Yesterday I ran across some remarks by philosopher of science Michael Hanby that contrast the understanding we discern in Shakespeare with the attitudes common on university campuses today.
Hanby says, “Your final philosophical options come down to two. Either there is a word, or a logos, at the foundation of reality, so that reality is inherently intelligible and meaningful, and therefore there are natures, forms, that persist in spite of the flux of history and time; or, reality is fundamentally meaningless, and meaning is kind of an epiphenomenal construct superimposed upon it.”
To take a familiar example of the second alternative mentioned by Hanby: In today’s colleges of education, constructionism is common. Colleges of education may require that all faculty teach according to constructionism. Constructionism holds that the world is meaningless except insofar as human beings make/devise/construct meaning. Before the appearance of human beings like ourselves, there was no meaning. Today it is obvious, constructionism says, that humans do make meanings. However, the meanings that they make can’t be confirmed by an appeal to objective, perennial truth because there never was such a thing.
The passage above comes from a short article written by the English professor friend I mentioned yesterday. I won’t print his name here because he has to live and work in the academic world, but I quote him with his permission.
I think I might have given an unfair impression in what I wrote about relativists yesterday. I may have suggested that I thought that such people cannot love. That is, of course, unfair. They are our fellow human beings; they have the same passions as the rest of us. They love their lovers and their children and their families. They thrill to great music and literature. They grieve over disappointed hopes, and over the deaths of friends and loved ones.
Their problem (it seems to me) is that they don’t know what to do with those passions. Look at what my friend wrote above. The relativist thinks that his love for people or things is something he himself created, somewhat arbitrarily. He feels that such feelings are right, but he can’t give a reason why they are better than feelings of hate, other than that they have social utility. But who is to say that social utility itself is good?
Joy Davidman, the poet who married C.S. Lewis, described what she believed in her atheist phase: “Life is only an electrochemical reaction. Love, art, and altruism are only sex. The universe is only matter. Matter is only energy. I forget what I said energy is only.”
And it isn’t just a matter of saying, “Well, these people do love, so what difference does it make if they don’t know why?”
I think it does make a difference.
Look at the block quote at the top again. My friend is describing Shakespearian scholars. If there’s one thing you could be pretty sure of when dealing with Shakespearean scholars in the past, it was that they loved Shakespeare. That’s how they got into the field in the first place.
But it’s clear that many Shakespearean scholars today do not love Shakespeare (even theatrical people don’t love him – see my review of The New Philistines, further down the page). They approach Shakespeare as the enemy, an oppressor to overthrow, a corpse to dissect in the service of whatever ideology they’re promoting.
If Shakespeareans can be taught by relativism to hate Shakespeare, is it impossible that relativists may eventually learn to hate all humanity? I think I see the signs of such a turning all around us. Families with more than one or two children are lampooned and despised as “breeders.” Abortion is a sacred shibboleth. Childlessness is a proud “lifestyle choice.” Relationships not capable of reproduction are celebrated and promoted. We are told again and again that there are too many people in the world, that people are poisoning and killing the environment. That people, in short, are vermin.
Individual relativists may be and are fine people. But poisonous ideas bring consequences. I wrote of these trends in my novels, Wolf Time and Death’s Doors (links top right). I see no sign that my predictions are growing less probable.
I’d love to be wrong.