One of the bad habits of the age in which we live is the habit of turning abstract terms into flags, running them up the pole, and demanding that everybody salute them or be denounced as a traitor.
This habit can be found on both sides of the political spectrum. This is, for example, what neoconservatives do with the term “liberty” and its synonym “freedom”. Up until about a century ago it was self-identified liberals who did this these terms but that is the nature of neoconservatism. Irving Kristol defined a neoconservative as a “liberal who has been mugged by reality”. Neoconservatism is yesterday’s liberalism. Think back two decades to the events of 9/11 and the “War on Terror” that ensued. The American President at the time, George W. Bush, his Cabinet, and his supporters all maintained that 9/11 had been an attack on American “liberty” by people who hated Americans for their “freedom” and that their “War on Terror” would be fought on behalf of said freedom. They ran freedom up the flagpole, demanded that everyone salute, and denounced everyone that was not 100% behind everything they were doing as a traitor to liberty.
By turning “freedom” and “liberty” into flags, and proclaiming their allegiance to them, however, they avoided accountability for how their actions were affecting the actual freedoms and liberties of American citizens. In order to fight the “War on Terror” on behalf of the abstract flag of “freedom”, they permanently and exponentially expanded the powers of their government and created a national surveillance state. It is a strange sort of “freedom” and one that does not much resemble the traditional understanding of the word that can be defended in this way.
This, of course, is the problem with this habit of making flags out of abstract terms. Allegiance to the term as a flag is required of people, but it is all that is required, not any sort of consistent, intelligent, understanding of the term.
Progressives are just as prone to this bad habit as conservatives. Indeed, they are much worse. In the previous example it was noted that the abstraction the neoconservatives were saluting as a flag had originally been run up the pole by liberals, who are progressives and this is true of most of the abstractions that today’s conservatives salute. Progressives are the ones who make the abstract terms into flags, then, when they have decided that the flag they were saluting yesterday is no longer “modern” (1), they abandon it to the conservatives and make a new one. “Democracy” is an abstract flag that progressives created and neoconservatives adopted even though the progressives have not abandoned it. Both sides frequently accuse the other of betraying “democracy”. This is one reason, among many, why I try to avoid saluting this particular flag, and insist that I believe in the concrete institution of parliament under the reign of a royal monarch, that has proven itself through the test of time, rather than abstract ideal of democracy.
At the present moment the primary abstract flag that progressives are saluting and demanding that the rest of us show our allegiance to is that of “diversity”. This, of course, raises the question of what kind of diversity is in question. The term is used in a myriad of diverse contexts, from speaking of someone whose outfits are radically different from day to day as having a diverse wardrobe to a farmer who plants diverse crops as opposed to only wheat or only barley to my own use of the word at the beginning of this sentence. The diversity that progressives demand our allegiance to today is a very specific kind of diversity. It means diversity of the population in terms of categories of group identity. Race and cultural ethnicity are the most obvious such categories. Sex ought to be the least controversial such category, in that no human population could last longer than a generation that is entirely of one sex, and all societies except for mythical ones like the Amazons, have been sexually diverse in the traditional sense. Progressives have turned it into the most controversial category, however, by demanding that everyone show their allegiance to diversity of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity”.
In practice, the progressive insistence that we all salute the flag of diversity translates into a requirement that we accept the propositions a) that diversity of this kind is an unmixed blessing to a society and b) the more diversity of this kind a society has the better off it will be. Here again, we find the habit of making flags out of abstract ideas shutting down intelligent thought concerning those ideas. Both propositions are obviously false. Consider the first proposition. The much more nuanced statement that there are positives and negatives to both cultural and racial heterogeneity (diversity) and homogeneity, that each conveys distinct advantages and disadvantages upon a society, and that the advantages and disadvantages of each must be weighed against those of the other can be defended intelligently. So can the assertion that after such weighing, the advantages of diversity outweigh its disadvantages and the advantages of homogeneity, although the opposite assertion can also be intelligently defended. The proposition that diversity of this kind is an unmixed blessing cannot be intelligently defended. Even if it could, however, and further, we were to concede it to be the case, the second proposition, that the more diversity the better, would by no means follow from the first. Plenty of things that are good in themselves turn bad when taken to excess. Indeed, in classical Aristotelean ethics, vices (bad habits) are formed by indulging natural appetites that are good in themselves to excess, and in classical Christian theology heresies (serious doctrinal errors concerning tenets of the Gospel kerygma as summarized in the ancient Creeds) are formed by taking one tenet of the faith, true in itself, to excess.
