Tuesday, April 1, 2008
The Anointed and The Benighted
I have been following several interesting discussion about the right of parents to educate their children within their own world-views, and the obligation of the state not to interfere in the parent-child relationship. One of the discussions is here, at the Illinois Review. Another discussion was precipitated by Dana's musings about how the view of abuse has become less than strictly defined, over at Principled Discovery. In that blog entry, Dana also features an excerpt of a piece from Black Sun Journal, which equates the religious education of children by their parents with child abuse.
At the same time, I have been preparing a presentation for my Trends and Issues in Special Education course that discusses what happens when an ideological divide takes the place of reasoned arguments in a field. In this case, the issue that precipitated the divide is the Regular Education Initiative, which has been advocated with nearly religious fervor by a certain small group of Post-Modernist thinkers. In preparation for that presentation I have been reading, among others, Thomas Sowell's 1995 book, The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as the Basis for Social Policy, which is part of his Conflict of Visions series.
In this book, Sowell characterizes what happens when a field or an issue moves from rational, evidence-based discussion to the brink of an ideological divide. Essentially, he says that the this movement creates an "us" and "them" mentality, in which one side claims 'the Vision of the Anointed.' This vision is comprised of "the perceptions, beliefs and assumptions of an elite intelligentsia, whose revelations prevail over others in the determination of policy." The other side, which often persists in an attempt at rational discussion long past useful resolution, gets cast with having the "Vision of the Benighted." The perceptions, beliefs and assumptions of the hapless Benighted group are cast as being "at best, perceptions, more often, stereotypes, and more bluntly, false consciousness."
Sowell goes on to say that those who hold the Vision of the Anointed, take it upon themselves to characterize those they deem "them" to be not only factually wrong, but morally inferior. Because the Anointed ascribe to themselves only the best of motives, they do not feel the need to define their terms or to present logical arguments or empirical evidence for their rightness. They are right because they are the caring and compassionate few, the Ones Who Know What is Best for Us All, and if only we would let them get on with the business deciding momentous questions on the basis of their Vision, we'd all be led to the Promised Land. Sowell says it better than I:
"(The Vision of the Anointed confers) a special state of grace for those who believe it. Those who accept this vision are deemed to be not merely factually correct, but morally on a higher plane. Put differently, those who disagree with the prevailing vision are seen as being not merely in error, but in sin. For those who hold this vision of the world, the anointed and the benighted do not argue on the same moral plane or play by the same cold rules of logic and evidence. The benighted are to made "aware," to have their "consciousness rasied," and the wistful hope is held out that they will "grow." Should the benighted prove recalcitrant, however, then their "mean-spiritedness" must be fought and the "real reasons" behind their arguments and actions exposed."
Sowell calls the vision of the anointed a "vision of differential rectitude." (Emphasis in the original). I call it a quasi-religious world view of the elect and the damned, in which the elect do not recognize any obligation to be tolerant towards those who disagree with them, but rather feel compelled to use the coercive power of the state to bring the Benighted damned to salvation.
Compared those who hold the Vision of the Anointed, the Jehovah's Witness at the door is just a walk in park. The Witness after all can only try to persuade you, and you can tell him to leave and he will do it. At worst, you will have to recycle the Watchtower pamplet.
Let's just take a look at two quotations from Black Sun Journal with the above metaphor for the ideological divide in mind. In this case, it is homeschoolers, and particularly those who are teaching their children their own religious world view, who have been cast into the Vision of the Benighted. The Black Sun author clearly sees herself as The Anointed.
Quote I: Home schooling is a discretionary option for parents, the quality of which can vary widely. Because of this inconsistency, it may not be in the best interest of children, who often have no choice about their participation. Society at large has a duty to protect the minds as well as the bodies of vulnerable children from abuse by authority figures. In most cases, home schooling parents have a strong religious agenda, and therefore on First Amendment grounds such education does not meet the standards for a generalized public subsidy. A case can also be made that to the extent home schooling attempts to undermine the principles of consensus science, not only should it be denied government support, it should also be expressly prohibited. (Emphasis added).
