Born to be Dumb: Why Liberalism Would Have Us Ignorant

Peter Chojnowski
Reproduced with Permission

As we watch the popping of the bubble on the Nasdaq (at last check, a loss of 64% of tech stock values from their high last year), we are confronted with a financial disillusionment, which could mark the beginnings of a progressive social, political, and economic movement back to the cognitive and existential fundamentals of human existence. After two years of inflated hopes about the profitability of the virtual economy generated by the Internet, investors, all of whom are serious about their money, have made the judgment that the virtual world of virtual goods bought by virtual money was only virtually reliable as a source of real financial profit. This very real hesitation, to the tune of some $3.7 trillion dollars in losses in the past year, could very well indicate that the utopian and surreal world of techno-liberalism, best expressed by the Internet, has reached its outer most limits and is, now, due for a potentially catastrophic contraction.

That a hesitation on the part of investors concerning the long-term profitability of Internet facilitated "businesses," could signal a contraction of Liberalism's illusory world of unlimited and unhindered "choice," is very fitting. Surely, the Internet expresses in a very immediate and powerful way the fundamental thesis of Liberalism itself. That man, alone as a choosing agent, can fashion for himself a network of associations, ideas, and interests which are unrestricted by any limitations of religious or moral authority or, even, by the limitations imposed upon man by nature herself. An autonomous, hidden, ubiquitous, choosing and willing agent. With a credit card at hand, I can get a mortgage for a log cabin in Montana, book a trip to Cancun, join a "traditionalist" Gnostic sect, and buy 20 cases of Emergen CCC liquid power drink to make sure I am up to the tasks presented to me by the abovementioned "choices." I can fashion an e-profile that is "unbounded" by my ancestral history, my job situation, my status and obligations in society, my religion, or even my real monetary resources.

The Internet, of course, has not only facilitated investment in limited liability stock corporations. It has, also, brought us to the point where our communication and access to information is almost instantaneous (I believe the angels will always have a monopoly on instantaneous knowledge and communication!) and, certainly, voluminous. Since "knowledge, " or, rather, information is available to us wherever we are, in airports, internet cafes, or wherever the cell phone is, we, as a people, are becoming habituated to the idea that comprehensive and pertinent knowledge is easily accessible. No longer does the heavy burden of books, research, time-consuming correspondence, or even, patient empirical investigation hinder attainment of "facts" which further my life plans or my assessment of any given situation. The two main acts of the intelligence, as these are given to us by the ancient philosophers and the Catholic Scholastics, rationalization (i.e., the ability to draw fitting conclusions from pairs of premises) and contemplation (i.e., the intellectual "seeing" into the heart of a thing's essence), have become superfluous, a waste of time, and, even, boring. It is truly a significant juncture in human existence when the primary acts of the mind, those that have been the engines of human science, have been rendered, by technological advancement, practically inoperable.

My thesis concerning the contemporary inoperability of the primary acts of the human mind should not be surprising. Our entire liberal society, since the advent of the French Revolution, has presupposed the inoperability of at least one of these primary functions of the human intellect. It is very difficult to assert, without looks of complete inapprehension, that the human mind is not at least meant for truth. What else is the very organ of the brain for if not for some identification of that which, in some way, affects the sustainability of human life? What liberalism has denied, in an official and public way, is the possibility of attaining that truth for which the human mind was made. The primary manifestations of post-French revolutionary liberalism are capitalism in the economic order, democracy in the political order, and egalitarianism in the social, intellectual, and religious order. Ignorance has, for over 200 years, been enshrined as a prerequisite for the functioning of the society dominated by these ideologies. If we could and, actually, did know some political, social, or religious "fact" for certain, than pure "liberty of choice" in these spheres would be superfluous and, even, counter productive. If we really knew that the child in the womb of its mother is a human being and that the taking of an innocent human life is murder and that murder is always a grave injustice that should be absolutely outlawed by the State, how could we even allow of the possibility of the populace voting for two presidential candidates, say Ralph Nadar and Al Gore, who make the continued legality of abortion their most adamantly held to position. Likewise, in the economic realm, if a simple judgment were made, based upon millennia of human experience and natural and supernatural wisdom, as to which basic way of life provided for the primary and fundamental good of mankind, why would there be the slightest need to manufacture and offer for sale an infinite variety of goods that are completely superfluous to true human development and happiness? If, with regard to religion, it were universally acknowledged that the structure and intelligibility of the universe necessitates that there be but one God, Who is both intellectual and free, what sense would there be in allowing the spread of ideas that divinized non-rational animals or impersonal "forces"? Should not human life be ordered by such basic truths once certainly discovered?

