Pollution and Purification

You may not know of Mark Steyn, a political and cultural commentator. He’s got a blog that I commend to you, here.  I get his weekly summaries, usually on Sunday. In last Sunday’s, he wrote about Tucker Carlson, a commentator on Fox and author of Ship of Fools/How A Selfish Ruling Class is Bringing America to the Brink of Revolution. The book title suggests he’s just another 140-character bombast slinger, but he’s not. He has some important things to say about the cultural divide in this country, and so of course he’s being vilified by people who think that’s what you’re supposed to do to people you disagree with. Mark Steyn wrote:


“The totalitarian social-justice wankers are still trying to force Tucker off the air for having the impertinence to bring up subjects that actually matter, as opposed to the usual rolling-news folderol – and too many once sane businesses are willing to do the left’s bidding. It is a curious world in which cultural Marxists use corporations as the paramilitary wing of thought-control.”


I bring this up because of the last line. This is vintage Steyn, but it gets at the heart of something that has been troubling me for some time.  About corporations. We’re taught they are one among three bundles of power interests, the other two being government and individuals. These three centers of interest are presented as a triad in which each both attracts and repels the other two; a dynamic tension among interests both competing and cooperating.


That’s a flawed model, however. Certainly there are individual interests, and overweaning government interests that are something apart from those of the governed. And there are corporate interests, which are a thing apart from the commercial interests of stockholders. But this paradigm is incomplete.


You would think the profit motive would purify corporations’ intent by distilling out political or cultural considerations, but it’s more complicated than that. Large publicly-traded corporations compete not just with other giants like themselves, but also with what ought to be considered a fourth set of interests:  small businesses. Mom-and-pops don’t have lobbyists, and their interests are more aligned with those of individuals than large corporations, yet they’re wrongly lumped together with “corporations.” Big corporations crowd out their markets, ever more exhaustively, by increasing barriers to entry.  This works an unholy alliance between big business and government. They insist on ever more regulation and ever more cultural conformity, to the detriment of individuals and small business.


This is what I think Steyn means when he writes of “corporations as the paramilitary wing of thought-control.” By corporations I think he means the behemoths in adulterous relationship with the government as against us peons who don’t know what’s best for ourselves. Thought control, or political correctness, serves big corporate interests, as it does government interests.  Thought control is the product of postmodernism, which is equivalent to Steyn’s “cultural Marxism.”  No serious person calls himself a Marxist anymore, after that ideology’s thorough debunking in the bloodshed of the 20th century, but some of the driving forces of Marxism – envy, covetousness, utopian ideology, identity politics — have a new home in postmodernism, the overthrow of objective truth.


Philosopher Roger Scruton also criticizes the current zeitgeist, but comes at it from a different angle, placing the postmodernist attitude in a larger philosophical perspective. He wrote the following in a recent essay for the London Telegraph, in an essay titled Gratitude for Philosophy:


To have answers, I acknowledge, is a wonderful thing. But more wonderful by far is to have questions, and to recognize that these questions lie buried in the simplest things, waiting to be watered into life by our curiosity. This last year I have been tending such a question, encouraging it to fill my mind with its fertile offshoots, to become something that I can take to bed at night and wake up with in the morning. The question is this: Why do we distinguish the pure from the polluted, and why do we think that it matters?

            Our prevailing bad philosophy is the philosophy of liberation, which tells us that all forms of self-expression are legitimate, and that happiness means letting it all hang out. The old notions of pollution and taboo, our philosophy says, have no bearing on how we should live now. Such is the orthodoxy: straightforward, attractive and optimistic as bad philosophy always is.

            In fact, however, although we may banish the concept of pollution from our thoughts, it cannot be banished from our feelings. It did not need the MeToo movement to tell us that sexual encounters can be felt in retrospect as contaminations. The entire literature of humanity points in that direction. In the weird hysterical society now emerging it is barely permissible to discuss this topic, certainly if you have my disadvantages: white, male, heterosexual, conservative and cultured. But I can’t refrain, since philosophy is my calling.

            Ritual purification is a feature of both Judaism and Islam, and cleanliness is regarded in both religions as the avenue to an inner purity. This inner purity is at stake in sex and love. But it also has a profoundly religious connotation, being a readiness towards God, a self-presentation to the Lord of creation, from whose grace we might otherwise irrecoverably fall.


           I am an object, a thing of flesh and blood. But I also know myself as a subject, who relates to others as ‘I’ to ‘you’. How are subject and object connected? By what right do I claim this body as mine and this ‘I’ as the very thing that looks from these eyes at you? It is exactly here, I came to see, that purity resides – in the I-to-you relation, which acknowledges complete equality between us.

            You too are a subject, addressing me freely with looks and words, and therefore not, for me, a thing to be exploited. If nevertheless I treat you as such a thing I have abolished the barrier between us. I have desecrated what is otherwise sacred, the untouchable centre of the will. I have reduced us both to objects and that, in the end, is what pollution amounts to.


These are warnings about the path to totalitarianism.  Two different descriptions of the way in which we are reduced to mass-market consumer units.





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