Monday, January 26, 2009
The Explanatory Vacuum: Spencer and Auster
Both Lawrence Auster and Robert Spencer are still penning editorial remarks that reflect their apparent continuing inability to move beyond the explanatory vacuum with reference to answering, or at least adequately framing, the question:
Why is the West currently so entrenched in an irrational mode of denial in response to the metastasizing threat of a global revival of Islam?
The example from Spencer comes from a story yesterday about an honor killing in Atlanta, Georgia. His responses are in part to remarks made by a Georgia attorney for the defense, Alan Begner, strategically quoted by the Leftish-leaning news radio network, NPR—to wit:
Begner hopes the state doesn’t make this about Islam or ethnicity. This death could have happened, he says, in any culture, with any family.
"Here in Georgia, this is going to make me sound like a backwoods cracker, but we don’t have many Muslims," says Begner. "Not too much diversity down here, at least that I’m aware of."
Spencer is also responding in general to the deftly PC MC massaging of the story by NPR, as reflected, for example, in the attention they give to an Atlanta representative of the Muslim community who unsurprisingly hastens to point out that, according to NPR,
He says the killing has nothing to do with Islam, but that Rashid has little education and comes from a small village in Pakistan where tribal traditions are strong.
Spencer’s explanatory vacuum comes in at the start as reflected by his almost rhetorical questions that figure prominently in his presentation of this news story and by which he is framing this news story pedagogically for his readers:
Why does the mainstream media believe it necessary always to exonerate Islam from any responsibility for violence committed by Muslims in the name of Islam? Who decided that this must be done, and on what grounds, and why do they all fall into lockstep without question?
The first question can be answered by recourse to the hypothesis—grounded in massively observable facts—that the West has gone through a sea change in worldview over the past 60-odd years; that this worldview has become dominant and mainstream; and that this worldview for various complex, analyzable, and internally logical reasons, tends to exonerate Islam whenever pathologies are noticed to come out of any Islamic milieu (whether in the Muslim world or among Muslims in the West).
Spencer, however, seems to be asking his question with a kind of exasperated tonality whose exasperation derives, in great part, from a baffling, irksome absence of explanation. This absence reflects the explanatory vacuum. At times, Spencer has seemed to acknowledge this, in remarks that refer to the near-ubiquity of political correctness. But acknowledging the effects of PC MC—and expressing understandable exasperation with it—is not the same as recognizing the nature and dimensions of PC MC.
Spencer’s next questions quoted above are even more problematic: Who decided that this must be done, and on what grounds, and why do they all fall into lockstep without question?
The questions are misleading. They imply conscious, willful decisions to be stupid on a potentially suicidal (not to mention grand) scale. They also imply a small minority making the decisions and pulling the strings—for the alternatives would be to accuse the vast majority of such egregious stupidity, or to accuse that small minority of seditious evil motivated by ideology and/or greed and the lust for power.
In fact, the more reasonable explanation, the one that does not do injustice to the faith and trust in the West as fundamentally noetically healthy—which necessarily involves the qualities of free democracy and its corollary representativeness of the People—is the one that would preserve those qualities in its explanation and not build upon assumptions that they do not exist. Because of these qualities, then, there is no “Who” who “decides” to exert PC MC axioms from on high down upon the People, at least not in the sense of a machinating, dastardly cabal of “Elites” who consciously know what they are doing and rub their hands together like a Bond villain while doing it: There is, rather, the much more complex sociological phenomenon of a worldview that has come about through a sea change in consciousness throughout the West on every level of society and affecting every gradation of the political spectrum, whereby good values and virtues have become intimately bound up in a complex nexus with certain irrational axioms: some of these axioms are merely amusing, others are annoying, others may be noxious to a limited extent, while others still have the potential for massive harm to our societies. In the latter category is the axiomatic bundle of Multi-Culturalism.
Since I have analyzed this at great length in several long essays on this blog before, I will only remark on one pertinent feature of it here: It is not so much a pathology as it is an excess of health. Or, put another way, it is that particular, peculiar type of pathology that develops through an excess of health rather than mainly through a malignancy. The modern Gnostic movements of Communism, Nazism and Fascism as they flared up spectacularly in the 20th century, for example, were movements mainly of malignancy. PC MC, on the other hand, though deriving some of its substance from the darker currents of modern Gnosticism and its modern development of Leftism, has moved in certain significant respects beyond those darker currents into the sunshine of noetic health that is typical of Western civilization. In doing so, however, it has developed a dynamic that tends to favor certain feverish and irrational tendencies based upon taking good things too far. It has done so not in the pathological style of Utopianism, but in a much subtler more complex manner that combines a rational recognition of the imperfections of life in some respects with an irrational pursuit of ideals beyond the limitations of imperfection. As such, it is in many ways incoherent, yet its incoherence has remained sustainable, increasingly so, through the astounding progress of the modern West and the prosperity, security and freedoms that progress entails.
