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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Wingnut of the week -- Lawrence Auster

I should explain that my fascination with wingnuts is fairly specific. There are dozens of right wing bloggers who are merely stupid or repellent, and there is also a correspondingly sizable army of leftists who take on the task of mocking them. I'm not very interested in playing that game. The right-wingers on my list are those that exert a peculiar fascination on me, those whose raving seem to say something about the human condition, or at least my condition. Those who seem to be radical enough, in the sense of wanting to get to the root of things, that they have something new to say. Mencius Moldbug may be the prototype of this class, but I am discovering others.

Today's wingnut is still not my current favorite; I am still leading up to that one. Instead, I am taking a look at Lawrence Auster, who I mentioned awhile back as one of the star kooks of the "Preserving Western Civilization" conference:
...people like Lawrence Auster, who calls "Darwinism" "the biggest intellectual fraud in history" and displays an unhealthy obsession with Michelle Obama's looks?
Auster divides his time between virulent racism and tired arguments against evolution. He's reasonably intelligent and literate (apparently related to the novelist Paul Auster). Why is he interesting?

Well, one rather trivial thing we have in common is that we were both censored at the Secular Right blog: see here. More interestingly, his attempts to disprove materialism verge perilously close to my own speculations on the nature of immaterial objects. Take this one:
Also, the problem of universals shows that there are indeed non-material existents. Most or all of math is a non-material existent. One cannot find math anywhere as a physical object. Thus, one must accept the existence of non-material existents, unless one wishes to claim that mathematics does not exist. One knows that the number two really exists, but where is it? Two tables before me and two chairs behind me both use the exact same existent "two." However, can we point physically to this number two? No, it is a non-material existent, as are most or all universals. Thus, one cannot reasonably claim that there is no such thing as a non-material existent. This opens us up to another realm where there are things that are real, and exist, apart from physical phenomena, such as mathematics and consciousness.

Thus, the evidence based-atheist who says that there is no evidence for God, and therefore God does not exist, is using an invalid method for the debate. One cannot use any purely material based approach to the question of a non-material existent, such as God.
[Actually this was written not by Auster, but by one his correspondents, J. Istre, but Auster gave it a stamp of approval.]

A collection of my own posts that touch on the idea of immaterial objects: here, here,here, here, here, andhere. I find any convergence of my ideas with those of reactionaries disturbing, but interesting. Does it mean that my own line of thought is going to inevitably lead to me becoming a wingnut? Hardly. I don't think there's a cosmic requirement that a taste for the transcendental must go hand-in-hand with being a hate-filled ranter, even if those appear to be locally correlated. Like what happened with the American flag: normal, intelligent, non-rightist culture has ceded a huge chunk of cultural territory to its enemies. I'd like to start to reclaim some of it.

Let's start by splitting the transcendent from transcendentally awful politics. A recognition that, let us say, there is something more to the world than "atoms and the void" is somehow supposed to automatically lead to the inference that traditional religion is true. There seems to be an awfully big gap there. Acknowledging that immaterial mathematical entities exist is one thing; using that to claim that you have direct knowledge about a gaseous vertebrate who made the universe and cares deeply about humans sexual configurations and whether we can eat shellfish -- that's something else. The transcendent says that simple-minded materialism is not true, ie, that the universe is not mere "stuff", but anybody who has even a cursory familiarity with modern physics knows that the stuff of scientific materialism is not mere stuff, either.

My goal (on the rare days that I think about this stuff) is to rescue the idea of the transcendental from such primitive superstitions. Traditional religion should not be dismissed entirely, as the New Atheists do. It should be considered as the product of early humanity grappling with realities that were much too difficult for them. To a desert tribesman, the transcendental appears as an alpha primate bigger than any other; it's the chief, warlord, lawgiver and judge writ onto the fabric of the universe. We have learned a lot since then. Being finite beings, we can still only grasp at shadows of the infinite, but we ought to have better shadows, or at least different ones. Traditional religions are intellectually untenable; materialism has deficits that even its best advocates have trouble papering over.

Oh well, this doesn't have much to do with Auster, but he is not, in the end, all that interesting anyway. Scipio is more entertainingly unhinged; the next blogger in this series has a more creative approach to metaphysics (and is also completely around several different bends). Auster's style seems too austere for his content.

Here is Auster's very latest, where he tries to explicate the links between liberalism and atheism:
Liberalism, as I define it, is the denial of any truth higher than the human self. From this denial comes the belief in the equality of all human selves and human desires, and the liberal program of rejecting the order of being, meaning the divine order, the social order and the natural order, all the dimensions of reality that are external to the human self. Under liberalism, the only legitimate order is a bureaucratic and technical apparatus aimed at supplying everyone's needs and ensuring everyone's equality....the dogmatic materalist atheists deny the entire order of natural and human existence. They close out, they exclude, they HATE, any reality higher than that which can be expressed in terms of genetic accidents selected via the survival of the fittest. They are at war with the structure of the world as normal human beings experience it.
Again, I am fascinated by the ways in which his post is not entirely wrong. There are bits of truth embedded in the nonsense and paranoia, like the seeds sparrows pick out of horse turds. There is much about the politics and spirituality of NPR liberalism (my default affiliation, having exhausted my radical tendencies decades ago) that I find dissatisfying; that gives me a (very small) measure of sympathy for the wingnut worldview. And while the nourishment of the seeds is hardly worth picking through all the shit, I don't see anybody else trying to give a systematic critique of what is more or less the consensus view of the educated mainstream.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The fact that you find even half of Lawrence Austers writtings filled with nonsense causes me to be concerned about you as an intellect yourself. You admist that you cannot follow along as ther eis some truth interwoven with nonsense. I don't read nonsense so possibly Lawrence is on a higher plain that you are. That Sir is no reason to degrade his fine writtings and very informative writting. Yes Heis indeed an interesting read to say the least!