Saturday, January 27, 2007

Naïvists and Human Nature

Update: Steen has generously donated a photo of Kai Sørlander, who is a friend of his — ©2007 Snaphanen.


It’s been apparent for some time that the Danes are way ahead of everyone else in the West in their strategies for dealing with Islam. I recommend studying the Danish model — in future, those countries that successfully turn back the Islamist tide will be the ones that most emulate Denmark.

The Danish blogger (and 910 Group member) Zonka has translated a feature article from yesterday’s Jyllands-Posten. In it you will find a breath of fresh air on the immigration issue, an uncommon amount of common sense.

Translator’s note: In this article, author and philosopher Kai Sørlander writes about the divide between the proponents of multiculturalism and immigration, whom he calls optimists, and the xenophobes and Islamophobes, here labelled pessimists. Below is my translation of the article.

Kai SørlanderNaïvists and Human Nature

Kai Sørlander, Author and Philosopher

When democracy let the optimists succeed in classifying the pessimists as xenophobes and Islamophobes, it embarked upon a catastrophic course. And the media who have aided to maintain the illusion bear a particular part of the blame, says the writer.

Political discussions often take place on two levels: a substantial level where the parties have differing opinions about some concrete issue, and a secondary level, where the aim is to get your political opponent classified in a way that implies that you yourself are right on the substantial level.

If you can affix your own labels on your opponent, then you can make it impossible for him to voice his substantial arguments. It is a tactical game which is part of the democratic game.

This game can thus also be found in the political disagreement about the last thirty to forty years of immigration policy.

This was a case in which anyone should have known in advance that there would be serious consequences for Danish society, and thus it should have been discussed openly and in all of its aspects. All parties should have had the opportunity to be as clear as possible in presenting their opinions of how many immigrants from relatively distant cultures they thought that Danish society could manage to integrate. And then they should have been required to argue their position, why they believed that their answer was the right one. But at the same time they should also have recognized that there would be a major uncertainty about the answer. Nobody could be sure that his own answer would be superior in the long run.

The optimists should thus also have recognized that there could be a certain amount of rationality in the pessimism, however that recognition was held back. The optimists avoided entering into a serious debate with the pessimists.
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Instead they made being a pessimist equivalent to being xenophobic. Those who didn’t share the optimists’ belief in how many immigrants it was possible to integrate into society were classified as xenophobes.

In this the optimists were the ones who ruined the debate, and were greatly helped along the way by the media. Instead of entering an equal debate with the pessimists, they rendered them morally unworthy.

The same rhetorical game also marks a more particular aspect of the political discussion about the conditions for immigration. As an consequence of the fact that many of the immigrants that came into the country in that period were Muslims, it was rational to consider the issue of Islam and democracy. Then one began by recognising that democracy as a rational political order requires a realisation that the laws are made by humans and have to be approved through a parliamentary decision.

Thus one has to recognize that a democratic order more easily integrates a religion that itself recognizes that the laws of society have to be made by humans, than a religion that wants to decide itself how the laws should be. And isn’t that the main difference between Christianity and Islam? Isn’t that exactly the explanation why democracy has been able to develop within Christianity but not within Islam?

Who knows what is right? Under all circumstances we are talking about real problems, which for the sake of democracy there was every reason to seriously discuss in connection with Muslim immigration. But was it done?

No, here also the optimists, who couldn’t see any problem, skipped over the pessimists. Instead of an equal debate, the pessimists were labelled Islamophobes. They suffered from a phobia; they were sick; there was no reason to debate with them.

In this way the optimists succeeded for a long time in creating a climate that made it impossible to take seriously the problems that resulted from liberal immigration policy. Because even to take them seriously was labelled as an expression of xenophobia and Islamophobia.

The consequence then was that nothing was done, and the problems were allowed to grow. Therefore they have also become harder to ignore. And thus it is not quite as easy for the optimists to block serious debate about immigration policy by calling their pessimistic opponents xenophobes and Islamophobes.

On the contrary, the pessimists can now begin to win in the media for their interpretation of the consequences of the immigration policy. And what are the pessimists doing? They naturally uses the same rhetorical trick as the optimists.

They label the opponent in such a way that it is implied that they are mistaken. This can be seen in the title of Karen Jespersen’s and Ralf Pittelkow’s recently published book Islamists and Naïvists. Here the optimists are labelled as naïve, gullible, simple-minded, or even foolishly kind.

Thus the scenario is in place.

