Now that the GASC meeting is behind us, I would like to respond to Adam Katz’s argument in his June 2 blog “(Im)morality and (In)equality” that, to reduce his point to what appears to me its essence, human language, although it may inspire the moral model of essential human equality, should in fact be described as guaranteeing only a potential reciprocity which in no way presumes the ontological equality of the interlocutors.
Adam gives the example of a peasant who might perhaps give the king useful advice on some point, but is in no way “equal” to him. And no doubt in most senses of the term, as regards wealth, prestige, or the resources the society is willing to invest in preserving his life and well-being, the two are in no way equal. Yet the Judeo-Christian idea that we are “all equal before God” is not one to be cast aside as mythical, and rather than seeing it as a notion accessible only to an “advanced” civilization such as ours, GA invites us to see it as the fundamental intuition at the basis of the social order, one affirmed explicitly in primitive, egalitarian societies, but whose implicit reality underlies hierarchical societies as well.
Hence I do not think that we should see the reciprocity language makes possible in the narrow sense in which society under rare circumstances permits peasants to speak to kings rather than in the maximal sense in which our common participation in the scene of representation subordinates any worldly hierarchy to a fundamental ontological equality. The fact that in principle a child taken from any culture can be successfully brought up in any other, and is not intrinsically incapable of rising to the same heights of cultural achievement as those native to that culture, is both a refutation of biological racism and an affirmation of the liberal-democratic principle that “all men are created equal.”
In spontaneously formed groups up to a certain size and in a context that makes the sheer exercise of force impossible (in contrast to the “savage” groups favored in apocalyptic disaster films), people tend to cooperate democratically, profiting when necessary from the specific skills of individuals but not choosing a “king,” and the same is true in juries, where the foreman is an officer of the group rather than its leader. Democracy in this sense doesn’t deny that some people may have better judgment than others, but it permits unanimous cooperation, and I venture to say, corresponds to “natural” human interaction since the originary scene.
In the past, presumably, women would have taken a subordinate role; now they do not. We can only applaud this change, while noting how secondary it is to the fundamental principle involved, just as the female vote has not modified in principle the solidity of democratic systems any more than the abolition of Jim Crow. In all such cases, the implicit lesson is that the newly imposed equality was always there, and regardless of ideological explanations for its former absence, always primary as the reflection of human ontology.
I think Adam and I are in agreement that the “digital age” engenders an intensification of human difference that puts in question, along with the Marxian notion of “labor power” as an overall equalizing factor in evaluating human worth, the very foundation of human moral equality in our common ability to exchange linguistic signs. Differences in intelligence have always existed, and differences in language use by social rank exist in all languages even today. But whereas in the past, the peasant could see himself as inferior to the king by a kind of social fatality prior to any question of intrinsic worth, an attitude consecrated by Christianity, today many people unable to manipulate symbols in a sophisticated manner, whether in the STEM fields or in contexts like the business world, law courts, or publishing houses, are forced to see themselves as without value in the labor force, replaceable by machines that can do their jobs better than they, and hence either lose their sense of worth or subscribe to victimary explanations of their misfortune.
Whereas I have expressed dismay concerning this seeming refutation of the moral basis for the social order, Adam appears to see it as the revelation of what had always been true but that for the sake of the moral model we had hypocritically ignored. The philosophically minded reader will recognize this as Nietzsche’s position, and while I have always been struck by the hypocritical facility with which thinkers of the Left adapt Nietzsche’s fundamental idea of human difference to the contrast between the progressive vanguard and the clingers and deplorables, I hope I am wrong in my impression that Adam seems ready to accept this position with no hypocrisy at all as simply the reflection of reality.
It seems to me that in articulating his points of disagreement with Chronicle 549, where I express concern for the future of Western civilization, and with it, the liberal-democratic equilibrium between economic necessity and political equality, Adam poses a direct challenge to the moral model itself. This provides me with a useful opportunity to elaborate on the centrality of this model, whose self-evidence he correctly points out that I have been essentially taking for granted. And since we must prefer the “Brave New World” to which the Nietzschean vision leads to the void that would remain if our failure to control human resentment brings on the long-anticipated nuclear apocalypse, I can hardly turn my back on the argument that, given the quite extraordinary—and increasingly violent—levels of irrationality attained by the victimary defenders of the moral model today, it might be preferable to give it up altogether, all the more so given my (our) own membership in the “privileged” class of (non-STEM) sign-manipulators.
First, I think it important to correct the possible misapprehension that, in speaking in Chronicle 549 of tyranny as “immoral,” I was indulging in what could be called moralizing. I recognize as well as Adam that applying contemporary moral values to the past is at best naïve. My reference to the “immorality” of tyranny refers to its objective conflict with the moral model; this reflects the eternal tension between morality and ethics that can be decided only by “history,” that is, precisely what cannot be determined in advance.