If we use our intelligences to penetrate through the artificial veneer of incessant information and "communication," we see that our post-Christian indifferentist civilization has as its fundament, upon which everything rests, ignorance. Not the ignorance of those who seek diligently and have not yet found. No, rather it is a tenacious ignorance. Liberalism is a question that refuses to be answered. Liberalism in the 20th and 21st centuries has moved beyond the "gentlemanly" skepticism of the 18th and 19th centuries. No longer is liberalism, as a system, rationalized, as it was by the quintessential Anglo-agnostic John Stuart Mill, by identifying the purpose of unfettered discussion as the movement from "quarter-truths" to "half-truths." Liberalism no longer allows mankind anyway out of the never-ending tunnel of state-sponsored ignorance. If liberal society even suspects that you think that you know, you will be socially marginalized. If you say you know and act in any decisive way to implement that knowledge, your words and actions cannot but be looked upon as "seditious" by the convinced liberal. The ultimate reason for this is that "truth," whether it is actually true or merely erroneous opinion held to be "truth," makes demands upon both the autonomous individuals that populate liberal society and upon that liberal realm itself. In one way or another, any "truth" makes an implicit or explicit demand that an individual or the society in which they live be one way rather than another. Such a claim is a perceived infringement on their autonomy. In this situation, more intense now than ever in the Western world, it is not surprising that one illiberal truth-claim, made publicly and accessible to the media, must be immediately discredited and marginalized lest, for even one moment, a stubborn truth claim threatens the "peace" of mandated liberal ignorance and relativism. One thinks of the statement, made last year, by Cardinal Biffi of Bologna in which he speculated as to the character of the Antichrist and was, almost immediately, attacked by the media and by a chorus of apostate Italian "theologians." Even if the Antichrist were walking amongst us, one would have to be officially ignorant of the fact if one wanted to continue to be heard and respected within the context of liberal civil society.

A) Truth as Actuality

It is difficult to speak of the importance of "mandated" ignorance, as this serves as the philosophical foundation of the Liberal System, since ignorance itself is purely a negative state. It is a privation of a due good. The due good, which ignorance is a privation of, is knowledge or understanding. To understand what knowledge is and, therefore, to ultimately understand the nature of ignorance, we must consider the two "poles" of the knowing process, the knowing subject and the known object. We must, also, understand an aspect of Thomistic epistemology (i.e., the science of human knowing) which most, even the sympathetic few, would find surprising. Possession of knowledge involves a relationship of identity between the knowing subject and the thing known. As the Angelic Doctor states, "The intellect receives its measure from objects; that is, human knowledge is true not of itself, but it is true because and insofar as it conforms to reality. To be "one" with the external thing known is the end of the act of knowing. St. Thomas is explicit concerning the oneness, between knower and thing known, which characterizes a true act of understanding. The centrality of this idea in his epistemology is demonstrated by the ubiquity of the references to this in his various works. As he states, "the intellect is wholly that is, in a perfect manner, the known object"; "the soul becomes, so to speak, transformed into the real object"; "the act of knowledge brings about identity between the mind and reality."

