Feet to the fire

It appears there can be found a theme in the National Review Online this morning. McCarthy’s column talks about the Gonzales confirmation hearing where the testimony of distinguished objectors was shown to be transparent and shallow. Hansen talks about how s pragmatic approach towards solving problems tends to create negative feelings in idealists (such as the Gonzales objectors). Goldberg discusses the need to temper pragmatism with moral values for guidance. In all of these columns, the issues of intellectual integrity driven by a value system is a secondary, perhaps unintended, underlying theme. They provide three good examples of the need to properly consider the basis for our views and opinions and the implications they may have.

But the critics should do us all a favor: If you’re going to talk the talk of righteous indignation, be ready to walk the walk. Be ready to tell Americans exactly what protections you want to give to the terrorists. Be ready to tell Americans that you would prohibit coercive interrogation even if it were the only way of saving a hundred thousand of them.

If you’re not ready to do that — because you full well understand that your position is not one even you can defend when the questions get hard — then don’t waste our time. Get out of the way of serious people like Judge Gonzales. People who don’t pretend to be perfect, who don’t claim to have all the answers, and who are not so smug that they think they can afford to take life-and-death options off the table — even as they pray they will never have to use them. [Andrew C. McCarthy. Fatuous The witnesses against Judge Gonzales torture logic. NRO 7 Ja 05]

The fact is that the utopian views of the Gonzales Objectors Ilk have consequences. When the rubber meets the road and a ‘correction’ is needed, the utopians being forced to face reality creates dissonance.

In fact, an American consensus is growing that envy and hatred of the United States, coupled with utopian and pacifistic rhetoric, disguise an even more depressing fact: Outside our shores there is a growing barbarism with no other sheriff in sight.[Victor Davis Hansen. The Disenchanted American, Are we growing world-weary? NRO 7 Ja 05]

And, while it is the 60’s that sticks in our minds as a beginning of these ‘peace and love’ type values at any cost, the phenomena has deeper roots.

A full generation before the 1960s, no less a liberal saint than Charles Beard was complaining about the New Deal liberals: “These people are talking the relativism which will ruin liberalism yet. Don’t they know that the means can make the ends? Don’t they realize that their method of arguing can justify anything? I wish we could find some way of getting rid of conservative morality without having these youngsters drop all morality.” And nearly 20 years before that the once-renowned progressive J. Allen Smith complained of Wilson-era progressives: “The real trouble with us reformers is that we made reform a crusade against standards. Well, we smashed them all and now neither we nor anybody else have anything left.”

But here’s the larger problem. The law can never be perfectly neutral; it can never be value-free. The only question is which values will triumph.

Now, I’m not talking about liability or torts or any of that stuff, because I don’t know much about it. I’m talking about the larger societal standards that come with the erosion of authority and how they creep into our law and our culture.
[Jonah Goldberg. Cutting the Fat, The decline of the norm. NRO 7 Ja 05]

If, fact, it appears that the discussion of this problem goes back 18 centuries or so. Consider the analysis of the Adam and Eve story in the Jewish World Review.

Our passions fuel us; they are engines that makes us go. Our drive to create, in particular, is one of the deepest and most fundamental of these passions. It, indeed, has many outlets: Sexuality; artistic endeavor; the yearning to be an inventor; ambition of almost any sort — you name it; they are all expressions of creativity at some level. The Talmud, centuries before Freud and Nietzsche, insisted that such forces our essential to our humanity. Without energy, without “meat”, you are dead.

But, the Talmud adds, the meat can still use some spice. Let’s think about this carefully. What, exactly, does spice do for meat?

It gives direction to it; it makes it taste one way rather than another. Without any spice; meat is bland; with the proper spices, it’s the dish of kings. [Rabbi David Fohrman; Serpents of desire: Good and evil in the Garden of Eden — Friedrich Nietzsche and the Disc Jockey; Jewish World Review 7 Ja 05]

A “method of arguing can justify anything” serves no purpose, conveys no message, leads to no betterment of anything. Spice is a preservative as well as a means to highlight flavors as well as a means to disguise flavors. It provides a guide to a method of arguing that creates productive insight rather than just intellectual diversion.

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