In the center is the question itself about the consequences of the liberal immigration policy, surrounded by the two parties, which look with their differing seriousness on these consequences, and which are characterizing each other as xenophobes and naïve. Who is right in this conflict? Are the optimists right that the pessimists are xenophobic? Or are the pessimists right that the optimists are naïve?

A complete answer to that question can naturally only be given once history has taken its turn, and we can’t wait that long when we have to make a political decision. But the answer also requires that we have our concepts in place, and that is something that we don’t need to wait for.

We can get our concepts in place immediately. And on the face of it there is one thing that sticks out: the obvious asymmetry between the way that optimists and pessimists are labelling each other. Where the optimists make the pessimists xenophobic and thus evil, the pessimists only makes the optimists naïve. The demonizing is one-way.

What is the cause of this asymmetry in the parties’ judgment of each other?

The answer must be found the different views of human nature. When the optimists doesn’t see any serious problem arising from the immigration of people from alien cultures, it is because they assume that man by nature is good, and that it is culture that makes people narrow-minded and self centered. In that light multiculturalism is positive, because it sets everybody free from their primary culture and gives them the possibility to live out their natural goodness towards one another. Thus the deconstruction of the prevalent culture is a beneficial project, and those who resist it are evil. They are demonized as xenophobic.

When the pessimists looks quite differently at the consequences of the immigration of people from alien cultures, it is because they have another view of the nature of man. To them man by nature isn’t good, he is combative, and has the potential for both good and evil. And cultural education is necessary to give man the means to interact in such ways that he can suppress his combativeness and live in peace with those in his society.

It is this difference between the optimists and the pessimists in their views of the nature of man that results in the demonization of the pessimists and not the other way around.

For the optimists the pessimists appear dangerous, because they do not believe enough in the goodness of man. For the pessimists the optimists appear dangerous because they believe too much in the goodness of man. And when the optimists then make the act of believing in the goodness of man a requirement for being good, there follows the demonization of the pessimists.

But who is right? Which view on the nature of man is the right one? If we ask soberly, then there is no reason to believe the optimists. Then all experience and logic says that reality is with the pessimists, and since it is dangerous to build your policy on an illusion, it is imperative that the truth be heard in the political debate.

When democracy let the optimists succeed in labelling the pessimists as xenophobes and Islamophobes, it took a catastrophic course. And the media, particularly the taxpayer-subsidised media who have participated in maintaining this illusion, have a particular part of the blame. If democracy is to get back on track, then rational pessimism has to be at the helm again.

That point of view sees the naïveté behind the optimism. And here Jespersen’s and Pittelkow’s book is an essential contribution.

When so many have shared the optimists’ belief that man by nature is good, it is because one saw a connection between oneself being good and believing in the natural goodness of man.

Anyone who didn’t believe in the natural goodness of man had to be evil. And that connection is simply not going to hold.

As an individual, one doesn’t become good by believing in the natural goodness of man, but by being good and helpful, although one realizes that one also has many impulses in the opposite direction.

22 comments:

John Sobieski said...

That's just another way of saying multiculturalism ('all cultures are equal') has been in control (the optimists), and reality clearly proves this false. The pessimists who do not believe all cultures are equal should prevail.

Islam which believes in stoning, amputation, group mind control, enslavement of nonbelievers is obviously an inferior and evil culture and is not and never has been and never will be equal to Western culture.

Zonka said...

First thanks to the Baron for posting the translation here.

Secondly to John Sobieski, on the surface that's exactly what it is saying, but it also explains the discrepancy between the manner in which the optimists and the pessimists are treating each other, vis-a-vis the open hostility and anger stemming from the optimists towards the pessimists versus the more benign classification of gullible or foolish that the pessimists affix to the optimists. At least for me it put words on some of the vitriolic comments I have seen from multiculturalists and lefties and couldn't quite understand where this anger came from. And I think this article explains quite a bit of where it comes from.

Asger said...

Ahhhh...

The fresh breeze of a true philosopher.

gideon's sword said...

The philosopher is simply using terms such as optimist/pessimist instead of atheists/liberal/socialist/pagan and God fearing/believers. It is an age old saga. There are basically two camps. Those who believe that man is generally good and more than able to fix any problems that arise on the planet, and those who know that people are flawed and capable of unspeakable atrocities unless reigned in by God. The optimists must keep the illusion that a group of elites running the world(being Gods themselves) can maintain order and security. Without this, having rejected God and therefore closing all avenues to hope, they would be filled with hopelessness, despair, and fear that would drive them mad. They must maintain this illusion at ALL COSTS. The pessimists aren't pessimistic at all. They understand what is going on and are rationally trying to defend themselves from utter destruction.

