“And what is good, Phædrus, and what is not good? Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?” – Plato, “Phaedrus”
Among the seminal conceptions in human thought, there’s one that’s been mocked, parodied, railed against, and serially dismissed without ever losing its force. Repeated attempts to drain it of its power have failed to do so to any degree. Great minds have gone to their doom by demanding that it be set aside, usually in defense of one of their theories. It’s also inspired many fantastic tales, some of them actually readable.
Above I refer to it as a conception, but it’s actually a recognition – one so fundamental that we cannot frame any other idea without deferring to its primacy.
It’s the recognition that there is an objective reality: one that doesn’t yield to disagreement, alternative conceptions, or pleas that it make room for our preferences.
Much of what troubles us today flows from the insistence that reality yield to the preferences of some. That, as our British cousins would say, is not on.
Being a Christian, I view such demands as a rejection of God’s will. But you don’t have to be a theist of any sort to grasp the core of the thing. Whether or not they concede His existence, the screamers are demanding the power of God. What else could it mean to claim the power to reshape reality itself?
Do you demand the right to use force against others without suffering a forceful response?
Do you demand the right to consume others’ produce yet produce nothing yourself?
Do you demand the respect of others despite being of no value to them?
Do you demand that you be taken for and treated as what you are not?
You’re part of the problem.
Reality will not yield to you.
Politics and politicians are a great part of the problem. A great thinker of the Nineteenth Century captured the thing whole:
Nevertheless, in the inexplicable universal votings and debatings of these Ages, an idea or rather a dumb presumption to the contrary has gone idly abroad, and at this day, over extensive tracts of the world, poor human beings are to be found, whose practical belief it is that if we “vote” this or that, so this or that will thenceforth be…. Practically men have come to imagine that the Laws of this Universe, like the laws of constitutional countries, are decided by voting…. It is an idle fancy. The Laws of this Universe, of which if the Laws of England are not an exact transcript, they should passionately study to become such, are fixed by the everlasting congruity of things, and are not fixable or changeable by voting! – Sir Thomas Carlyle
In these latter days of the United States, the great majority of politicians attain their perches by promising to violate the laws of the universe – the fabric of reality itself – for the benefit of whoever will vote for them. But who is willing to ask them Herbert Spencer’s question?
I asked one of the members of Parliament whether a majority of the House could legitimize murder. He said no. I asked him whether it could sanctify robbery. He thought not. But I could not make him see that if murder and robbery are intrinsically wrong, and not to be made right by the decisions of statesmen, then similarly all actions must be either right or wrong, apart from the authority of the law; and that if the right and wrong of the law are not in harmony with this intrinsic right and wrong, the law itself is criminal.
And who among them is willing to answer it?
We have cities in which hundreds are assaulted and killed every month, often for the color of their skin. We have cities where defending oneself against a violent assault is grounds for a charge of murder or attempted murder. We have cities in which shoplifting is treated as legal and tolerable. We have cities in which a large fraction of the residents live in tents pitched on public grounds and sidewalks. We have cities whose sidewalks are essentially un-navigable because of the copious deposits of garbage, including human feces.
We have states overrun by illegal aliens. We have states where sheriffs’ departments allow squatters to remain on private property, despite the pleas of the owners. We have states that fund housing for aliens and layabouts while defunding the police. We have states that seek to seize private property and give it to aliens and layabouts. We have states where the law disarms the law-abiding, despite an accelerating crime rate.
We have a Supreme Court Justice who claims she doesn’t know what a woman is. We have a high-ranking Cabinet official whose responsibilities include the protection of women’s rights, but who refuses to answer the question “What is a woman?” We have thousands of citizens who refuse to allow events such as Matt Walsh’s documentary What is a Woman? without disruption. Others demand that, for the offense of saying that “male and female created He them,” the Bible be outlawed as hate speech.
These are some of the cases in which some demand that reality be set aside – nay, be denied entirely – to make room for their preferences. A great many politicians defend those demands and applaud those who make them. Some of those politicians are straining to impose that anti-reality on the rest of us. But voting that it be so, even under penalty of the law, will not make it so.
God is not mocked.
Reality — Das Ding an Sich — is what it is. Attempts to set it aside always fail. Behaving as if reality is just someone’s opinion (a.k.a. social constructivism) always ends in heartbreak or worse. America and Americans will not be exempt. Reality will have the last word.
It won’t go away.