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In Defense of Stupidity

Jul

27

by

krauthammerKrauthammer: Down with Thinking

BY ALLAN UTHMAN

Last month in Time, Charles Krauthammer told the world that he has had enough of people who have doubt. Apparently outraged that Senator Chuck Schumer would suggest that a judge’s religious conviction might interfere with his ability to uphold the law, Krauthammer wrote a poorly reasoned, poorly written column titled “A Defense of Certainty.”

While it is not a ‘good’ column, it may go down in the annals of history as the most logically flawed statement of his long and dubious career. His very first assertion of fact is patently, lamentably untrue:

The new wave is fashionable doubt. Doubt is in. Certainty is out.

Where exactly was Krauthammer when he wrote this, and how much is the rent? Because I’m interested in moving there, since the country I live in has never been so pissed off at doubters, not in my lifetime. Since the 9/11 attacks, expressions of doubt regarding the righteousness of America’s policies are subject to irrational allegations of “America-hating” or even allegiance with terrorists. Even the simple reportage of facts that reflect poorly on the Bush administration is considered suspicious, even treasonous by right wingers like Krauthammer.

He goes on:

And dare you have any “deeply held views”–a transparent euphemism for religiously grounded views–especially regarding abortion, watch out for Schumer and other Democrats on the Judiciary Committee. They might well declare you disqualified for the bench.

This is true. When Schumer says “deeply held views,” we all know what he’s talking about. The thing is, if your beliefs are based on an inherently irrational premise—the existence of a god who not only created everything, but has specific instructions for our daily behavior—without any supporting evidence, then your duty as a Supreme Court justice to treat the constitution as sacred, especially when it comes into conflict with your interpretation of your god’s word, would seem to be compromised. It is not necessary that you be religious to think abortion is wrong, but if you base any judicial decision on the belief that “that’s what God would want,” you shouldn’t be a Supreme Court Justice.

But Krauthammer thinks I’m out of my mind:

The Op-Ed pages are filled with jeremiads about believers–principally evangelical Christians and traditional Catholics–bent on turning the U.S. into a theocracy. Now I am not much of a believer, but there is something deeply wrong–indeed, deeply un-American–about fearing people simply because they believe.

We don’t fear them because they believe, Charles; we fear them because they actually are bent on turning the U.S. into a theocracy. Antonin Scalia, our probable next Chief Justice, says our government derives its authority and its laws from God, and he is not alone by a long shot. But this is demonstrably untrue. Only 2 of 10 commandments even parallel current law, and these are the easy ones, killing and stealing, which have always been illegal everywhere.

If the Bible is the ultimate source of truth, why not just get rid of the constitution, which doesn’t even mention God, and enforce biblical law? If you were a true believer, of course this would seem like a good idea. So fearing people, simply because they believe, is perfectly logical for those who don’t.

Now Krauthammer unwittingly displays the gaping flaw in the view he is presenting, which is shared by so many:

It seems perfectly O.K. for secularists to impose their secular views on America, such as, say, legalized abortion or gay marriage. But when someone takes the contrary view, all of a sudden he is trying to impose his view on you. [Emphasis added]

This is really kind of hilarious. Without even realizing it, Krauthammer displays his own prodigious bias by unironically accusing secularists of “imposing” their views, while decrying secularists who accuse Christians of doing the same thing—in a single sentence. Since he is clearly equating these acts, it must work one way or the other: Either we are imposing on them and vice versa, or neither are doing so. But Krauthammer has his cake and eats it too with this sentence; we are imposing on them, while the suggestion that they are imposing on us is just knee-jerk liberal silliness. The other possibility is that he is just a bad writer, and doesn’t get that you can’t use “impose” to mean two different things in parallel clauses a single sentence.

