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Friday, December 06, 2002 - 08:12 AM Permanent link for ESR:  Sneering at Courage & the Mind/Body Dichotomy
ESR: Sneering at Courage & the Mind/Body Dichotomy

Eric Raymond has a great essay about the renaissance in admiration for Courage our society is experiencing in light of 9/11 and the social causes that earlier "sneered" at it.

In an interesting reversal of history I'll quote several passages from him [Image].   He starts with:

One of the overdue lessons of 9/11 is that we can't afford to sneer at physical courage any more. The willingness of New York firemen, Special Forces troops in Afghanistan, and the passengers of Flight 93 to put their lives on the line has given us most of the bright spots we've had in the war against terror. We are learning, once again, that all that stands between us and the night of barbarism is the willingness of men to both risk their lives and take the awful responsibility of using lethal force in our defense.

...The rediscovery of courage visibly upsets a large class of bien pensants in our culture. Many of the elite molders of opinion in the U.S and Europe do not like or trust physical courage in men. They have spent decades training us to consider it regressive, consigning it to fantasy, sneering at it — trying to persuade us all that it's at best an adolescent or brute virtue, perhaps even a vice.

One broad group he singles out for having sneered at Male physical courage are the ranks of the intellectual elite:

For multi-culti and po-mo types, male physical courage is suspect because it's psychologically linked to moral certitude — and moral certitude is a bad thing, nigh-indistinguishable from intolerance and bigotry...

Elite opinions about male physical courage have also had more than a touch of class warfare about them...

For transnational progressives and the left in general, male physical courage is a problem in the lesser orders because it's an individualizing virtue, one that leads to wrong-think about autonomy and the proper limits of social power.

I'll group these 3 groups into the "Intellectual Class."   I agree with all of his rationales -- Moral Certitude, Classism, and Individualism -- and offer up a 4rd reason -- the Mind/Body Dichotomy.

Much Intellectual "sneering" towards displays of physicality is predicated on a conceit that the physical world is accidental rather than essential to existence (borrowing a distinction made by Fred Brooks).   Is it more important to be "right" or to get "results"?    Many of these attitudes towards the "muscularity" of life are paralleled in intellectual attitudes towards capitalism as well.

There's a recurrent belief that philosophical "purity" stems from and allows for greater disengagement from the physical world.  The physical world is what introduces rounding errors into the perfect schemes that intellectuals unfold.  

The belief that the physical world is a fundamentally corrupting influence on the abstract, philosophical one goes at least as far back in Western Thought as Plato (citing this article):

...Plato holds that the things of this world are corruptible copies of perfect ideals, or Forms. A copy may be good or bad, but what is certain, Popper wrote, is that "every change, however small, must make it different, and thus less perfect, by reducing its resemblance to its Form."

The logical derivation of Plato's idealized style of government sounds eerily like the EU technocracy today:

Instead, he provided a blueprint of what he thought would be an ideal state. It is not a democracy. It is a martial, hierarchical regime headed by a philosopher-ruler -- someone, Plato imagined, like himself...The regime's administrators and enforcers would be a military-bureaucratic elite of "guardians," to be specially trained (today we might say indoctrinated) and specially privileged.

Plato's brittle hierarchy remains stable and pure only so long as the administrative class remains uncorrupted and united; otherwise, the state will fall victim to decadence or infighting. The elites are thus not to mingle with the common people, so as not to go soft.

(Plato, at least, seems to give more credit to the military/muscularity than the EU does today)  

Unfortunately, ESR's "male physical courage" -- and the rugged individualism it engenders -- is an affront to this.  A deep interaction between Mental and Physical reality is not just a pre-requisite to individual, moralistic engagement but rather an essential theme.  Unlike the intellectual's physical world which is seen as a recipient of a perfectly concocted idea, this notion of the physical world is far more dialectic. 

The intellectual's oneway communication, when put into force by the state, results in something akin to a square peg getting hammered into a round hole by a progressively bigger and bigger hammer.   In an argument that brazenly echoes Rand's Atlas Shrugged, that hammer must be produced by the capitalist system and is wielded by the state's seemingly detached instruments of physicality -- the police force and military. 

In the 20th century, the inner belief that the intellectual ideal was supreme and is rightfully thrust upon the physical world was responsible for the constant flirtation between intellectuals and totalitarian states:

In fact, "smart" people are all too often prone to fall for the belief that they alone know how to run the world, and that government should be massively centralized, so that "smart" people like themselves can make decisions properly. One sees this in the intellectuals (e.g., Heidegger) who sympathized with the Nazis, and much more so in the predilection that many Western intellectuals had for Communism and socialism. Judging from the 20th century, it seems that "smart" people are more, rather than less, likely to support the evils of totalitarianism.

The intellectual basis for all of this is a philosophy that elevates intellectual matters over mere physical ones when in actuality the reverse is often more true.   In order to keep "male physical power" under the exclusive control of the state's technocrats, it must first be delegitimized in everday life, and even in the individual minds of some of the state's actors outside the inner circle. 

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