Philosophy Matters, QED

Every man has a philosophy. It shapes his thoughts, directs his actions, and even determines his very outlook on reality. In order for man to live on earth, he must have a philosophy which guides his most fundamental decisions. Even newborns who have not yet had the opportunity to formulate a philosophy start the process of doing so almost immediately by perceiving and integrating sense data. Philosophy only ceases to be useful to man when he is dead.

But neither the living nor the dead are of primary concern here. There is, in fact, a third class of men who attempt to straddle the barrier between life and death. Philosophically, they are the walking dead. Though their biology still functions normally, their mind is poisoned, holding to premises which ultimately lead to destruction. Though they live now, their philosophy is inherently anti-life, leading not to health, happiness, and prosperity, but to decay, injury, and death.

To be honest, most people cannot identify in explicit terms the nature of their own philosophy, let alone recognize its full implications. But even among those who can introspectively comprehend their philosophy and verbalize it, there are some who either do not see, refuse to see, or deny seeing the end results of practicing it consistently. Just because the practitioners of a given philosophy do not accept or acknowledge the products of that philosophy, however, does not make its products any less real; similarly, the fact that some disregard philosophy as a mystically esoteric or even irrelevant field, cannot diminish its importance to their lives.

For those who deny the immense significance of philosophy, examine a recent interview conducted by Patrick Gavin of Politico. The article is entitled, almost as a victory cheer, “CPAC boy wonder swings left.” The “boy wonder” referred to in the title is Jonathan Krohn who gained notoriety for himself by speaking at the 2009 Conservative Political Action Conference at the age of 13. In 2010, he even published his own book called Defining Conservatism: The Principles That Will Bring Our Country Back (he self-published the shorter Defining Conservatism in 2008). At the time, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich took note of Krohn, commenting that Krohn was “[s]ure to be a leader of his generation’s return to conservatism.” I personally remember seeing Krohn in a television interview at the time and, if I remember correctly, he claimed his eventual ambition was to become the President of the United States. But that was the “13/14 year old” Krohn. The “17 year old Krohn” is no longer a conservative.

The fact that a boy changed his political opinions between ages 13 and 17 is so unremarkable an event that it makes the title of Gavin’s article almost laughably overly-enthused. Though the number of individuals who write political non-fiction or speak at national political conferences at that age is minute, the number of those who understand what they are writing or preaching is even more so. I myself was no older then than Krohn is now, and I did not truly discover Ayn Rand and her philosophy until my first year of college. But even in high school, I remember watching Krohn on the news and thinking silently to myself, “That kid really doesn’t have a clue about what he’s saying, even if I do agree with it.”

And in that respect, I was correct. “It’s a 13-year-old kid saying stuff that he had heard for a long time,” admits Krohn. “I live in Georgia. We’re inundated with conservative talk in Georgia.” Having grown up in Georgia myself, I can attest to that. That being said, it does not explain precisely why Krohn made the transition from a conservative to Leftist political ideology. Some modern psychologists will often try to attribute to this fact to something they call the “Acceptance-Rejection Mechanism” (ARM), a mystic part of the human subconscious which determines whether an individual will “accept” the precepts of the cultural/family/etc. environment in which he was raised or “reject” them. The choice made by the ARM is entirely arbitrary – a child will either grow up accepting the political ideology of his parents or he will not, but which side of the ARM he falls on will be a random chance of nature without any real justification. As such, this “explanation” is inadequate.

There is a second explanation that provides a more rational understanding of a child’s psychology. If a child is raised, as Krohn implies he was, in an environment in which the adults around him blatantly try to mold and frame his political ideology, this can lead to a backlash in his psychology. If he is taught to wholly swallow the precepts of his elders without justification, even if those precepts are rational, then one can expect a nature of intellectual rebelliousness to arise in him. The child, whose mind is hopefully not yet mangled by more advanced philosophies to believe that nothing is justifiable, will seek solace by developing a political ideology that he thinks “makes sense” compared to that of the adults around him. Though, certainly, he can still err and choose an ideology which is even less justifiable. Those that retain their parents’ political beliefs do so for one of three reasons: 1. their parents justified it; 2. their parents did not justify it but the child found a justification which appears reasonable (even if it is not) on his own; 3. the faculty of the child to do anything but regurgitate the dicta of his seniors has already been crippled. But this still leaves a few questions unanswered: why do children choose the final political ideology that they do? Why do they believe that one “makes sense” over the other?

Fortunately, Krohn provides the answer, unwittingly shedding light on a much deeper issue. Read carefully:

“‘I started reflecting on a lot of what I wrote, just thinking about what I had said and what I had done and started reading a lot of other stuff, and not just political stuff,’ Krohn said. ‘I started getting into philosophy — Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Kant and lots of other German philosophers. And then into present philosophers — Saul Kripke, David Chalmers. It was really reading philosophy that didn’t have anything to do with politics that gave me a breather and made me realize that a lot of what I said was ideological blather that really wasn’t meaningful. It wasn’t me thinking. It was just me saying things I had heard so long from people I thought were interesting and just came to believe for some reason, without really understanding it.’”

If you did not catch it, reexamine one of Krohn’s key points: that he “was really reading philosophy that didn’t have anything to do with politics.” Why, then, did his political positions alter the way they did? If what he was reading didn’t have anything to do with politics then one could reasonably assume that what he was reading wouldn’t have affected his politics. But it did.