Digression: By the way, as a working scientist, I am very troubled by the phrase "consensus science." In science, ideas are not developed by consensus, but by rigorous experimental design, which is regularly reviewed and criticized by colleagues. Argument and challenge are ideally the order of the day. "Consensus science" is an oxymoron.
Another Digression: I am also puzzled by the reference to the First Amendment. The First Amendment describes a limit on government interference into the religious lives of the people. It does not prescribe that the government coerce secularism in the private lives of individuals, which is what our Anointed One is calling for, in saying "...it should be expressly prohibited."
Quote II: It is for this reason that I consider religious education to be a serious form of child abuse. No matter what kind of beliefs they might hold about underage sexuality, we don’t allow parents to sexually abuse their children because we understand that they don’t own their children’s bodies. Likewise we should understand just as clearly that no matter what their religions might demand they teach, parents do not own their kids’ minds. Society has a profound interest in the truthful education and proper formation of its future citizens. Therefore it should be expressly against the law to teach children a curriculum that so blatantly and directly contradicts science–even and especially in private. Such curricula should be treated like child pornography. Because miseducation is at least as damaging to children as sexual abuse. We’re talking about the malformation of the brain a child will possess for life. It goes without saying that it does not matter whether it is conducted in the home or in a private group setting, it should absolutely, positively never receive any government subsidy or funding. (Emphasis Added).
Digression: Malformation of the brain? I am a neuroscientist, and I can tell you that teaching specific ideas does not create malformation of the brain. Brain problems are more likely to occur in children who are not brought up in loving families with strong attachment to parents. I would worry much more about the Brave New World quality of child rearing at the hands of the state that this author implies.
Another Digression: Also note the statement "especially in private." Privacy and private life are the result of liberty and capitalism. No such distinction as that between private life and public life exists under any form of Fascism.
Still Another Digression: This is the second time this Anointed One has mentioned government funding. Just for the record, although I have not conducted a scientific poll, my experience of homeschoolers is that we pay our taxes for public schools we do not use, and in general, we are opposed to government subsidies because they would inevitably lead to Pols (as we called them in Chicago: Royko used to say they were incapable of walking and chewing gum at the same time) sticking their noses into our private lives.
I think the tone and the assertions of knowledge without evidence alone tells us that this is definitely a person with The Vision of the Anointed. I noticed in the discussion at Black Sun, and the discussion with another Anointed person over at the Illinios review, that homeschoolers, in general, try to stay with the argument from reason. Out of esteem for our fellows, we tend to think of them as operating on the same moral plane as ourselves, and do not realize that we have been cast into The Vision of the Benighted. I believe that we must start attacking their ideas on the highest level, as ideas.
For example, notice that our Black Sun Messiah asserts: "Society at large has a duty to protect..." (Quote I) and "Society has a profound interest..." (Quote II). We, taking the argument to the rational grounds of give and take of empirical evidence, generally think of society as a group of people who have a multitude of differing interests, and a few common interests. But here, Society, with a capital "S" actually stands for the Anointed, the differentially Righteous, who by the grace of their rectitude and possession of the moral high ground, should have the power to direct our lives. Even more so, Society here stands for the coercive power of the state.
These are not ideas that are compatible with a government that is limited to Constitutionally defined concerns. It is not an idea compatible with a government confined by the Rule of Law. These ideas promote the view of a government that respects some persons over others, and in which the Elect would get to work their will upon the rest of us, whether we like it or not. Such ideas must be challenged not only at the level of point-by-point discussion of the facts, for the Anointed do not need empirical data, they are in a particular state of grace. Rather, they ought to be challenged on the level of the ideas themselves.
I do have a question for the Anointed of the Black Sun: You presume to impose the tyranny of your wishes upon others, to forbid them from teaching their children religion. But you are not in the majority. You wish to remove the guaranties of the first ten amendments to the Constitution of the United States, because you believe they allow the Benighted to pass on their Benightedness. And yet, you, as an atheist, are undoubtedly in the minority. Once the protections of the rights of individuals are removed, at your behest, what will stop the Christian majority from making it illegal for you to teach that atheism to your children?
What will you do when the shoe is on the other foot?