Wednesday, April 13, 2022

The Tyranny of the Philosopher Kings

At a time when the commentariat is crowing about the triumph of democracy in Ukraine, one needs to take a step backwards, to take a deep breath, and to ask how much we are simply being subjected to non-stop propaganda.

One does not like to have to say it, but watching Ukraine be leveled, watching its people being brutalized, does not feel like a great triumph.

One does understand that telling the Ukrainians that they will naturally prevail in the conflict with Russia is probably propelling them to fight a war that they cannot possibly win. 

With some chagrin we quote one Larry Johnson on the state of play in the Russian war against Ukraine (via Maggie’s Farm):

Within the first 24 hours of the Russian military operation in Ukraine, all Ukrainian Ground Radar Intercept capabilities were wiped out. Without those radars, the Ukrainian Air Force lost its ability to do air to air intercept. In the intervening three weeks, Russia has established a de facto No Fly Zone over Ukraine. While still vulnerable to shoulder fired Surface to Air Missiles supplied by the U.S. and NATO to the Ukrainians, there is no evidence that Russia has had to curtail Combat Air Operations.

And yet, if you read the news, and that involves the news on the left and the right, you would think that Ukraine is winning, decisively. You would think that the only remaining issue is when we are going to put the Russians on trial for war crimes and genocide.

So, Ukraine is winning the propaganda war. It is winning the hearts and minds of Westerners. On the ground, the situation becomes increasingly dire, and, as Johnson points out, the war has already been lost.

As it happens, we are no longer very interested in wars or even in winning wars. We have come to worship minds and we believe that if we can control minds then we can rule the world. We may not have much of a stockpile of grain or of minerals, but we have ideas on our side.

If this sounds rather stupid, the reason is, it is stupid. As it happens, it is also Platonist. We recall that Plato had no real use for democracy, but proposed that a class of philosopher kings should take charge. These great minds see the great Ideas more clearly and therefore they have the right and the power to impose their policies on the rest of us.

Among the more salient points that Plato made was that all citizens should give their children over to the state, for upbringing and for education. Parents had no rights to direct their children’s development, to ensure their children’s education, to teach their children basic ethics. The state, led by the philosopher kings, would take charge of your children. You had to shut up.

One understands that the debate roiling the nation over transgender rights and regarding efforts to brainwash small children with gender ideology is merely an updated version of Plato’s plan.

When schools can administer puberty blocking hormones to a nine year old without parental consent, and when parents can be canceled and shunned for refusing to accept a child’s belief about gender, something is very seriously wrong.

Let us not ignore the simple fact that a nine-year old is still a child and that if an adult makes any sexual contact with said child, the adult will be subject to prosecution. And this is true even if the child consented to the contact. And yet, in our great nation, a boy who declares himself to be a girl must be treated as a girl, even including his preferred pronouns, and be subjected to biochemical mutilation, administered by adults who would, if they had made the least sexual advance toward said child, be in jail.

What better instance could there be of the tyranny of the mind than the notion that if you change your mind about your sex you automatically change your sex. That a belief, most likely a delusional belief, can be imposed on the citizenry as a reality is a very bad sign indeed. 

And we can remark that when individual states choose to push back against this tyranny, they risk legal assault by the federal government and the Biden administration.

Or else, take the worlds of art and literature. For now, museums and publishers across America have decided that the most important factor in choosing which works to exhibit or to publish lies in the genetic makeup of the artist or writer in question. Race and gender become determining factors, far more than merit. 

The dumbing down of the population, and especially school children, in order to make underachieving children feel better about themselves, is an effort to take control over minds and to prevent our best and brightest to think at all, not to say, to express their views in the public square. When you dumb down our thought leaders, you enter a world where we are manufacturing ignorance.

Have you noticed the extent to which public debate is becoming infested with stupidity? I would take some issue with Jonathan Haidt’s view that we should blame it all on techno gadgets and social media-- especially given the war against merit that has been ongoing for decades now-- but surely Haidt is correct to see that American intellectual life has been dragged down into the realm of complete stupidity.

The result, intended or unintended, has been that the American mind has not just been closed; it has been dumbed down. A dumbed down populace will do anything it can to deny its own stupidity, up to and including identifying with the people who are supposed to be really, really smart.

So, we have gotten to the point where philosopher kings have taken charge and where the people are tired of being pushed around. 

At a time when the media insists that liberal democracy is winning the war in Ukraine, a discontent has descended on the West. Gerard Baker described it well in his last Wall Street Journal column.

Among the causes, the tyranny of leftist thinkers in the academy and the media, and the inability to compete in world markets. It’s nice to think that we can onshore production, but has anyone asked whether we have the brainpower to run the factories or whether citizens will want to pay considerably more for products that were made in the USA? After all, the great majority of the tech staff in Silicon Valley was educated in Asia-- do you think that they became brilliant by having anti-racism training.

And of course, there is more. Some of it involving failed war efforts and some of it involving the invasion of Central American immigrants who will not, I surmise, be working for Google and Facebook.

Baker sums it up:

This discontent has complex and manifold roots. There is the cultural alienation from a progressive hegemony in the West’s major political, academic, media and artistic institutions; anger at the vast economic inequalities produced by globalization; a loss of morale from reversals in foreign wars and the rise of alternative civilizational models; unease at an officially sanctioned uncontrolled immigration that changes the character of nationhood and citizenship; frustration at the failure to address the rot exposed by the global financial crisis; resistance to the new religion of universal climate-change compliance with its costly implications for energy consumers; and, most recently, seething fury with the little autocrats in government and health bureaucracies decreeing lockdowns, masks and vaccine mandates.

Multiple and divergent causes—but underlying it all, righteous indignation at the arrogance of unaccountable elites who dismiss opposition to their authority as the product of bigotry and ignorance and denounce anyone displaying it as a traitor or a domestic terrorist.

Unaccountable elites, which Plato called philosopher kings, have been tyrannizing the populace, and the populace is angry. Who else but these elites chose to shut down vast segments of the economy and to shut down schooling for months on end-- in the name of a panic about a virus.

The problem is not only that you have no right to disagree and that you have no right to engage these philosopher kings in the marketplace of ideas. The real sign of despotism is that if you dare dispute their superior expertise, you are going to be canceled, for being a bigot.


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