Thursday, January 08, 2015

Criticizing One's Rulers

'If you want to know who rules you, find out whom you are not allowed to criticize'. -- Voltaire

The word "allowed" here needs clarification. Today we use it to mean social pressure. You are not "allowed" to criticize someone based on their race, gender, religion, etc. in certain circles -- but no one is going to do much other than engage in social ostracism. One could write a racist play, but who will perform it? And when it comes to racial/ethnic criticism, some groups can do it while others cannot -- with "can," again, being understood as "and avoid negative social consequences." In civilized society, one cannot criticize racial minorities, ethnic minorities, or homosexuals -- but this hardly means we are ruled by these groups. But I think we could certainly argue that those who enforce these social rules -- those with egalitarian psychologies -- do in fact rule the West.

Voltaire means "allowed" in this much stronger sense. While egalitarians are not likely to engage in outright violence to enforce their world view and not allow you to criticize it or what they find sacred, authoritative psychologies are (at least, if their culture or subculture supports it). You have to understand that for authoritative psychologies, threatening what they believe is to threaten the world as a whole. If you don't fit in, you must be rooted out. Violently, if necessary.

Medieval society was authoritative -- a guilt culture -- and thus people in it with this psychology supported such things as death for apostates and critics of the dominant world view. This is where Islam is now. Certainly not all -- or even a majority -- of Muslims, of course, but neither was this the case in Medieval Europe among Christians. The people who in fact engaged in things like the Inquisition were few, but they were those with power. Had they not had power, Medieval Christians would have likely tried to seize it in rebellious acts of violence.

Many people think that sensitivity to criticism means one is weak in one's belief. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is the true believers, those with no doubts whatsoever, who are most dangerous and most willing to engage in violence to protect those beliefs. Doubts, skepticism, uncertainty in fact make one less likely to engage in violence. This is why your postmodernist welfare state supporter doesn't engage in violence, but your Marxist will.

Christians are, mostly, in the position of the postmodern welfare state supporter. They mostly believe in God, but they do not live as though everything they do could or would be judged by God. Most Christians are believers in responsibility -- and belief in responsibility means belief that your moral actions emerge out of yourself. Medieval Christians were believers in guilt, which stems from violating God's law.

If you really want to understand Medieval Christianity and contemporary Islam, just look at the way our police behave in regards to law enforcement. They are the enforcers of the law, just as was the Inquisition. Their job is to ensure that you never violate the law, no matter what that law may be. This hardly means police are above reproach, though. Indeed, in this country, one can criticize the police. And the law. And politicians. Does this mean that they do not rule us? The one with the power, the one with the guns and is willing to use them, is indeed one's ruler. We shouldn't be mistaken about this.

So why does out government allow criticism? The postmoderns have discovered a kind of power that can be best held through allowing people to criticize. You allow people to criticize, you give people the appearance that what they say matters, and in exchange you get to keep all the power you want. But of course, all real criticism is ostracized, kept out of polite company, marginalized. It is a different tactic, but it ends up having the same result of silencing opposition. Better, they get you to censor yourself, so you don't even know you're being ruled.
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