In sustaining this incoherence, there are limits of progressive expansion (as all empires sooner or later discover). The rude shocks of the challenge of a barbaric anti-civilization, Islam, is now putting an enormous strain on this systemic incoherence that, thus far, has worked. All systems tend to try to survive by continuing in a business-as-usual mode and tend to resist radical modifications. The PC MC system does so through the axioms which form the interlocking gears of that system’s mechanism, especially through its twin axiom that irrationally denigrates its own West while irrationally favoring the non-West—in latter times, predominantly represented by Islam if only because Muslims make the most noise and throw the most temper tantrums of any non-Western culture. The sociopolitico-cultural health behind this twin axiom involves the virtues of self-criticism and interest in, and concern for, outsiders. It is these healthy virtues that the twin axiom of the PC MC paradigm has taken to irrational excess, thus engendering a pathology.
When all this analysis is largely absent, the analyst who is otherwise rationally anti-Islam will have recourse only to an explanatory vacuum every time the world around him manifests that maddeningly common irrationality in the face of the problem of Islam. There are only three postures available to such analysts:
1) the non-position of incoherence
2) the veering off into conspiracy theory
3) a facile and relatively simplistic explanation that fails to account for the full complexity.
Spencer has managed ably and nimbly over the years to maintain the first. In the still inchoate Anti-Islam Movement community at large, one sees a discomfitting tendency toward the second, only salvaged by generous amounts of the former (which, being intrinsically incoherent, can accomodate admixture with any position, even with positions, or non-positions, that would logically dissolve it or contradict it).
As for Auster: in a recent essay he takes Spencer to task for a similar problem I have articulated above. However, Auster does so apparently from the same disadvantage of assuming an explanatory vacuum. Auster complains that once again, Spencer is complaining about how in the past, the West was rational about Islam, while now the West is suicidally irrational. Spencer, in the article Auster cites, adduces the great 19th-century British Prime Minister Gladstone, who in quotes provided by Spencer vividly and strongly condemns Islam. Spencer then goes on to understandably contrast Gladstone’s realism about Islam with the irrationality of today’s Western politicians.
Auster then asks:
How did this fatal European solicitude for Islam come about?
Unlike Spencer or the conspiracy theorists, Auster has apparently chosen what’s behind door #3:
While Spencer has nothing to say on the subject, the fact is that it came about through the settlement in Europe of millions of Muslim immigrants.
I.e., Auster has opted for a facile, relatively simplistic explanation that glosses over and thus inadequately assimilates many of the complexities.
His explanation suffers from the following flaws:
1) Even if the cultivation of massive Muslim immigration by Europe has in the ensuing decades engendered “this fatal European solicitude” toward Muslims, that explanation leaves unexplained why Europe engaged in that cultivation of massive Muslim immigration in the first place: for if Europeans in the years after WW2 (when such immigration policies began in earnest) were like they were in Gladstone’s era, they never would have countenanced such massive influxes of Muslims into Europe. So Auster’s explanation merely shifts the question down one notch; it does not answer it. The question becomes, why did Europe change since Gladstone’s time such that such massive waves of immigration over decades of time have been so readily countenanced? (This question, incidentally, will not be sufficiently answered by recourse to greed—viz., that Europeans needed cheap labor—for if the proper healthy noetic framework were in place in European sociopolitical culture, as it was in the 19th century, such economic considerations would have been trumped by the awareness of the dangers of allowing in such numbers of Muslims, or at the very least would have been far more vigorously contested and the opposing view much more broadly represented and not crippled by crypto-ostracization as “racist” and “Islamophobic” as it has been under the mainstream dominance of PC MC over the past few decades.)
2) Secondly, Auster’s explanation leaves bracketed out, and therefore unanswered, the broader problem of fatal Western solicitude to Muslims—a solicitude we see not only in Europe but also in North America, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as throughout the world where Western values and institutions have more or less established themselves. North America, Australia, and New Zealand have not had the same massive immigration policies and experience as has Europe—yet—and yet, they cultivate the same fatal solicitude. So obviously, Auster’s explanation is insufficient, and we are back to square one.
Auster’s aptly plaintive gripe against Spencer—that Spencer has nothing to say on the subject of this most pressing question of etiology—turns, in turn, on Auster. For, having something to say on the subject is hardly a remedy when that something turns out to beg the question, not answer it.