It is in this oneness between the knowing, personal mind and the objective reality which has "attracted the attention" of this same mind, which brings about the actualization and fulfillment of the knowing power. This knowing power, this intellectual expression of spiritual identity, cannot become what it is unless it goes out of itself to the reality of the external world. To be is to be actualized by another. To be real, we must realize, within ourselves, the reality of the created order. This fundamental fact of human existence and human intentionality (i.e., the extension of the mind to that which is other than itself) is the ultimate reason why Rationalism is an erroneous philosophical stance. By trying to be self-sufficient, the human mind is hollowed out and desiccated of all vital content. By turning only to itself, it becomes both doctrinaire and abstract. This hollowing out and, yet, at the same time, this onset of intellectual sclerosis provides the "convinced" liberal and rationalist with a mind which cannot truly argue. This is ironic, since the liberal has, as one of his doctrinaire positions that argument, in itself, will move a society towards the good and that nothing must be allowed to hinder the "progress" of the ongoing societal "argument." Actually, the rationalist Liberal cannot and does not argue. He cannot. To argue honestly and thoroughly and not merely to repeat 18th century Enlightenment "truism," while at the same time having one's finger on the intellectual 9-1-1 speed dial ready to inform the authorities about a thought crime, would require the rationalistic Liberal to scour the reality of concrete experience of the world of nature and of men in order to find justifications for his positions. That is, no doubt, the reason why the Liberal State has generated the category of "hate crime." Liberalism does not want to argue. It cannot argue. It can simply repeat, as if the ideas were self-evident, what is contained within the "intellectual package" which they have received from society. If a Liberal should ask me, "Why don't you believe in Family Planning," I would think to myself "Where do I begin?" If I should ask a Liberal, "Why should a decision be based upon the judgment of the majority of voters," or "Why will a maximum of real wealth be produced if the government simply "stays out of it." Why? They cannot give me a real answer. They no longer really try. They simply make it illegal to think otherwise.

B) Knowledge as Identity

It is very important, when thinking about the vapidity of the contemporary liberal mind, to remember the abovementioned identity that produces true knowledge in a human mind. This identity, this mutual actualization, this extension of the self to what stands before it as object, is precisely the character and direction which the ignorant mind lacks. Man is unique in the realm of creatures in this regard. Whereas, those creatures that are below him and above him in the created and uncreated order have a natural and immediate oneness or continuity with the whole, man, through knowledge, must establish a relationship that does not habitually or immediately exist. A cow "finds" her place in the natural order of things by simply being what she is. She need not wonder. She need not reach out. In fact, along with rubbing up against, she simply takes in what is other than herself. But, by chewing her cud, Old Bessie destroys the otherness of the grass and incorporates its substance into the living, actualized, delimited structure of her bovine being. To "take in," means to annihilate. For Old Bessie, there is really no "other." We can understand this when we see her bovine eyes gazing, but not really "looking." To "look" would mean relating to another as "other," as something distinct and, in a very real way, foreign. This is why Old Bess is never "disturbed," except by that which physically disturbs her. The very being of another cannot disturb her, since she does not entertain the other, within her being, as other. Man, however, is different. It is Man's nature to be "nothing," until he is made into something.

The human intellect achieves self-realization, insofar as it realizes an identity with the objective world of being. This "world dependence" of the human mind is the most distinctive characteristic of St. Thomas' teaching on the question of the nature of knowledge itself. That both mind and its object are in potentiality to each other and are only actualized when there is a "meeting" in the act of sensation indicates that mind and its object are ontologically distinct (i.e., they possess a distinct "act of existence" or, rather, are not dependent upon each other for their respective substantial existence). This understanding of the mind and its object, contrasts with the current mainline phenomenological approach to reality, which fails to distinguish the mind or "consciousness" from its "field" or "that which is presented to consciousness." In fact, Martin Heidegger's entire neo-pagan existentialist position was based on the identity of consciousness and its object. The critical difference between Heidegger's postulated identity between mind and its object and that of St. Thomas is that Heidegger fails to identify the obvious, that mind and object have a distinct act of existence. That they are different things, which only achieve a spiritual union once the mind has received the form of the known thing into itself, is the basis of the philosophical position referred to as Moderate Realism.