More important, for the purposes of this discussion, than what is included in the “diversity” to which progressives demand our allegiance, is what is excluded. It is quite clear, from the way progressives respond to those who dare to raise points such as those raised in the previous paragraph, that diversity of thought or opinion is not included in the diversity they praise and value so highly. Indeed, this entire bad habit of turning an abstract idea into a flag is very inconsistent with the idea of diversity of thought or opinion. Yet, for anyone who values freedom in the political sense as it was traditionally understood, this is surely the most important kind of diversity of all. For that matter, for parliamentary government or democracy, in any sense of the word that is consistent with a free society, to function, diversity of thought must be the most important kind of diversity.
While this does provide a further illustration of how progressives, in raising new abstract flags, abandon those they saluted in days gone by, it has long been observed that even when liberals, the progressives of yesterday, expressed a belief in diversity of thought, their practice often contradicted it. Remember that famous line of William F. Buckley Jr.’s “Liberals claim to want to give a hearing to other views, but then are shocked and offended to discover there are other views”? He made this statement, in one form or another, numerous times, and I don’t know when he first said it, but the oldest version of which I am aware comes from his Up From Liberalism, first published in 1959. “Duke” Morrison, the legendary actor who under the stage name John Wayne starred in countless films from The Big Trail in 1930 until The Shootist in 1976 said:
I have found a certain type calls himself a liberal. Now I always thought I was a liberal. I came up terribly surprised one time when I found out that I was a right-wing, conservative extremist, when I listened to everybody’s point of view that I ever met, and then decided how I should feel. But this so-called new liberal group, Jesus, they never listen to your point of view and they make a decision as to what you think and they are articulate enough and in control of enough of the press to force that image out for the average person.
If this could be said of liberals back in 1959 and 1975 it is all the more true of today’s progressives.
One way in which this is evident is in their exclusionary rhetoric. Progressives, especially those who hold some sort of office of civic authority, have become increasingly prone to issuing proclamations about how such-and-such a thing they disapprove of has “no place” in our community and society. It would be one thing if what they were so excluding were things like murder, robbery, and rape which would meet with broad disapproval in pretty much any society in any time and place. In most cases, however, they are speaking of some “ism” or “phobia”, usually one that has been that has been newly coined. What these neologisms have in common is that each of them is defined in a special way. On the surface, these “isms” and “phobias” appear to refer to varieties of crude bigotry but they are applied by progressives in actual usage so as to include all forms of dissent from the sacred progressive dogma that identity-group diversity is always good and that more identity-group diversity is always better, no matter how respectfully and intelligently that dissent is worded. A couple of months ago the Orthosphere blogger who writes under the nom de plume Bonald after the reactionary philosopher who wrote against the French Revolution and its aftermath provided us with some disturbing insights into the implications of the growth of this sort of rhetoric.
Another way in which the progressive Left’s increasing rejection of the most important form of diversity for those who want to live in a free society with a functioning parliamentary government is in its use of the terms “denial” and “denier” as derogatory epithets for those who disagree with its dogmas.
This has become fairly standard practice whenever progressives run into disagreement on a wide assortment of matters. The implications of this use of these terms are that either a) what progressives are asserting is so self-evidently obvious that one would have to be stubbornly, stupidly and willfully ignorant to disagree, b) we are under a moral obligation to believe what the progressives say and therefore are committing a moral offense in disagreeing, or c) a combination of a) and b). Since progressives are not the authorities of a religious communion to which we all belong and have no legitimate authority to set dogma, the second of these implications is absurd. Since progressives use the “denial” and “denier” epithets to avoid answering well-reasoned and evidence backed arguments against their positions the first of these implications is also ridiculous.
