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Something Borrowed–The Epiphany

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So I was thinking, yesterday, that I know what I like, and it comes down to one thing:  I like historical periods that are on the edge of change.  I am less fond of historical periods that have tipped over into the Next Thing.

This is interesting, in a way, because in academia I chose to study one of the most stable periods in human history. 

If the High Middle Ages was anything at all, it was a time when a vast portion of the earth, all of Western Europe as we now know it, most of Eastern Europe as we now know it, England and Scotland and Ireland and Scandanavia, accepted a single and largely uncompromising idea of what a human being was and how he (or she) should be understood.

I don’t mean by this that there was no dissent in the Middle Ages, or no minorities with divergent ideas.

There were, of course, many instances of both.  If there hadn’t been, nothing would ever have changed.

And obviously a lot did.

But there’s a difference between “there’s some dissent out there” and “doubt and dissent have become part of the very fabric of society.”

In the first case, what authorities there are–and not necessarily the obvious political and religious ones–are confident in their judgments.  In the second, there’s a lot more humility, because the possibility is always before us that we may be wrong.

This is, I think, what is shared by the two more-or-less modern periods that most interest me:  British Victorian and American Fifties.

In both periods, there was a lot of outward display of assurance that was not really all there, but there was always a lot of consensus about the good and the way human beings should be treated in order to achieve it.

Shared moral assumptions were still in place, but not so rigidly that they created the kind of inflexible rules-based insanities that characterize the Reformation and the Counterreformation.

Everybody is secure enough to handle a few challenges here and there, but not so secure that they feel justified in trying to suppress those challenges.

This produces interesting and productive historial periods, but those periods are–almost by definition–unstable.  They cannot last, because they are what they are.

I suppose Robert is right, and all historical periods are in flux in some way, and doomed in the long run to be overturned for something else.

But some kinds of social structures last a very long time.  They last badly.  They develop little.  They’ll never cure polio or build the Sears Tower, but they limp along and their elites are comfortable.

The social structures of the West do not do this, at least in part because the foundational ideas of the West are not conducive to endless limping along.

Philosophy is not a futile exercise.  It tends to trickle down into consequences over time.

I also think the worst historical periods tend to be the periods just following the ones I like, when there are competing visions of the moral and the good, and no consensus in any meaningful terms, and everybody on every side of every question is trying to bully everybody else into adopting their own way.

Being a little unsure of your ground produces humility.  Being a lot unsure of your ground produces panic, and panic produces not only bullying but often something worse.

At the moment, what we’ve got is a three-pronged problem:  at one prong are the people Robert likes to call The Movement, and who mostly call themselves “Progressives,” who have a laundry list of often contradictory ideas about things like “tolerance” and “diversity” and “compassion” and “care”; at another prong are people who claim to be Conservatives and to champion Christian values, but who mostly have little or not idea of what Christianity was at any point before the one they’re living in, and therefore no idea how much they’re championing things that are neither Christian nor conservative; and at the third prong there are the people who man the vast and increasingly bureaucracies of the “helping” professions, whose goal is to impose and enforce a very narrowly defined definition of “normality” on everybody and everything, or else.

The existence of this last group in interesting in a number of ways.

Conservatives and libertarians tend to lump it in with The Movement, because it seems to share some of The Movement’s larger goals.

But the fact is, at core, the professionals are just as much opposed to the Movement as they are to the Conservatives.  They see the world in medical and therapeutic terms.  There is a proper way to behave, and if you don’t behave that way, you are sick.  They are therefore “forced” to intervene, if not for your own good, then for the good of “the children,” who are valuable mostly as a class of definitionally incompetent human beings.

The simple fact is, the professionals hate “diversity” of any kind, and they’re not willing to tolerate much.

They get their power by defining the normal and the deviant and imposing those definitions on anybody they come in contact with.

And we pay them to do it.

Their power is ever expanding, because they are not required to prove that their definitions of “normal” and “deviant” are something objectively true. 

They are automatically assumed to be practicing “science,” which in and of itself is all the justification they need. 

Anybody who protests the findings of “science” is automatically assumed to be stupid, uneducated, and probably Republican.

The trick is that there is very little about what they purvey that is actually science, or even in touch with reality.

Small boys who can’t sit still in class all day and focus on Social Studies and Arithmatic have “attention deficit disorder” or “attention deficit hyperactivity disorder,” a medical problem that requires medication, intervention, and often a vast array of “services” provided yet more helping professionals.

And it doesn’t matter that there is no objective criteria for diagnosing either of these “disorders,” or that practitioners have admitted as much.

The same goes for the newly expanded “autism spectrum disorders,” and the one I like best “oppositional defiant disorder.”

