by Glenn Fairman 2/11/14
Many years ago, one of my esteemed graduate professors, Claremont McKenna’s illustrious Harry V. Jaffa, wrote a brilliant but pithy dialogue highlighting the pitfalls of conventionalist morality in which he pitted the charming and debonair Mr. Ted Bundy holding forth with what is soon to be one of his victims. Indeed, Bundy, as a murderous Socrates, is portrayed as a rhetorical master of the wicked apologetic; and he employs his talent effortlessly with the young lass who is pleading passionately for her very life.
One can frame this debate as arising from the necessary consequences of pleasure and self-interest in a “God Vacuum” where morality is reduced to both The Republic’s “Assertion of Thrasymachus” and Thucydides’ Melian Dialogue–wherein those famous statements:”Justice is the interest of the stronger” and “The strong do what they can while the weak suffer what they must” reverberate throughout the centuries. The idea that the genesis of human moral obligation arises conventionally through reason or historical circumstance (which individual humans are duty-bound to obey) merely kicks the proverbial can down the road. In truth, what men perceive as ethics must be grounded in something more authoritative or compelling than a social contract or the whims of a legislator if they are to be respected and held sacrosanct in the human heart. Humanist moral/ legal structures, after all, ultimately occupy the province of mere opinion — even if they attempt to claim their pedigree in the gilded haze of distant memory.[pullquote]In truth, what men perceive as ethics must be grounded in something more authoritative or compelling than a social contract or the whims of a legislator if they are to be respected and held sacrosanct in the human heart.[/pullquote]
Ultimately, the authority of even the strongest conventional law or moral “ought” vaporizes upon touch with the rational “Why.” The philosopher Kant tried to ground morality in reason through the Categorical Imperative, but even the most stringent reason cannot serve to justify reason itself. Ultimately, why select reason over appetite, hedonistic pleasure, desire, or will? If men are merely the determined automata of DNA, which are themselves the by-product of the random and the material toss of nature’s dice, then on what flimsy foundations are our own myopic understandings of reason and law erected upon that we should give them our considered devotions? Fortunately, for the world of awakened men who will not wallow in solipsism and philosophic angst, we make our piece with the command authority of Divine revelation. And thankfully, it is in these transcendent commandments, that imbue value to humanity and align the compass points of vice and virtue, where we take our bearing in a fog covered moral universe where rebellious man has stormed and profaned the throne of power. Having enthusiastically and prematurely pronounced the death of God and jettisoned all obligations to Him, we find that a long trail of rotten and skewed judgments, proceeding from the ill-considered ardor of his moral revolution, have proved disastrous throughout mankind’s historical moment.
But something inside us keeps jolting our collective consciousness and steers us to a position that actions are either praiseworthy or just plain wrong. In contradistinction, the physicist Lawrence Krauss and his neo-atheist soul mates, living on the detritus of a civilization that still carries the moral sub-structure of Judeo-Christendom, are in reality mere termites that enjoy the genteel architecture of a transcendent morality. But in all honesty, they are cerebral parasites who make a comfortable living consuming civilization’s edifice. Perhaps the moral instruction of smashing all of them in the teeth is the best way to bring home the inevitable consequences of their theories on man and civilization. All would no doubt vigorously protest, but why should the premises underlying their thrashing prove inconsistent with a groundless amoral human nature and undirected universe? Not one of them would agree with Mr. Bundy, the rightful heir to their philosophical theories, that my pleasure and interests trump the subjective value of your life. Nevertheless, if we are ultimately lone agents of desire ensconced with a thin illegitimate drapery of moral fiction, why proceed with that hypocritical myth of civility that we are, in truth, only provisionally required to give lip service to?
In fact, all the Horsemen of the Nietzschean Apocalypse: Denton, Hawking, Krauss, Singer, Dawkins, Harris, and the late Mr. Hitchens are, I assume, amiable fellows. I’m sure they pay their taxes, stop at red lights, refrain from beating their wives, pass the butter, defer their place in line to the elderly, and do any of those thousand and one niceties that are consistent with a pre-programmed moral apprehension of the universe – instead of affecting the posture of Viking Ubermenchen. But do not their philosophies lead us to the necessary endgame of a universe without Mind, teleology, design: chaotic, lawless, formless— a coldly Darwinian superstructure functioning as the macabre theatre for the arbitrary exertion of raw power, blind circumstance, and oceans of absurd manifest death? If we are to buy into their dark reckoning of man, it is up to them to explain the inconsistency of why they exhibit the external civility of genteel intelligence, rather than the driven appetites of opportunistic predation.[pullquote]But do not their philosophies lead us to the necessary endgame of a universe without Mind, teleology, design: chaotic, lawless, formless— a coldly Darwinian superstructure functioning as the macabre theatre for the arbitrary exertion of raw power, blind circumstance, and oceans of absurd manifest death?[/pullquote]
Somehow, we cannot turn around without bumping into a moral obligation that seems propitious to us and resonates a certain “rightness” in the marrow of our bones: a justice that even the most unsophisticated child is keenly aware of. Be that as it may, we ultimately find that there are some incomprehensibly foolish things that only an intellectual would deem reprehensible enough to build a career advocating.
It is, however, Mr. Bundy who is the natural spawn of this natural philosophy’s false and chaotic universe of unbidden natural selection. Armed with his own energetic and self-affirming personal morality, he is power and death incarnate by virtue of his relentless Will to Power. Moreover, in possessing a daunting intellect and personality, and having artfully disposed with the encumbrance of any trifling moral governor standing in the way of his considered ends, he is affable and glib enough to be able to explain the intricate ins and outs of his philosophy to his latest comely young maiden. And he will deliver all this, and much, much more — with a handsome smile.
Glenn Fairman writes from Highland, Ca. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. • (1988 views)