This becomes quite comical when the progressive assertions pertain to matters that have a large scientific component. For decades now, anyone who has questioned the progressive narrative that states that due mostly to the emissions of greenhouse gasses by livestock and human industry the average temperature of the earth has risen and cataclysmic climate change is impending unless the population of the world is radically reduced, we all become vegans, and we stop using fossil fuels for energy has been labelled a “denier”. A rather convenient way of avoiding answering difficult questions such as “why should climate change be assumed to be for the worse rather than the better, especially since historically human beings have thrived better in warm periods than cold ones?” and “why, since the earth’s climate has hardly been constant throughout history to the point that advocates of your theory have stooped to doctoring graphs of the historical data to hide this fact, should we expect it to remain constant now and be alarmed about the observed rise of about a degree in the earth’s average temperature over a century?” In the last year and a half we have seen progressives accuse anyone who questions whether it is either good or necessary to sabotage the economies of every country in the world, drive small businesses into bankruptcy while enriching the billionaires who control the big online businesses, cancel our constitutional rights and freedoms, brainwash everyone into looking upon other human beings primarily as sources of contagion, exponentially accelerate the problem of people substituting their smartphones and computers for real, in-person social contact, establish anarcho-tyrannical police states in which acts that are bona in se and absolutely essential to healthy social and communal life are turned into mala prohibita crimes and hunted down with greater severity than real crimes that are actually mala in se, and bribing and blackmailing people into accepting an experimental new gene therapy in violation of the Nuremberg Protocol, all in order to combat a pandemic involving a virus that has proven to be less lethal than the vast majority of previous pandemics for which no such extreme measures were ever considered, let alone taken, of being a “COVID denier”. To be fair, plenty of “conservative” political leaders, including the premiers of my own province (Manitoba), Alberta, and Upper Canada have all done the same, but the progressives have been much more monolithic about it. The reason this is so comical is because real “science”, as anybody who understands the word knows, does not make dogmatic statements and therefore admits of no “denial”. The comedy is greatly enhanced when those denouncing “COVID deniers” or “climate change deniers” advise us to “follow the science” or “listen to the science” as if “science” made dogmatic proclamations, or when they say “the science is settled” when, by the prevalent litmus test of the philosophy underlying science, for a theory to be scientific, it must be falsifiable, and therefore, science can never be settled. Less funny and more sad, is when someone like Anthony Fauci or Theresa Tam admits the real nature of science, that it is always evolving, but uses this to back up a claim to absolute obedience of the nature of “you should unquestioningly obey my orders at any given moment, even if it contradicts what I told you to do the moment before” as if he, or allegedly she in the case of Tam, were Petruchio and the rest of us were Katherina the shrew.
It is far less comical when progressives impose a narrative interpretation on their country’s history in order to undermine the legitimacy of their country and its institutions and attack its historical figures, and then accuse those who point out the holes in their narrative of “denial”. In this case, the progressives are walking in the footsteps of the French Jacobins, the Chinese Maoists, and the Khmer Rouge all of whom wrought tremendous devastation, destruction, and disaster upon their countries by insisting that their history was irredeemably corrupt and needed to be razed to the ground, along with all of the countries’ institutions. This is what the progressives that infest Canada’s university faculties and newsmedia, both print and electronic, have been attempting to do in Canada for a couple of decades with their interpretation of the Indian Residential Schools. In the real past, the past as it actually happened, these were boarding schools, initially founded by Christian Churches as a missionary outreach to Native Indians to provide their children with the kind of education they would need if they were to thrive in the modern economy. The Indian chiefs of the nineteenth century wanted just this kind of education for their children and so, at their insistence, the stipulation that it would be provided by the Dominion government was included in all of the treaties. Accordingly, the government funded and expanded these schools, as well as making provisions for day schools on the reserves. If Indian parents neglected to send their kids to the day schools, the government would make the kids go to the residential schools, but initially it was mostly the kids of the chiefs and the elders of the bands who were sent to the schools at their own parents’ insistence. By a century later, however, the government was making these schools serve the double function of schools and foster group homes for Indian children whom child welfare social workers had removed from their homes to protect them from such things as physical abuse. Through utterly contemptible methodology, including a “victim centred” approach to testimony that could just as easily have been used to produce an equally damning picture of the schools to which wealthy, elite, white kids were sent, or for that matter schools of any sort because for any school you can always find alumni for whom the experience was something horrible to be “survived”, and which is completely in violation of the standards by which truth and guilt are assessed in the courtroom and the historical process, progressives spun a cock and bull narrative in which all the bad experiences in the schools were made out to have been the intent of the schools’ founders, administrators, and the Canadian government, and the purpose of the schools was interpreted as the elimination of Native Indian cultural identities. The progressives then used this narrative interpretation to claim that all of this was the moral equivalent of what the Third Reich did in its prison camps in World War II or what was done to the Tutsis in the last days of the Rwandan Civil war, which would have been a reprehensible claim even if the facts admitted of no other interpretation than that of their narrative, which is not even close to being the case. The progressives insist that everything else in the history of Canada, especially anything traditionally seen as a great and positive achievement of either English or French Canadians, must take a backset to their interpretation of the Indian Residential Schools and that Canadians of all ethnicities, but especially English and French Canadians, must perpetually live in shame and submit to having their country “cancelled”. In the last month or so the progressives have kicked this up a notch by claiming falsely that the discovery of the location of abandoned cemeteries on the grounds of the Kamloops Residential School – and more recently the Marieval Residential School in Saskatchewan – was a “shocking” new discovery (that such cemeteries were to be found has been known all along – an entire volume of the TRC Final Report is dedicated to this) and, irresponsibly to the point of criminal defamation of past Canadian governments, the Churches and the school administrators, faculty, and staff, that the graves constitute evidence of mass murder, the least plausible explanation, by far, of the deaths of the children.