But he is even wrong if we forgive his poor diction, and read his sentence as he probably meant it—that both secular and Christian advocates are essentially doing the same thing. Here’s the difference: When liberals push for legal abortion, assisted suicide, and gay marriage, they are not imposing their views upon any individual; they are, in fact, encouraging every individual to make his or her own decision. Nobody has ever suggested that anyone should be forced to have an abortion, or to die because they’re ill. Nobody is pushing for same-sex marriage to be mandatory. However, when Christians push for banning abortion, or assisted suicide, or gay marriage, they are indeed imposing their views upon specific individuals, telling them how to live, making moral and ethical choices for them.

It is an indisputable and extremely significant difference. Fundamentalist Christians equate liberal advocacy with their own efforts, but a real liberal equivalent would be protesting outside churches, or demanding that religious programming be banned from the airwaves because it might infect innocent secular children. This might be a good idea, but it isn’t on anybody’s agenda. But Krauthammer thinks he knows the secular agenda better than secularist themselves:

What nonsense. The campaign against certainty is merely the philosophical veneer for an attempt to politically marginalize and intellectually disenfranchise believers. Instead of arguing the merits of any issue, secularists are trying to win the argument by default on the grounds that the other side displays unhealthy certainty or, even worse, unseemly religiosity.

Actually, people who believe, doubtlessly, in things like angels, heaven, Noah’s ark, talking snakes, and giants, with no rational basis, no evidence, and a palpable disdain for empirical data marginalize themselves. Remember the “Heaven’s Gate” cult, the ones with the Air Jordans who all castrated and killed themselves because they thought they were going to wake up on a comet? When people made fun of them, were they being unfairly marginalized? No. They were just plain silly, because there was no logic or reason behind their beliefs. They’d just been talked into it, and anyone that gullible deserves to be ridiculed, or at least ignored. Well, the same is true of Christians, however many of them there are. “That’s what they told me” is simply not a respectable justification to believe something so strongly that you think others should be made to conform.

Absolute certainty is indeed unhealthy. This bit of wisdom can be traced back to Socrates, at least 500 years before the bible. Socrates determined that he was wiser than his fellow citizens because he at least knew how ignorant he was, whereas they did not.  “Socratic ignorance” is essential to mental evolution, and anathema to rigid, closed minds. The wise person never closes the book on right and wrong, because he always keeps in mind that he could be, even probably is, wrong about something. This ‘relativism’ is unacceptable to true believers, who need things to be simple, and instinctively resent science and academia for showing the world to be the incredibly complex place that it is.

Krauthammer may not be ‘much of a believer,’ as he puts it, but he certainly resents we who would question those who are:

Why this panic about certainty and people who display it? It is not just, as conventional wisdom has it, that liberals think the last election was lost because of a bloc of benighted Evangelicals. It is because we are almost four years from 9/11 and four years of moral certainty, and firm belief is about all that secular liberalism can tolerate.

Do you remember 9/11? How you felt? The moral clarity of that day and the days thereafter?

What an ass. Of course we remember 9/11, but moral clarity? I don’t know—maybe I missed it, but did anyone else notice “4 years of moral certainty?” Where the hell was that going on? What I saw was four years of division, deception, protest, and fear. And I haven’t noticed any reduction in any of those lately. But Krauthammer is fucking nostalgic for 9/11, as many of his beloved “certain” folk are—it was their shining moment, when most Americans were so freaked out that they would have grabbed onto the pant leg of any moron who claimed he could protect us. The situation would have made Joey Buttafuoco look like a hero: “President Buttafuoco didn’t piss his pants today, reinforcing bipartisan confidence in his leadership and spurring his approval ratings to a new record high…”

Even then, many had the presence of mind to realize that Bush wasn’t handling the crisis well at all. But that’s an inconvenient detail to Krauthammer, because it gets in the way of his theme. So he just dispenses with the many millions of people who weren’t cheering on the prospect of endless war, indefinite detention without charge of legal representation, and a whole new federal department devoted to reading their e-mail. That’s the thing about loving certainty; those who disagree simply disappear in service to Krauthammer’s need for clean lines. They don’t exist, because their existence invalidates his argument that doubt and complex, dualistic thinking are a recent trend. They interfere with his certainty, which is just the problem:

A few years of that near papal certainty is more than any self-respecting intelligentsia can take. The overwhelmingly secular intellectuals are embarrassed that they once nodded in assent to Morrow-like certainty, an affront to their self-flattering pose as skeptics.

