As an English professor, much of my time is devoted to the appreciation of great literary works. Great works speak to us with compelling virtue and undying wisdom.
Stories, and the words we use to tell them, are the primary means we have for understanding who we are and for transferring what is most important in cultural memory to future generations. For the past few centuries, however, there has been a war not only on the grand narrative of Western civilization that we encounter in these works, but more radically on language itself.
Deconstructionist writer Jacques Derrida expresses one form of this when he rejects the “logos” as the central principle of Western philosophy because of its allegedly unjustified metaphysical assumptions. Derrida’s critique of his immediate forebears’ structuralist linguistic systems, which he historicizes as if it were an eternal problem, has made words (and the people that use them) ungrounded in any reality outside of the words themselves. Echoing Heidegger’s claim that ‘language is the house of being’, Derrida stated there is no ‘outside the text’: words only refer to other words, not to things in themselves.
This is ground zero for political correctness. It begins when engaging with reality comes to be seen as a preoccupation with controlling language, precisely because words are the ultimate reality.
The context for Derrida’s theory is not unimportant. Derrida and the postmodernist theorists write in the midst of the technological age and on the cusp of the sexual revolution, when the eugenics movement of the earlier half of the century was being fused with the transhumanist imperative of the scientists and the reversal of Christianity’s moral framework. The politics of this are playing out in what is popularly called the ‘culture wars.’ The language of politics became preoccupied with the politics of language.
Yet there was an ironic effect to asserting the high claim that there was no reality outside of words. Words themselves lost lasting significance. Without purpose or meaning, words became like a technological device, a means without an end or a meaning, a dispensable object that is always waiting to be replaced by a more advanced form, a new term. People who use words in this way operate as if there were no ‘operating system.’ The new narrative suggests that language is never true or false, it is simply provisionally useful - or functionally obsolete. Words ‘demystified’ of metaphysical significance became a living tree without a root.
The vast cultural investment in the power of technology has further undermined language, responsibility, and the commitment to a common humanity. Knowledge, as Francis Bacon once put it (and Foucault pointedly repeated), is power. But the fruits of the power over human nature aren’t equally distributed. Whether it is from opening ourselves to data mining, or consenting to being experimented upon in exchange for free access to some service, technology offers the allure of dominion and community without effort, or apparent moral consequences, even while ceding control of larger purposes to the providers.
The danger technological power and united political will poses is perennial. It is at the heart of the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11 where the most advanced civilization builds up a tower in a metropolis to ‘make God come down’; it is also the main point of the ‘Ode to Man’ in Sophocles’ ancient Greek tragedy Antigone: ‘Always overcoming all ways, man loses his way and comes to nothing.’ The price of technological mastery, ‘bringing divinity upon us’, is the loss of our humanity.
In our technological age, this loss is expressed in the widespread conviction that human nature has no nature. Like gods, we define ourselves.
Is the Babylonian will to power over our human nature worth it?
Jesus poses the germane question: ‘ what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?’
The rejection of a common human nature by the universities of our day has translated into political and social agendas. They promise to liberate and empower minorities. But the ultimate minority, the human individual, is thereby coming to nothing. Souls are perishing.
In an age when the best seemingly lack all conviction and their opponents are full of passionate intensity, the purpose of this site is to equip individuals to resist the Babylonian captivity of our age, and to return to the ancient paths of wisdom and virtue.