Friday, September 13, 2002

Language matters

Would it be possible to ask that, collectively, we stop referring to the baby boomers as “an idealistic generation” as if that were a good thing?

So much of what has gone wrong with America’s ability to lead in the world stems from the substitution of “ideals” for “virtue,” as in the replacement of “Justice” with “peace.” Ideals in and of themselves have little or no moral value. “Peace” cannot be understood as either good or bad without modification: “just” or “unjust;” whereas justice either is, or is not.

The inability of America’s political elite to articulate a case against Iraq clearly originates here. A war with Iraq might or might not be the best way to ensure the existence of justice, both at the level of nation-states, and on the ground in Iraq among that wretched country’s citizens. The president has done an acceptable job articulating a case for war, but that case has been almost entirely about uncertain threats and unclear probabilities. The counterargument has been almost exclusively about the slippery ideal of “peace.” The raging back and forth in the blogosphere has used a lot of ill-understood and poorly articulated language about “just wars,” but few people have actually spoken about Justice itself.

The real, mortal peril of replacing Virtue with Ideal is the separation of means from ends, with all that implies. A person for whom the state of being known as “Peace” becomes not only a virtue, but the dominant virtue, will find himself supporting increasingly immoral policies and actions in the name of “peace.” This is, in fact, how “pro-life” activists become assassins. The protection of unborn children becomes an end unto itself, divorced from the virtues that make it essential, with the consequence that any means useful to the fulfillment of the mission becomes legitimate. “It became necessary to destroy the village in order to save it.”

The same problems prevail in nearly every Ideal foisted on society by the boomers. “Tolerance” and “diversity” and “equality.” These are not statements of moral worth but states of being. There is in fact no more fascist state of being than that of equality, for it is the easiest state to impose: the equality of worthlessness, the nullity of individuals against the State. It is the entropic condition to which all purely Idealistic movements must decay.

Peace has no moral value. The preservation of human life has no moral value. Equality has no moral value. None of these states of being possess the tiniest bit of moral weight without the adjectives we unconsciously and silently supply when we conceive them. But, thanks to those who have destroyed as hypocrisy the language of virtue, and divorced it from the reality of states of being, we have lost the ability to cry “Stop!” when the logic of the Ideal runs afoul of the morality that bore it. “Why” and “how” are matters of virtue.

[By the way, lest the reader think the Boomers are being blamed for this: they are not. The Boomers merely perfected and came to personify a movement that began in the so-called “Enlightenment,” took visible shape in 19th Century nihilism, and found respectable academic homes in such early 20th century ideologies as logical positivism and materialism. But the Boomers are the first generation in modern times to convert the vocabulary of the disgruntled fringe into national policy.]


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