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January 12, 2008

In Praise of Prejudice

The Necessity of Preconceived Ideas
Theodore Dalrymple – ISBN - 9781594032028

“Americans are presently longing for high moral standards and the security they bestow, but our love affair with freedom and individualism gets in the way. We are unwilling or unable to see that such standards require a mentality that accepts and derives comfort from iron-clad rules that make no sense, and explanations like ‘just because.’”
Florence King

Right on . . . but explicative of many things which seem to “make no sense” is Dalrymple’s new treatise in which he delivers a brilliant, provocative tome-- a must read for everyone. Re-read and reflect, as well!

This manuscript is the epitome of reason and debate, though he leaves almost no room for the latter. He simply states his positions, demonstrates that they are true, and quietly defies anyone to logically refute them. He observes that discrimination was once a word associated with aestheticism, morality and pedagogy. The most important task of educators in times past was the quest to instill the ability to rationally discriminate. Now both discrimination and prejudice are pejorative terms: despicable, wicked and intolerable. Reason doesn’t enter the equation.

He uses the unstated logic of the hippies (something oxymoronic about that—maybe it’s just moronic) that since nothing from the past matters, and morality is individually decided, if it feels good, do it! He makes the case that this position was conceived in the 17th century by Descartes, nurtured for 200 years by the intelligentsia of Europe, enhanced (if unintentionally) by such luminaries as J.S. Mill, and later A.N. Whitehead, mid-wifed and delivered by the 60’s generation into our present, full blown Cartesian culture of radical individualism. More recently, these attitudes have been passed along, intentionally and illogically, by authors such as James Baldwin, and atheistic, scientific authoritarians like Peter Singer and Richard Dawkins, who often lace their prose with moral indignation and challenge the God--that would be the one they refuse to acknowledge--as capricious, arbitrary, unjust, bad-tempered and unreasonable.

“The popularity of the Cartesian method is not the consequence of a desire to remove metaphysical doubt and find certainty, but precisely the opposite: to cast doubt on everything, and thereby increase the scope of personal license by destroying in advance any philosophical basis for the limitation of our own appetites. . . . The radical skeptic, nowadays at least, is in search not so much of truth, as of liberty—that is to say, of liberty conceived of the largest field imaginable for the satisfaction of his whims.”

One of the great mistakes of contemporary social thought has been that the environment into which children are born, material & economic, is considered most important, while deprivation, moral squalor and emotional instability are attributed to material poverty alone. Indeed, if one is morally required to jettison nonsense from the past, he is then required to support the concept that nothing ought to be conveyed to one’s progeny. We thereby vest in children authority over their lives, and a child constantly catered to learns that life is to be ruled by his preferences and his prejudices which are in turn harmful to him and society.

He relates, anecdotally, having recently attended a comedy from the 50’s in which a middleclass male impregnated a working class female, whose father demanded justice. Justice/responsibility was accepted. He married the woman. The audience was consumed by laughter at the archaic suggestion that conception of a child created an obligation for the father, thus demonstrating that while we may rid society of a particular prejudice regarding a given question, it is impossible to have no prejudice.

It can be altered but never eliminated, so the relevant question is whether we are better off with the new than the old prejudice. No one seems to inquire any more, as motion/change is equated with progress. Indeed, the fact that prejudice is involved is usually denied.

Burke observed that the only thing necessary for evil triumph is for good men to do nothing. The idea was not that all men would become evil; rather, that the evil ones dominate the rest. Dalrymple interjects that Burke “might have added that evil would triumph if men ceased to believe in the distinction between good and evil,” then posits two parallel, opposing, syllogisms:
• All prejudice is wrong.
• The distinction between good and evil can be based only upon prejudice.
Therefore, distinguishing between good and evil is wrong.
• The distinction between good and evil is both inevitable and necessary for the exercise of virtue.
• The distinction between good and evil can be based only upon prejudice.
Therefore prejudice is necessary for the exercise of virtue.

Indeed . . . prejudice is necessary for the maintenance of elementary decency. It takes judgment to know which prejudice should be maintained and which abandoned. Prejudices, like friendships, should be kept in good repair; they are what give men character and hold them together. We cannot be without them.

At last he demonstrates how unguided, a-historic, radical individualism is paradoxical in that it begins as a search for total individualism yet ultimately defers to increased governmental power over individuals as it becomes the sole arbiter of what is acceptable and legal. Having eliminated history, family, church, social organizations, and culturally prescribed customs. there is no other authority to consult.

It isn’t reasonable, or even possible, to make everything up, daily, along the path of life. Radical individualism results in an omnipotent totalitarian government by eliminating logical and reasoned individual choice, which in turn determines the nature of culture.

Posted by respeto at January 12, 2008 2:40 PM