It just keeps getting worse. “Near papal” is an obvious, nauseating kiss blown directly at Bush, but Krauthammer really shoots himself in the foot with “overwhelmingly secular intellectuals.” Here, this Harvard M.D. explicitly acknowledges that the vast majority of educated, thinking people reject religion, all the while arguing for the “moral clarity” of dumb shits. Often liberals are described this way—“over-educated,” “intellectual,” “academic,” “elite.” For religious conservatives, these are epithets, but seen objectively they are clearly compliments. Only a person who clings to ignorance could think otherwise, and they do cling, desperately. But Krauthammer really has no excuse. His class of anti-intellectualism has a much more craven motivation—the fear that people might figure out what the Neocons are really up to.

And by the way, if anything’s “self-flattering,” it’s the belief that you know exactly how the world is supposed to be, to the point that you feel comfortable dictating to others how they must behave and what rules they must abide. How is doubt self-flattering? Think about it; it makes no sense. Krauthammer thinks he knows everything—that is self-flattering.

He then attempts to channel the thoughts of the secular:

Enough. A new day, a new wave. Time again for nuance, doubt and the comforts of relativism.

“Comforts of relativism?” Krauthammer is so unfamiliar with what it’s like to be open-minded that he mischaracterizes it completely. What would be comforting is absolute, black-and-white, moral certitude, which is exactly why so many embrace it. What Krauthammer calls “moral clarity” is nothing more than a pacifier for the mind that refuses to grow up.

This column misses its mark completely. All Krauthammer has done is to show that he has no idea how liberals think at all. He thinks they want to tell the religious what to do, when really they just want them to get the hell off their backs. He thinks we all loved how Bush handled his term after 9/11, when it couldn’t be more obvious that many were totally disgusted with him. He thinks people are comforted by the fact that the world is a giant, complex mess of moral ambiguities. He just doesn’t get it at all.

And, to underscore his utter lack of understanding or intuition, he gives us this:

Nothing has more aroused and infuriated the sophisticates than the foreign policy of a religiously inclined President, based on the notion of a universal aspiration to freedom and of America’s need and duty to advance it around the world.

Yeah, that’s it, fuckwad; we hate freedom. “You know, it’s not the corruption, dirty tricks, selling out the people or outright lying that bothers me, it’s all that damn freedom! Who does Bush think he is, anyway, spreading liberty around the globe like that? It’s unseemly!”

This isn’t just stupid; it’s intentionally blind. Charles Krauthammer has been haunting the political opinion ghettos of America for a long time now, and he knows, or should, that people are pissed off at Bush for real reasons: obvious favor-trading, obsessive secrecy, a complete disregard for the environment, the poor, human rights, and a seeming inability to tell the truth, and on and on. The idea that his foreign policy is “based on the notion of a universal aspiration to freedom” is totally ridiculous, not even worth arguing about, and even Krauthammer knows it. “Spreading freedom” is the PR pitch, the girl in the bikini, and the Iraq war is the crappy, overpriced aftershave you can’t believe you bought once you bring it home.

Ultimately, Krauthammer has no point, because there is no way in hell an atheist or an agnostic could ever be nominated, let alone confirmed, to the Supreme Court or any federal appeals court for that matter. In fact, I’m pretty sure they’re all Christians or Jews. So really, what the hell is he talking about? Doubt reigns supreme? Please.

Far-right Republicans have managed to gain power over the entire federal government by lamenting their persecution at the hands of the all-powerful “liberal media,” and “Hollywood liberals” and “liberal academia.” But now that they’re in power, they can’t manage to shed their victim mentality. They have almost total control, but they’re still bitching about how liberals think they’re so smart. Well, liberals really aren’t that smart, but some at least are smart enough to examine their own convictions. If that makes you mad, it’s only because you aren’t.

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