Tuesday, July 31, 2007

No moral democracy

From Thomas Howard's essay "The Touchstone of Orthodoxy":

A hundred years ago, or a thousand or ten thousand for that matter, mountebanks and wizards and false prophets had to whip up what following they could on the strength of their own voice and their own tricks. Now every jester has an instant, vast, and utterly credulous audience via the talk shows [had this been written today instead of in 1979 I'm sure Howard would have substituted "the internet"]. The audience is credulous, I say, because they have been schooled in the tradition of moral and intellectual democracy, in which every idea is worth exactly as much as every other idea, and in which we are committed to giving equal time, not just on the air or in the columns of newsprint, but also in our minds -- equal time, I say, to Isaiah and Beelzebub, for example, or to Saint Thomas Aquinas and Mick Jagger, or the Blessed Virgin and Bella Abzug.

... But this will not do. It is not good enough to receive all data as though it is arriving from some cosmic grist mill, all of it to be ground in to your loaf. There is wheat and there is chaff. Distinctions have to be made. There is good stuff and bad stuff. And the only way to sort out the good from the bad is to discriminate. There is no question of a moral democracy, any more than there is of a gastronomic democracy. If you eat vegetables, they will do you good; if you eat toadstools, they will kill you.

To those who might drag out the old canard about minds being like parachutes, working best when kept perpetually open, I'd say: but in our present day when relativism is rampant, the better use of that simile is to note that a parachute is useless unless you actually do pull the ripcord -- and it better be at the right altitude. Too high, and you die of anoxia; too low or not at all, and you splatter most unpleasantly.