Douglas V. Gibbs said...

Here's a little more philosophy: God Bless Democracy - to be free is to be blessed. No one has greater love than the man who lays down his life for his friends.

mellivora said...

There is far more wisdom in the Christian view of humanity than apparent.

Christianity starts with the assumption that all humans are basically evil. Christianity denotes humans are sinful, corrupt, evil and can do on their own only nastities. This is in stark contrast with both Judaism, which stresses the basic divine and noble origin of humankind, and Secular Humanism, which believes Homo sapiens is an inherently good and noble creature.

The real life has proven the Christian viewpoint correct. Homo sapiens is a basically evil creature. Human beings are no different from any great apes - just more intelligent and able to control the aggression with reason and project the aggression rationally.

It is an interesting - and sad - thing that the same people who admit Homo sapiens has developed from the same primates as other apes by biological evolution, keep denying the basic animalistic instincts and bestial nature of Homo sapiens.

Only by admitting we as human beings are inherently evil we can control the beast within us - and conqyuer it. By denying our basic evilness the evil will triumph.

Joern said...

We certainly have a problem here:
I what sense has the Islamist tide been turned?
By reducing immigration with 20 p.c. in 2004??
By mistaking expectations for reality?
Or by accepting the the Danish official false population-account??

Joern
http://danmark.wordpress.com

ZionistYoungster said...

mellivora, you wrote,

"Christianity starts with the assumption that all humans are basically evil. Christianity denotes humans are sinful, corrupt, evil and can do on their own only nastities. This is in stark contrast with both Judaism, which stresses the basic divine and noble origin of humankind, and Secular Humanism, which believes Homo sapiens is an inherently good and noble creature."

This is not true. Judaism is like Christianity in believing the inclination of the human heart to be evil from youth. Judaism differs from Christianity in that it holds humans to be capable of standing up to their evil inclination by themselves (not entirely without G-d's help, of course), while Christianity holds humans to be incapable of doing any good unless the blood of Jesus has covered them. In other words, Judaism rejects the Christian doctrines of human incapacity and imputed righteousness. But on the foundational nature of humanity, Judaism and Christianity are functionally the same (Christianity calls it "Original Sin", while Judaism calls it "yetzer ha-rah", or evil inclination; functionally, both mean evil comes to a human being naturally, while good has to be taught).

Stressing the "basic divine and noble origin of humankind" is not of Judaism, it's of Gnosticism both old and new (the latter is called, "New Age").

Dymphna said...

Judaism is like Christianity in believing the inclination of the human heart to be evil from youth. Judaism differs from Christianity in that it holds humans to be capable of standing up to their evil inclination by themselves (not entirely without G-d's help, of course), while Christianity holds humans to be incapable of doing any good unless the blood of Jesus has covered them. In other words, Judaism rejects the Christian doctrines of human incapacity and imputed righteousness. But on the foundational nature of humanity, Judaism and Christianity are functionally the same (Christianity calls it "Original Sin", while Judaism calls it "yetzer ha-rah", or evil inclination; functionally, both mean evil comes to a human being naturally, while good has to be taught).

Whadda bunch of Calvinists we have here. Back to Theology 101 for both of ya...

Christianity, springing as it does from the heart of Judaism, recognizes the numinous in all of creation and man's awe in experiencing this...that's why the Psalms, in all their variety, were taken whole cloth and fashioned into Christian prayer.

Yes, there is evil, but that is only half the story. As the child development theorists -- finally having caught up with the theologians -- can tell you, babies are born with a capicity for joy and a strong desire to conform to and please those who care for them.

The problem is not that we are inherently evil. The problem is that we are born too soon, totally dependent and with no sufficient way to communicate our needs. The resulting experience is called anguish, which you can readily identify in an infant's cry.

Y'all need to read less of Calvin and more of Meister Eckhart. Or you could start in the blogosphere with One Cosmos.

ZionistYoungster said...

Well, Dymphna, I'll have to bow down to your knowledge of Christian theology, which I, of course, lack. But I got my part, the one about Judaism, fix, taking it from Chassidic rabbi Yehudah Sofer, who talks a lot about the foundations of humanity.

Judaism doesn't say we're born evil. But it does say the evil inclination comes naturally to a person, and that G-d's Torah is the only antidote, the only way of bringing it under control of mankind's good inclination. The goal in Judaism is to have the brain rule over the heart, for the brain, the intellect, is where the knowledge of G-d resides, while the heart, the desire, pushes mankind toward bestiality. The bodily desires are not to be crushed, but G-d wants us to put the bridle of His Torah over them.

turn said...