Heidegger's phenomenology, which very much influenced Karl Rahner and inspired the currently dominant Neo-Marxist Frankfurt School, would have man identical with his "field" of consciousness. This is why Heidegger's most famous designation of man was as Dasein, from the German words for "being there." Man loses himself by becoming one with his world. But what is important here is that the "world" becomes "his world." In a very distinct way, the "world" is nothing other than "him." The world is a projection of the self's own "project" for itself. The self's "discovery" of the world is, simply, a discovery that the external world is not objective at all, but rather, merely a projection of the self's own desires, wishes, and plans. It is a revelation of the self's own encasement within itself. This view is the basis of the overarching subjectivism that has permeated the Catholic Church since the 1960s. Surely, in the revolution that has taken place since then, we can see the progressive attempt to reshape the Church by making that which stood out as "other" and sacred, into that which is capable of being assimilated into the tawdry, shallow, and historically rootless modern self. Instead of the self becoming liturgically divinized by contact with the sacred, the divine and the sacred become vulgarized by submersion in our own contemporary McSein.

St. Thomas would have it otherwise. That the human mind is in potentiality to the intellectual reception of all being is indicative of the mutual dependency which exists between the human mind, which is in potentiality (and, therefore, actually "nothing") to the intelligible object which exists in the world irrespective of the human will's desire and the understood object, which is only potentially intelligible until it is actually known by a mind in act. That which can actualize a human mind, a mind which goes out of itself, which searches out the true and combs the true for the good, is only that which has itself a form to contribute to the searching mind. Those forms, which nature provides in a veritable avalanche of intelligibility, are of a substantial nature and convey to the mind the essential structure of the created order. To be in contact with the formal structure of a natural object is, also, to be in intelligible contact with the underlying orientation and dynamism of that substance. Nothing in nature stays still. All is moving towards a goal, which has been designated by the Creator. Through the creative knowledge of God all real things are what they are; the divine knowledge is their exterior formal cause; all created things have their pre-form, their model, in the intellect of God; the interior forms of all reality exist as "ideas," as "preceding images" in God. The Divine Ideas, insofar as they designate the natural movements and orientations of all created things, are referred to as the Eternal Law.

By penetrating the essential content of a natural substantial reality, we are integrating ourselves into an entire telic system, which is, simply, a natural mirror of the Divine Plan for all things, as this plan exists in the Providential Mind of God. By "telic system" (from telos, the Greek word for "end" or "goal") we must understand a web of mutually interacting substantial beings, all created and, yet, part of a hierarchical structure, which realizes the divine perfections to various degrees and at various moments. Everything is, at once, related to everything else and, also, related to God the Creator. It is the "mission" of the human mind to mirror within itself this rational "dance" of created being. This "mission" of the mind, was more evident to our forefathers in Catholic civilization, than it is to us. It was a divine love that was understood to move the heavenly spheres in their celestial rotations, the same love that fired every pure human heart in its upward advance towards the Divine Beauty itself.

C) Ignorance as Willful Dislocation

"The good of man lies in being according to reason, his evil in being against reason." In other articles (Cf. The Angelus, April 1999), I have raised the question as to why it is the case that many of the prima principia or "first principles" of both practical and speculative reason seem to have slipped out of the contemporary techno-liberal mind. These principia per se nota or self-evident principles are of several types. All of them are per se nota secundum se, that is, the predicate of each is contained within the notion of the subject. Therefore, the proposition "man is rational," is a self-evident proposition because the quality of "rationality" is necessarily contained in the notion of the subject, that is the notion of what "man" is. Man cannot be man without being a rational being, with, at least, the potential for rational activity. However, just because a proposition is self-evident in-itself, that does not mean that the proposition is self-evident (meaning "immediately understood") in "relation to us" or quo ad nos. Some of these self-evident propositions, both of the speculative and the practical orders, are self-evident to the "wise," solis sapientibus, while others are immediately recognizable to "almost everyone," communiter omnibus.

Why has it become the case, that in our own day, so many of the "self-evident" truths, which form the basis of rational action in the practical and the speculative realms, such as the principle of non-contradiction (i.e., something cannot be and not be at the same time and in the same manner), the principle of identity (i.e., something is what it is and is not something else), or a first principle of practical reason, such as "the truth about God should be sought after," are, in practice and in theory, denied or rendered inconsequential by the liberal and relativistic demands of Society and State. This rejection of the first operative principles of cognition has both psychological and legal aspects. The legal implications of this liberal denial of what is self-evident, has reached, surely, its height in our own day when we have a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, in which it was stated that, in order for a woman to have true liberty, as guaranteed by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, she must have the ability to determine, for herself, the nature and value of life, the universe, and even existence itself. If such is the case legally, neither the first principles of speculative nor practical reason apply. Their force and their certainty must be denied if Liberal Society is to continue.