A rebellious teenager is no longer an example of youth’s rejection of the compromises of age, or even of a desperate desire to grow up sooner.

She’s a “patient” who needs “intervention” to “cure” her “disorder.”

I think one of the biggest mistakes people make in trying to analyzing the present state of society in the West is to assume that the professionals and the liberals are the same people, with the same goals, and the same assumptions.

There is certainly some overlap, and in both directions (liberals who do professional work while still thinking like liberals, professionals who do other kinds of work while still thinking like professionals), but I think the professionals represent something new under the sun.

And I think that this time, while the Liberals and the Conservatives are arguing about “diversity” and “inclusion,” the professionals are instituting–often as regulations and practices that have the force of law–something else altogether.


That was an odd post.

Written by janeh

April 25th, 2012 at 9:20 am

Posted in Uncategorized

7 Responses to 'Something Borrowed–The Epiphany'

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  1. I can’t for the life of me see those particular three prongs–at least not in the sense meant. To claim that the “helping” professions diverge from the Movement on the basis of “diversity” is–well, bluntly, not to use the word as the Movement (or the “progressives” if you must) actually use it.

    When a Movementist is in favor of “diversity” he’s talking about the things he doesn’t care about–a nice array of skin colors and private parts, and sex with anyone or anything. Try saying continence is generally a good thing or put in a good word about Israel and see just how far the self-proclaimed “tolerance” goes. Go to any place of worship, or none, and the Movementist backs you every inch of the way. Let your religion lead you to a conclusion they don’t fancy–say that husbands are heads of families, practicing homosexuals should not head the Muslim Youth League, nor atheists be accepted as priests–and watch just how fast they decide that what you have is not religion, but some sort of illness–for which, by an amazing coincidence, the “helping” professions offer a cure.

    It is not uncommon, as Northern Ireland and the Basque provinces have demonstrated, for a cause to have a political organization and a bunch of enforcers–but it’s a way of shifting blame: it’s not two causes.


    25 Apr 12 at 4:13 pm

  2. I looked up High Middle Ages in Wikipedia to check the dates.


    Rapidly increasing population and settlement of new lands does not suggest stability to me. Neither does the list of changes under technology.


    Perhaps Snow’s Two Cultures is showing again.


    25 Apr 12 at 5:19 pm

  3. Stable, though, the High Middle Ages certainly were.

    Not only did they present a system of fundamental ideas that had already persisted for centuries and that were pretty much never questioned by anybody–

    That God had created human beings in His image, that human beings had made the choice to disobey and therefore became subject to death and prone to sin, that Jesus Christ was god incarnate who had died on the Cross to reconcile God and man, that these things necessitated certain kinds of relationships among human beings and obligated every human being to live with his eternal salvation always in mind and to seek it by the practice of the virtues–

    All of this was so much taken for granted that you have to look into the corners to find any dissent at all, and such dissent was dismissed as satanic if it did rear its head.

    What’s more, even most of the dissent accepted the core and foundational ideas and all societies in the Europe of the Middle Ages was based on them.

    Can you find ANY such principles now–any that would be shared by liberals and conservatives, religious and secular, left and right, gay and straight?

    I’d say we live in a world where no such society-wide consensus on the nature of the human being and the purpose of her life exists.


    25 Apr 12 at 5:33 pm

  4. Oh, and something else.

    Societies with stable foundations and broad consensus on human nature and human purpose tend to be very creative and productive.

    Societies like ours tend to waste all their time arguing about things like “the meaning of equality” and not getting anything done.

    We came out of the Fifties and went to the Moon. We came out of the Sixties and found ourselves listening to a NASA head saying that the point of his agency was to increase the self-esteem of Muslims.


    25 Apr 12 at 5:36 pm

  5. In reference to Jane’s last post, I found this


    which is Obama in 2010 and not the sixties.

    Would you say that China, Japan and India in the period following 1300AD each had stable foundations and broad consensus? They were not particularly creative.


    26 Apr 12 at 12:03 am

  6. There’s a difference between consensus and repression. Consensus is society-wide. Repression is opposed from above.

    I don’t know enough about the societies in question to know which it was in those periods.

    Repressive societies are almost always the result of a LACK of consensus on the answers to fundamental questions (what is good? what is evil? why? how should I live my life and for what end?)

    Think of the difference between Islam in the 7th century and Islam two centuries later.

    Or, for that matter, the Renaissance and the Puritan societies of the 17th century.


    26 Apr 12 at 8:04 am

  7. IMposed from above.

    I don’t think I’m functioning yet.


    26 Apr 12 at 8:07 am

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