For several weeks now Chris Champion, author, historian, and editor of the history journal the Dorchester Review, one of the few publications in Canada still worth reading, has been attacked by progressives over tweets made on the journal’s Twitter account challenging this narrative. Sean Carleton, who is associated with the Indigenous Studies program at the University of Manitoba, accused the Dorchester Review of being a “straight up garbage, genocide denialism, outfit” for agreeing with the Final Report of the TRC that “the cause of death was usually tuberculosis or some other disease”. Janis Irwin, the Deputy Whip for Alberta’s NDP, also denounced Champion as “reprehensible and disgusting” for expressing this agreement with the TRC’s Final Report, and demanded that Jason Kenney scrap the K-9 social studies curriculum on the preparation of which, Champion had advised the Albertan government. While this sort of thing is to be expected from those of Carleton’s and Irwin’s ilk, about a week ago the CBC, the Crown broadcaster paid for out of the taxes of all Canadians, ran a story by Janet French of CBC Edmonton, full of quotes from people such as the Alberta NDP Education Critic, Sarah Hoffman, Nicole Sparrow who is press secretary to Kenney’s Education Minister, Kisha Supernant who is an archeology professor at the University of Manitoba, and Daniel Panneton of the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre in Toronto, all expressing how appalled they were at Champion’s disagreement with the progressive, Canada-bashing, narrative, this time in an article that appeared on Dorchester Review’s website under his byline on June 17th and which pointed out just how inappropriate the comparisons the narrative makes between the residential schools and what happened in Europe in the 1940s are.
In his article, which is well-worth reading in its entirety, Champion wrote:
It is ridiculous to compare organizations of poor Oblates to machine-gun-toting Einsatzgruppen and Soviet NKVD. And it is equally false and unjust to act as if every single nun or priest or brother or Methodist minister and his wife was a child-abuser or sexual predator.
All of this is absolutely true and, it is worth noting, the second sentence is quite consistent with the TRC Report in which the testimony of those who experienced sexual abuse is overwhelmingly of the type in which older students were the abusers, sadly the common experience of boarding school students of all types. Which is why all of Champion’s detractors quoted in the CBC article do not answer his arguments but merely accuse him of bigoted attitudes and “denial”. “One photo of smiling children does not negate thousands of survivors’ stories”, which Kisha Supernant is quoted as having said, is the closest thing to an attempt at an answer that appears, although anyone who reads Champion’s article from beginning to end – since the CBC article appeared the same day it is questionable as to whether those quoted had done so – will know that nothing in the article negates the testimony of those whose experience at the residential schools was bad, only the spin by placed on that testimony by the progressive narrative, a narrative, incidentally, which itself negates the testimony of no small number of alumni of these schools whose experience was positive.
The progressives who have been attacking Champion and the Dorchester Review talk as if they think that someone who tells a story of having suffered victimization, especially of the sort that can be attributed to some prohibited “ism” or “phobia”, has a right to have “their truth” in current progressive lingo accepted without question or cross-examination. A certain type of feminist makes this claim explicitly with regards to females who claim to have been sexually harassed or assaulted. This sort of thinking runs contrary to the principles of courtroom justices, such as the right of the accused to confront and cross-examine his accuser, and the right of the accused to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, principles which exist for very good reasons, to prevent courts of law from being used as instruments of abuse by false accusers. This kind of talk, however, is a rhetorical device that dishonestly equates criticism of the progressives’ ideas, interpretations, and narratives with criticism of personal testimony incorporate into these narratives.
In all of these examples of progressive dismissal of their critics as “deniers” we can see how progressives have moved increasingly further away from the diversity of thought and opinion that is the most important diversity as far as the freedom of society and the functioning of parliamentary government goes. In the last example, the diversity of thought they condemn as “denial” is disagreement with their narrative interpretation of the history of the residential schools, a narrative interpretation that they are presently using to attack the foundations and institutions of Canada, an attack which if it succeeds and follows its historical precedents will not bode well for freedom and parliamentary government in this country. This makes the way progressives have run “diversity” up the flagpole and are constantly demanding that we salute it into a kind of sick joke.
Perhaps it is time we all got over this bad habit of turning abstract ideas into flags.
(1)In Evelyn Waugh’s Black Mischief, (1932) Basil Seal, having fled England to avoid the duties his mother was insisting he take up, is invited to help modernize the country of Azania by its Emperor Seth, an old Oxford friend of his. He tells Seth “we’ve got a much easier job than we should have had fifty years ago. If we’d had to modernize a country then it would have meant constitutional monarchy, bi-cameral legislature, proportional representation, women’s suffrage, independent judicature, freedom of the Press, referendums…” to which the Emperor asks “what is all that” and is told “just a few ideas that have ceased to be modern”.