December 27, 2005

More getting philosophical

In October 2003, I attended a talk at my alma mater, the University of Delaware, by Harvey Silverglate, lawyer and co-author of The Shadow University, a must-have book about the chilling effects of speech codes on campuses across America. The topic was about free speech in post-9/11 America. I tend to agree with most of what Harvey had to say, especially since most his anecdotes dealt with occurrences at American colleges. However, I attended the event with a graduate professor of mine, Raymond Wolters, and he suggested, among other readings, chapter 8 of Robert Bork's Slouching Towards Gomorrah titled "The Case for Censorship."

Among other things, in this chapter Bork notes that "It is possible to argue for censorship on the grounds that in a republican form of government where people rule, it is crucial that the character of the citizenry not be debased." He goes on to quote Christopher Lasch who said,

Liberals have always taken the position that democracy can dispense with civic virtue. According to this way of thinking, it is liberal institutions, not the character of citizens, that make democracy work.

Lasch notes India and Latin America as examples that "formally democratic institutions are not enough for a workable social order, a proof that is as disheartening as the conditions in parts of large American cities approach those of the Third World."

Bork concludes this chapter by stating the following:

We have learned that the founders of liberalism were wrong. Unconstrained human nature will seek degeneracy often enough to create a disorderly, hedonistic, and dangerous society. Modern liberalism and popular culture are creating that society.

The judge goes on to make many more points, many using legal examples, and I heartily suggest you track down Gomorrah for a truly interesting read. That being said, after re-reading this chapter (and other portions of the book) I immediately thought of one of my favorite science-fiction novels -- Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers. Please do not let the absolutely pitiful movie from a few years ago fool you, nor the title of the book: ST was an extremely intelligent novel, copiously laced with historical and cultural commentary, as any true sci-fi aficionado will tell you. The key chapter in the book is -- how ironic! -- chapter 8, much of which is eerily prescient of what is happening today in American (and others') society (Heinlein wrote the book in 1959). One of the protagonist's (Juan Rico) teachers, Colonel DuBois, lectures his classes on the sense of "collective duty" needed to maintain an orderly society. DuBois' classroom audience is horrified at how, in the 20th century, people were afraid to venture out at night, into parks, and the like. Heinlein, through his DuBois, excoriates the "touchy-feelie" method of dealing with criminals by doing a lot of talking to them. "They (20th century psychologists, et. al.) assumed that Man has a moral instinct," DuBois states. He goes on (emphasis mine):

[Man] has a cultivated conscience, a most carefully trained one. Man has no moral instinct. he is not born with moral sense. You were not born with it, I was not -- and a puppy has none. We acquire moral sense, when we do, through training, experience, and heard sweat of the mind. [These] unfortunate juvenile criminals were born with none, even as you and I, and they had no chance to acquire any; their experiences did not permit it. What is 'moral sense'? It is an elaboration of the human instinct to survive. The instinct to survive is human nature itself, and every aspect of our personalities derives from it. Anything that conflicts with the survival instinct acts sooner or later to eliminate the individual and thereby fails to show up in future generations.

But the instinct to survive can be cultivated into motivations more subtle and much more complex than the blind, brute urge of the individual to stay alive. [What one] miscalled 'moral instinct' was the instilling in you by your elders of the truth that survival can have stronger imperatives than that of your own personal survival. Survival of your family, for example. Of your children....of your nation. And so on up.

[These] juvenile criminals hit a low level. Born with only the instinct for survival, the highest morality they achieved was a shaky loyalty to a peer group, a street gang. But the do-gooders attempted to 'appeal to their better natures,' to 'reach them,' to 'spark their moral sense.' They had no 'better natures'; experience taught them that what they were doing was the way to survive. The puppy never got his spanking; therefore what he did with pleasure and success must be 'moral.'

The basis of all morality is duty, a concept with the same relation to group that self-interest has to individual. Nobody preached duty to these kids in a way they could understand -- that is, with a spanking. But the society they were in told them endlessly about their 'rights.' "

It is quite interesting to compare that last paragraph above to what Judge Bork says in his own chapter 8 (emphasis mine):

Once something is announced, usually flatly and stridently, to be a right, discussion becomes difficult to impossible. Rights inhere in the person, are claimed to be absolute, and cannot be diminished or taken away by reason; in fact, reason suggests the non-existence of an asserted right is viewed as a moral evil by the claimant. If there is to be anything that can be called a community, rather than an agglomeration of hedonists, the case for previously unrecognized individual freedoms must be thought through and argued, and 'rights' cannot win every time.

UPDATE (12/29 at 9:37am): Soccer Dad e-mails the following: Would James Q. Wilson agree with Judge Bork?

Posted by Hube at December 27, 2005 09:09 AM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

Damn, Hube, this is a GREAT post! Very interesting. I want to make more comments later about it when I have time, but again, this was an absolute treat to read.

Posted by: Dana Garrett at December 27, 2005 10:34 AM

This is kind of a nice coincidence. I jsut blogged on a book I read this weekend (Rights and Duties by Russell Kirk) that explored the Constitution. One of the points he made is that the authors of the Constitution clearly intended censorship to be legal. He argued this a few ways: showing that they did in fact censor pornography, quoting them and discussing the wording of the Amendment. He argued that the phrasing "abridging the freedom of speech" (emphasis added) meant that there could be no abridgment of the freedom that existed at the time of the adoption of the amendment, not that free speech was universal.

A cute story I once heard: Judge Bork gave a speech and afterwards a member of the audience accused him of supporting censorship. His reponse: "Yes."

And Hube, "Slouching Towards Gomorrah" was an excellent book. I read it in 1998, I think. Definitely worth reading.

Posted by: Paul Smith at December 27, 2005 11:12 AM

Great post! I'm guessing that if more people trained their puppies there would be less of a need for shelters...

Posted by: Amie at December 28, 2005 04:04 PM

If we didn't have a "Moral Instinct" (like a "Language Instinct") we would have destroyed ourselves thousands of years ago.

Alex Sutherland's "Origins of the Moral Instinct", and William McDougall's "Introduction to Social Psychology Ch 3 - Principal Instincts and Primary Emotions", looks into this at some depth - as do others like Kagan and Levy.

Richard W. Symonds
"THE MEGA INSTINCT - A Theory for Humanity"

Posted by: Richard W. Symonds at December 31, 2005 05:16 PM

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