Culture of Confusion

Tower of Babel, by Athanasius Kircher 1679
By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, June 14, 2018
Culture of Confusion
Recently I read Abdu Murray’s fine book Saving Truth: Finding Meaning and Clarity ina Post-Truth World (Zondervan 2018). According to Murray, who is North American director of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, our society has elevated subjective preference over truth, including moral truth. As a result, we live in a Culture of Confusion.
According to Murray, in the name of freedom we seek autonomy. But Murray adds, “Freedom operates at its best within the confines of the truth.” Unfortunately, “Boundaries are foreign to pure autonomy, which means that truth is being sacrificed on autonomy’s alter.”
To be autonomous is to be a law unto oneself. This is nothing new: it began with Adam and Eve.
What’s new are its present manifestations: increase of fake news, proliferation of sexual and gender-identity confusion, decay of reasoning skills, increased intolerance (disguised as “tolerance”).
As I read Murray’s book, I couldn’t help but think of recent school shootings. No doubt the causes are multi-faceted and vary from case to case. But I suspect an important underlying factor is the post-truth view that one’s subjective preference is more important than objective truth: we are who/ what we prefer to be and ethics are wholly subjective.
Also, as I thought about the school shootings, there was something eerily familiar with the claim that my preferences are what matter most.
Then I remembered another fine book by the late philosopher Louis Pojman: Ethics: Discovering Right and Wrong, 3rd edition (Wadsworth/Thomson 1999).
In this book Pojman wisely and correctly argues that ethics are NOT wholly subjective. To illustrate the terrible consequences of a wholly subjective, preference-view of ethics, Pojman presents an interview with Ted Bundy (1946-1989), the man who raped and murdered 20+ women.
Here is a lengthy paraphrase of a tape-recorded conversation between Bundy and one of his victims, from Pojman’s book:
“Then I learned that all moral judgments are ‘value judgments,’ that all value judgments are subjective, and that none can be proved to be either ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ I even read somewhere that the Chief Justice of the United States had written that the American Constitution expressed nothing more than collective value judgments.”
“Believe it or not, I figured out for myself—what apparently the Chief Justice couldn’t figure out for himself—that if the rationality of one value judgment was zero, multiplying it by millions would not make it one whit more rational. Nor is there any ‘reason’ to obey the law for anyone, like myself, who has the boldness and daring—the strength of character—to throw off its shackles…. I discovered that to become truly free, truly unfettered, I had to become truly uninhibited.”
“And I quickly discovered that the greatest obstacle to my freedom, the greatest block and limitation to it, consists in the insupportable ‘value judgment’ that I was bound to respect the rights of others. I asked myself, who were these ‘others?’ Other human beings, with human rights?”
“Why is it more wrong to kill a human animal than any other animal, a pig or a sheep or a steer? Is your life more to you than a hog’s life to a hog? Why should I be willing to sacrifice my pleasure more for the one than for the other? Surely, you would not, in this age of scientific enlightenment, declare that God or nature has marked some pleasures as ‘moral’ or ‘good’ and others as ‘immoral’ or ‘bad’?”
“In any case, let me assure you, my dear young lady, that there is absolutely no comparison between the pleasure that I might take in eating ham and the pleasure I anticipate in raping and murdering you. That is the honest conclusion to which my education has led me—after the most conscientious examination of my spontaneous and uninhibited self.” (Pojman, Ethics, 31-32.)
Bundy, a law student, was clearly a product of a Culture of Confusion, i.e., a culture that elevates subjective preference over objective moral truth.
Today the Culture of Confusion characterizes many of our public institutions.
Parents, do you know what your children are learning at school?
Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Providence University College. The views in this column do not always reflect the views of Providence.

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