $11 per hour and putting ourselves at risk of a killer disease? Nah, I don’t think so’. I disagree with his sunny conclusions, but it’s a good, thoughtful piece.
Is effective altruism effective? by Curtis Yarvin: ‘Why do all these lovely ideas keep turning into mountains of skulls?’
GM vs. RR, Round 2: Phatphobia by Guttermouth: ‘Here’s where it gets scary: history (pretty fucking recent history included) has shown us that you can get people to ignore objective reality more or less indefinitely as long as you vigorously enforce the dominant subjective view. People will use the natural mechanisms of cognitive dissonance to patch together a narrative that gets them through it: sacrificing children makes the sun come up, face masks stop a virus, standing and sitting change your risk profile for aerosolized particles, all of this makes sense because I observe everyone else around me doing it, and consensus is usually correct or at least a very safe bet.’
Echoing down the years
We do not have to understand new things, but by dint of patience, effort and method to come to understand with our whole self the truths which are evident.
Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace
Those who serve rulers today say ‘I am able to open up new farmland and fill the granaries for my ruler’. Those who are called ‘good ministers’ today are those who were called ‘thieves of the people’ in ancient times.
Mengzi, Bryan W Van Norden translation