But, some may object, certainly the Liberal Constitutional Order is only mandating, for its own purposes (perhaps, for the sake of "business"), what everyone accepts implicitly. Surely, the "DOS software" in man could not have come down with a virus rendering it inoperative? Even though St. Thomas insists that these first principles of both practical and speculative reason are per se nota communiter omnibus (i.e., self-evident to almost everyone), he still says that we cannot know that a predicate is necessarily contained in the concept of a subject, if the essence of the subject itself is not known. If man were to lose a real epistemological grip on what the essence and nature of "man" is, then the proposition, "man is a rational being," would not be self-evident to him. And if such were not self-evident, how would the proposition "the procreation and education of children is good" mean anything? How can human beings be satisfied with an indifferentist society and State that is indifferent to everything but indifferentism? What happened to the natural human desire and tendency to know the true and desire to see the true turned into the good?

Although these questions can only be broached, I would venture that there is an aspect of officially mandated Liberal ignorance that does not involve culpability and there exists an aspect of the situation that does involve culpability. First, how can we expect contemporary minds, especially those of the young, to grasp the substantial essences of things (i.e., what things actually are), if they only encounter with their eyes, ears, and hands artifacts, which only possess artificial and not substantial being. In a very real way, artificial constructs, of which our society and economic system are chockfull, have not an essence in themselves or their essence is "hidden" by their, more apparent and glamorous, artificial configuration. Also, if Liberal Society keeps men from being men and women from being women, how can the young grasp the essence of man through his characteristic actions? Are not most of the actions of man, which the young observe, primarily of a mechanical nature, the manipulation machines, which share no "connaturality" with natural human functions? How would Henry David Thoreau's "Within the circuit of this plodding life there enter moments of an azure hue" from his Winter Memories, indicate the slightest thing concerning the nature of human existence to most of the youth of our day? Unfortunately, our life today never "plods." And, no, this is not a reference to the meteorological conditions of North Idaho!

The second aspect of Liberal mandated ignorance does have an aspect of culpability that attaches to it. It is the interference of the will with the intellectual act by which I judge that what I have conceived with my intelligence must have a real bearing on the world that I relate to and interact with. All acts of judgment are, in some way, an application of what is known, even vaguely, to concretely experienced reality. However, if I should conceive the nature of man and seek to apply that concept to the community of men which I find are around me, I, also, apply to those men the truths concerning man which are "carried along" with the concept; for example, that man has a spiritual soul and that his existence depends upon the creative Will of God. It is here that we find Liberalism, and the Liberal Mind, intervening in a culpable way. In order to prevent the known truths from interfering and threatening the autonomy of the self, Liberalism has fashioned defensive weapons to keep the truth from being brought to bear on the situations in which we all find ourselves.

Normally, the concept that is jammed in the spiritual "clockwork," which turns the true into the good and the just, is that of "liberty." I cannot assert the nearly self-evident reality that "A God who rewards the good and punishes the wicked" exists in a public place frequented to by the young (e.g., a public high school), because their "freedom of religious belief" may be infringed on by hearing something that they have not consented to themselves. I cannot necessarily do what I am commanded to do by nature, educate my children in the knowledge and love of God the Creator in an academic setting of my choice (i.e., home schooling), because I might be interfering with the future "potential choices" of my children with regard to religious faith and career choice. In all of this "liberty," do we not see a mandated ignorance that will not allow known truths to be applied to real circumstances? If we refuse to "play" ignorant concerning the good and true, we become "uncooperative" and, potentially, "criminal."

Let us learn and teach what is true. Let us challenge the officially mandated ignorance with every word and action of our lives. In this way, we will regain our own footing in the real and entice all men to stand with us.