Friday, May 08, 2009

Me on Fish on Eagleton

Stanley Fish, who one could make a career out of refuting, reviews Terry Eagleton's new book Reason, Faith, and Revolution. Eagleton's book sounds like an interesting read. For those who don't realize that Marxism is in fact a religion, it may seem odd that a Marxist like him is "suddenly talking about God”. He does it, it seems, to defend the very notion of religion as something we all need as humans. A noble goal. Fish observes that we need religion because "the other candidates for guidance — science, reason, liberalism, capitalism — just don’t deliver what is ultimately needed." Imagine that. Facts, a style of thinking, a theory of proper social relations, and the most efficient system for creating and distributing material goods don't provide ultimate guidance? That's the fault of the idiots who thought they would, not the fault of the systems themselves. As Fish rightly points out, "that is not what they do." So it seems silly to complain that they don't do what they were never designed to do. Complain not against the systems, but against the morons who tried to deify them.

So why is a Marxist stepping in to defend traditional religion? Because Eagleton sees liberalism, science, the Enlightenment, and capitalism as having created "an empty suburbanism that produces ever more things without any care as to whether or not the things produced have true value." And there's the rub. "True value." What is true value? Eagleton is one who believes in true value -- which is simply another way of saying, "the things I value have true value, and if you don't value those things, but rather something else, then you don't have what is truly valuable." Are there in fact different values or one True Value? To insist that what you value is True Value and what you don't value, or value less, is of no or little value, is pure narcissistic arrogance. In the realm of human values, there are many values. I find thinking valuable, but I know that most people don't like to think, and don't find it to be a valuable use of their time. I have little doubt that Eagleton would be horrified at the thought that someone would value watching T.V. or even going fishing over contemplating the nature of the human. Certainly I am on his side in preferring the latter, but that does not mean I don't also value the former two, or understand why someone else would greatly value the former two over an evening of thinking difficult thoughts on difficult subjects. There is an art to finding the right fishing spot at the right time that I have never quite mastered (if the number of fish I've caught per fishing trip is any indication) that is as respectable as my art of writing poetry and plays. (Certainly so far fishing would have fed my family far more than have my poems.)

In other words, Eagleton's snobbishness is as annoying as are the people he are writing against: Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. All are rather arrogant in their insistence that it is Their values that are True Values. Never mind that different people have different hierarchies of values, and those hierarchies are valid for those people in those places and times. DIfferent spontaneous orders emphasize different values, and those who place the values produced by the market at the top of their hierarchy are more comfortable in the market spontaneous order while those who place the values produced by science are more comfortable in the science spontaneous order. I prefer the value of beauty -- thus, I prefer the spontaneous order of the arts. I also value thought, so I place the philosophical spontaneous order in a close second. But I in fact place a great deal of value in all the values -- thus, my support for all the social spontaneous orders. The valuing of all human values -- and the spontaneous orders which promote those values -- that is my humanism. And it is one that does not deny deity any more than it denigrates human values.
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