What an interesting turn in these comments.

But, as usual, Dymphna nails it.

Dymphna said...

zionistyoungster-- how about looking at the Pentateuch for images of God, or the Psalms, where the pslamist reminds us that God wants "a pure, a contrite heart." We do not arrive at contrition thru the intellect.

We are not ruled by the intellect alone, nor by the passions. Both are God-given faculties and both are to be developed. To raise one above the other is to miss the point of being fully human, of being made in the image of God...

Surely you've heard the expression, "for the love God..." whose love *is* that?

Your rabbi's dualism would be termed Manichean in Christian terms...I recommend Abraham Heschel's two volumes on the Prophets as an alternate view.

Evanston said...

Much thanks to Zonka for the translation.

I am greatly in debt to Dymphna for all her efforts here with Gates of Vienna, but the response to "Calvinism" is inadequate. Personally, I have never read Calvin. I have, however, read the Bible. And it is quite clear that we are spiritually dead and enemies of God from birth. This is a consistent theme of both the old and new testaments. At its heart, Dymphna's assertion denies the fall of man and the need for a Savior (in particular Christ's death, "once for all," on the cross). Sorry, but references to Meister Eckhard, child development theorists, and the "numinous in all of creation" do not equate to Christian truth.

Either God provided us with the Bible, or He did not. If not, we are wasting our time with this discussion. If so, don't read what you want into the Bible: read it.

mellivora said...

Hello everyone,

My point was not about debating on theology or whether or not Jean Calvin was right (I personally consider his theology completely sick and perverted). I do neither care whether Bible is God-given word, God-inspired human text or mere old folk tales. What I do care is that how the perceptions of human nature fit on scientific knowledge of the human nature, and in my opinion, the Bible confirms exactly what we know of etology of Homo sapiens: we are nothing short of rational beasts with beastly instincts and patterns of behaviour.

I am a soldier, not a lawyer, and I am used to perceive the world as it is, not as it should be. I have no illusions of what being Homo sapiens is about, and I have no illusions of the goodness and basic nobility of Homo sapiens - for me, "Humanist" is a swear word. I have encountered my fair quota of bullies, thugs, criminals and loonies, and I know something of the human psychology.

My point is that Islam is a warrior creed which creates excellent and ruthless indomitable warriors ready to conquer the whole world, but poor soldiers ready to defend what they consider valuable. The greatest danger Islam poses lies it goes unobserved. The Humanists all around the word decline to see what Islam was about and don't take it seriously. It is exactly the same error what was made with Nazism and Communism - nobody took Hitler and Lenin seriously until it was too late.

Knowing your enemy is the primary key on winning the battle. And the Humanists all around the world refuse to know - or even recognize - the enemy. That is an error which may prove VERY costly.

ZionistYoungster said...

Dymphna,

The intellect does inform us we have done wrong. The contrition of the heart follows from that. That's exactly Sofer's point: the unbridled heart rebels against G-d; bridled by the Torah-informed intellect, it fulfills His will and becomes holy. The heart is good--but only if brought under the reins of G-d's commandments. A Jew prays for that to G-d every morning: "Bend our inclination to be subordinate to You".

By the way, Orthodox Judaism forbids private interpretation of the scriptures. The Orthodox Jew is to read all the Tanach together with rabbinical commentary, foremostly that of Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, who lived in France in the 11th century). Face value interpretations are valid only if the commentator-rabbis make them.

peasant said...

Christianity: Mankind is a fallen creature, in God's image. Followers must repent from sin and spread the Gospel of Jesus, in love.

Humanism: Mankind is God. Any other gods are flawed and unworthy of worship. Followers must maximise their personal power and pleasure, and produce Hollywood epics that exalt the Self, in arrogance.

Islam: Mankind is an insignificant worm, how dare he even try to approach the incomprehensible Allah. Followers must submit and spread holy war, in the hope of a carnal afterlife.

River Cocytus said...

Felt the need to comment:

In Christianity, Man is viewed as being of 'two natures' -- The sinful nature, which is being a result of the curse (fall of Adam. -- or long before that, the fall of Satan/Lucifer) and the 'inner man' which represents what God created each man to do and be.

Man is capable of doing good deeds without Christ. This has never been in question. Christianity does not hold -- if one reads the scripture as a whole -- to the belief that Christians can do no good deeds outside of Christ.

Goodness however, is something different. We are not saved by works, but instead by grace through faith unto works. Only the 'inner man' is good; that is God's image in us. (Read Paul's writings-- famed epistles-- he talks about it extensively.)