The reason why should be obvious: man’s philosophy is an integrated whole which represents the totality of his intellectual person. Moreover, philosophy is hierarchical, with derivative branches depending on more fundamental ones. As it is, political philosophy is at the far end of the philosophic chain, relying on a number of other branches to serve as the substructure for its own premises and conclusions. To suggest that Krohn could have read the philosophies he did – not only read, but accept them as fact – and not have changed his political positions represents a misunderstanding of causality. Just as man should not plant seeds of poisonous berries in the ground expecting them to produce healthy fruit, neither should he expect the seeds of a poisonous philosophy to produce sound politics.

And right though Krohn is to realize that much of what he said at the time was merely “ideological blather that really wasn’t meaningful,” it was Nietzsche (or Kant, or any of the others) who made him realize this? Is anyone really surprised that Krohn went from political conservatism (which is flawed enough on its own) to political Leftism?

How could Nietzsche have led Krohn to any logical conclusion when he himself rejected logic? (“There are many kinds of eyes. Even the Sphinx has eyes – and consequently there are many kinds of ‘truths,’ and consequently there is no truth.”)

How could Wittgenstein’s theories have led Krohn to a system of governance which holds each man’s life as his own highest value when he himself believed our lives are supposed to be lived for someone or something other than ourselves? (“I don’t know why we are here, but I’m pretty sure that it is not in order to enjoy ourselves.”)

How could Kant teach Krohn how to live within reality when he himself said that the nature of reality depends upon our perception of it, rather than vice versa? (“Hitherto it has been assumed that all our knowledge must conform to objects. But all attempts to extend our knowledge…  have, on this assumption, ended in failure. We must therefore make trial whether we may not have more success…if we suppose that objects must conform to our knowledge.”)

And one must remember that it was not the mere fact that he read such inanities that caused Krohn to change his politics. Instead, this was the result of his age and impressionability, i.e. that he fully accepted these philosophies rather than critically judging them on their merits (or, rather, their lack thereof). There is a point in man’s life in his late teens and early adulthood – a point which Krohn is fast approaching – at which man’s philosophy becomes relatively permanent. For most, their philosophies become dead dogma which they believe is fundamentally true even in the face of rational criticism. Most of the changes in one’s philosophy beyond that point are generally minor. This is not to say that a man cannot undergo his own philosophic enlightenment later in life, but the likelihood of this is severely reduced.

And Krohn’s chances of discovering a rational philosophy – at least before his own philosophy ceases to be youthful curiosity (however flawed) and instead turns into dogmatism – are not good. Unsurprisingly, those philosophers named by Krohn are the same who have overseen the intellectual decline of the West – and so too the erosion of individual rights – over at least the last 100 years. Judging by that which I can observe first-hand in a fairly conservative university, relatively speaking, I can safely assume that Krohn’s irrational philosophic prejudices are likely to be reinforced rather than abated in his college years. And if the general rule of thumb holds true that modern philosophy departments are more intellectually corrupted than some of the others, then Krohn’s chosen course of study in philosophy will likely only intensify this reinforcement.

Whatever the case, Krohn has done well to accidentally make an example of himself to the benefit of rational observers. Krohn’s shift from speaking out against President Obama in 2009 to supporting him and his healthcare act in 2012 demonstrates the natural conclusions of Kant’s, Nietzsche’s, Wittgenstein’s, etc. ideological refuse. More than that, his example displays the direct link between man’s psyche (i.e. his ideology) and its application in man’s actions.

Some may wonder if it is possible for man to draw conclusions in a political or some other sense which conflict with other tenets of his philosophy. Certainly it is possible, insofar as one means that such a man is ignoring the actual ends of his more fundamental premises. Modern conservatives serve as an excellent example of these sorts of contradictions. Though they hold many of the same premises as liberals and Leftists – i.e., that it is man’s duty to take care of his fellows, that sacrifice is a moral standard of value, etc. – they claim to support a different kind of government. But because the conservatives share the same fundamentals as their philosophic opponents, they have gradually defaulted over the past century and have granted victory after victory to the enemies of individual rights. Why? Because the Leftists are more consistent in their positions than are the conservatives who already share their same basic tenets, leaving the conservatives no means to combat the others – this, I believe, is part of the reason Krohn was so ready to accept the philosophies he did.

Broadly speaking, the contradictions that man can hold within his own ideology are more often of the superficial rather than the fundamental variety. Rather than holding to conflicting principles, it is the application of those principles which produces the inconsistency. A conservative could believe, for example, that altruistic giving is an absolute moral good while not being consistent enough to support a socialist government. He could not, however, believe in the same moral supremacy of altruism and that the pursuit of one’s self-interest supersedes the interests of others. The first is an inconsistency in application, the second in fundamentals.

But reality does not contradict itself. Reality is consistent. The moment man assumes a principle (or application) which is contrary to the nature of reality, he is, in fact, acting against his own nature. Man can only live his life, not to mention live it happily, by unflinchingly pursuing his own self-interests, and he can only do that by understanding and properly responding to reality. If he does not, he puts himself in harm’s way – either spiritually or physically.

Fortunately, not all contradictions are the same – lesser contradictions produce lesser levels of harm, though they are still harmful and ought to be corrected. But the contradictions currently held by Krohn and many others are not so minor. They are of the level which will very rapidly inhibit man’s productive abilities – and so too his ability to live – if they were implemented fully. Undoubtedly, there are people working diligently to see that they are.

Fortunately, the American public still retains enough of a rational philosophy – and the American Constitution enough integrity – to prevent full, direct assaults by socialists and other breeds of thugs, even if individuals like Krohn do not. Individuals of that kind attempt to treat reality as it is not and to live in a way which man cannot. They are destructive to those affected by the application of their philosophies, but even more than that they are self-destructive. And if they do not correct their errors in their own philosophies then they are, in a very real sense, dead men walking.

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