Whence, to return to my original point, the advantage of a political market in which “values” can be evaluated in practice. Authoritarian systems can no doubt outperform liberal market society in the short run, but we have seen absolutely no indication that these systems can renew themselves successfully even on the economic plane, without speaking of the “quality of life” in societies that lack the opportunity for free discussion. China may have made great strides since it jettisoned the Maoist fanaticism of the Cultural Revolution, but it has certainly not yet provided its population with anything comparable to the level of prosperity in the West, even in the cities where, for example, the pollution problem is far beyond the point at which Western cities such as Los Angeles instituted smog control decades ago.
What is disturbing in the current environment is that Western democracies have increasingly found themselves obliged to pay homage to victimary myths in order to provide moral justifications, or perhaps we should call them “indulgences” like those that aroused Luther’s ire, for the unequal results (disparate impact) of modern meritocracy. For although the law of supply and demand cum “safety net” is arguably the most efficient means of maintaining general prosperity, no metaphysical power makes humanity as a whole capable of achieving a Fourier-like overall harmony of talents and inclinations.
What I reject in “neo-reactionary” thought is what I consider the basic flaw in all Nietzschean thinking: the idea that seeing/telling the truth about human difference is a courageous act that reveals the lie behind the moral model, which Nietzsche associated explicitly with what we have come to call the Judeo-Christian. That the only modern social system to take Nietzsche’s “truth” as its explicit foundation is the historical archetype of evil, reaction to which has engendered the victimary era, never seems to trouble the Nietzscheans, of whom Heidegger at least never disavowed his Nazism, although many others have been happy to do it for him.
I am old enough to remember, if at second-hand, a time when people could think of themselves as Nietzscheans independently of Hitler, as in Huxley’s novel, or the infamous 1924 case of Leopold and Loeb. One wonders what is so exhilarating about realizing that not all humans are equally useful to the community, which is really all this amounts to. What makes us human is rather that we can all, with trivial exceptions, share language and hence culture—the heart-warming lesson of the (linguistically incredibly naïve) film Arrival.
What, paraphrasing Girard, we may call Hitlerism’s revenge (see Je vois Satan tomber comme l’éclair [Grasset, 1999]: 271-72, and Chronicle 491) is the postmodern insistence on human equality not only in the moral sphere but implicitly in all others as well, all real-world differences being blamed on “racism” and its ever-multiplying victimary cousins. The virtue-signaling of the partisans of victimary thinking outdoes Molière’s Tartuffe as a secular caricature of Christianity. Unlike Enlightenment rationalism, it insists on both the necessity of passing moral judgment and our “unworthiness to judge” society’s “victims.”
Thus it is no surprise that at the same time as “post-Christian” Christianity caricatures itself by “forgiving” Islamic thugs and murderers, Christian churches are being converted to mosques all over Europe. It is an interesting paradox that, in Israel at least, the Jews, who went so long without any governmental power at all, have retained a respect for the ethical that makes societies function at a time when “mainstream Christianity” has largely dissolved into a support group for victimary enterprises whose core despises it. But to combat victimary absurdity by identifying moral worth with social functionality is denial of the very essence of the human.
Although I have no sympathy for the alt-right, I do have sympathy for Adam’s interest in it as the Nietzschean response to the pseudo-Christianity of the victimary. If real Christianity does not deserve Nietzsche’s contempt, the latter certainly does. And borrowing Nietzsche’s ideas is not necessarily a worthless venture. But the moral model, the fundamental framework of human interaction founded on the originary reciprocity of language, is not comparable to the excesses of affirmative action. Making linguistic reciprocity the foundation of our ontological equality does not imply that we need find a victimary explanation for every form of collective difference; on the contrary.
If GA’s fundamental anthropology is valid, then we should be able to overcome the present crisis, but we must first recognize its specificity. Nor is it a coincidence that the increased domination of symbol-manipulation over physical activity also greatly favors the Jews, both in Israel and elsewhere. This is not the place to go over Slezkine’s arguments about the advantages of the Mercurians over the Apollonians in modern society, but hating the Jews as having higher IQs as opposed to hating them because they “discovered” the One God at least brings this hostility closer to good old-fashioned envy, just as in hostility to Israel, antisemitism normalizes itself as “ordinary” xenophobia.
To make turning the unique hatred of the Jews’ firstness into “ordinary” rivalry the criterion for a Fukuyaman “end of history” is admittedly Hegelian speculation, but the Jews have been the canary in history’s mineshaft since the beginning of monotheistic civilization, and whether their unique role be the sign of apocalyptic catastrophe or universal reconciliation, it is as productive and plausible a metaphor for the fate of humanity as any.
And let us not be afraid to see in the emergence of Generative Anthropology’s “new way of thinking” the passage of this problematic to a higher level, whether of conflictual intensity or mutual understanding, peace or self-destruction. Humanity may have more productive things to do than to contemplate its “ultimate” destiny, but the lesson of the twentieth century, and all the more of the twenty-first, is that it cannot afford to ignore it either, whether in the pursuit of Eros or of Thanatos, love or resentment.