Christianity nowadays holds, ZY, that a Spirit-filled Christian does not 'privately interpret', or rather, if they do they are in error; but as John says, this same Spirit that dwells with us teaches us all things. The Spirit can interpret the word-- 'light it up' for us even if no commentary is able to.

Man is not 'basically' evil nor is he 'basically' good. This is realism. The flesh is dull, gullible and foolish. It is selfish, but selfishness itself alone is only neutral. The desire to survive is selfish, but so is the desire to kill or control. I would regard, as the Spirit guides, that the flesh, which is a thing, is subject to the curse, and being of no ability on its own to discern, is easily led astray. In fact, continually so.

There is also something about children being born incomplete (was touched on.) The 'descent of mind' is important, but it also represents when innocence is gone; when men become responsible for their actions and effected by the curse. Children prior to this only mimic what they see;

ZY, Christians would pray the same thing: "Thy will be done."

We hold that the heart is deceitful, not that it is 'evil' but instead of the flesh and subject to the inclinations thereof.

Again about human nature, from the outward 'scientific' view, man has both good and bad inclinations. They run deeper than any culture (but may be magnified or diminished by culture.) The vehicle of culture is language.

PS. Believing one's own body to be evil, while it may make one feel more contrite, is false. It instead could fuel some sort of self-hatred, which is not something anyone should want.

Hope that clears things up (instead of just muddies them.) Thanks for the clarifications, Dymphna.

peasant said...

Benjamin Myers offers some thoroughly Christian philosophy, with his Ten Propositions on being human

Evanston said...

River Cocytus, your writing is clear except that you do not provide a definition of "evil." Why is that needed? Well, in one sentence you assert that man is not "basically" evil, and in another that the heart is not "evil."
Now, you have told us 2 things that are not evil. Please give examples of what is evil (if anything).

I believe your interpretation of Scripture is largely accurate, but that you shy away from the true impact of sin. In my life I have never murdered anyone, but what if I murdered one person, just one? Would that rate the death penalty? Per the Bible, yes. Many would say that I am an "evil" man.

In lieu of defining evil, you may instead wish to parse the definition I provide below. You seem to know the Scriptures, so I will not recite chapter & verse.

The Bible says that all have sinned, and that the penalty of sin is death. You're correct, the Bible never asserts that man is incapable of good acts. It instead asserts that a seemingly "good" act is evil if it is not done out of obedience and love for God. Simply put, anyone or any act that opposes God for even the slightest period of time is evil. Our fallen nature is evil, and we are powerless to change it. God, in his mercy, changes our hearts from dead stone into live flesh. He does this for us, and further He paid for our sins on the cross.

As Christians, we are now free to do what is truly good, though in the spiritual battle we often fail to do so. We now have true freedom in Christ, we can choose good vs. evil while the natural man is dead to the things of God and can only do evil. We look forward to death, when we will be freed from this body of sin (that is, God will change our nature completely so the spiritual battle no longer wages inside of us).

Allow a further observation. Mellivora recognizes that Biblical truth is accurate regarding the basic nature of man. Yet he also has no love for God. Hell, which is a cutting off from a genuine relationship with God, awaits. The demons know the truth, yet they are not filled with joy -- instead they shudder.

Evanston said...

Peasant, thank you for the link but I would not describe the Ten Propositions as "thoroughly Christian." Rather, they could be Christian, or not, because there is a lot of "wiggle room" in these statements regarding the nature of man, the nature of God, and what we should do in this context.

So I believe that these Ten Propositions are "possibly Christian." I am not saying that they are without value. If Christianity is, indeed, Truth, then we should expect rational philosophy (as well as natural science and our experience) to at least jibe with the Bible. Apparent contradictions should be explored to see if they are actual contradictions, or can be resolved through honest and rational exploration.

I do caution, however, against accepting something as "Christian" just because it occasionally refers to God or Jesus or seemingly uses Christian terminology. I am often reminded of a South Park episode (yes, I watch it!) where the protagonist (Eric Cartman) decides to make some money by starting a Christian band. He takes worldly music and crosses out "dirty" words and substitutes words like "God" and "Christ." Of course, he is exposed at the end of the episode. Poor Eric.

peasant said...

The 10 propositions on being human are just that: ideas or suggestions. They are indeed Christian if contrasted with Humanist or Muslim conceptions of Man. The propositions made me think.

I enjoyed that South Park episode too.

Evanston said...

I bought an Eric Cartman "Antenna Topper" for my car. Hmmm, just gotta figure out how it'll look in my church parking lot...I'll probably just chicken out and put it on my home stereo.