Mangan’s accusations

(Note: Further down in this thread, Kristor and I talk about how the amiably incoherent compromise between conservatism and relativism that has constituted liberal civilization has become unsustainable, and choices must be made.)

I have not been following developments at Dennis Mangan’s website for a couple of days, though I do need to reply at some point to his distortions of what I’ve said, several of which are so egregious that they can be called outright lies, as well as his personal smears of me and efforts to damage me, such as when he told his readers that when I invited criticism of my position that Darwinian evolution precludes intentional consciousness, I didn’t mean it, so they shouldn’t bother writing to me. Nice.

However, Gintas sends this update, and I see that Mangan is continuing in his cacophonous career of incomprehension, publishing further outrageous, ridiculous distortions of what I and others have said.

By the way, when I upped the ante on Mangan’s headline the other day, “Auster to Biocons: Drop Dead,” by matching his paraphrase of a famous headline with my own, “Mangan Bombs Pearl Harbor!”, I hoped that he would get the humorous message that he had gone overboard and would pull back a bit. Didn’t happen.

Gintas writes:

Mangan is p____d because we’re “reading his mind.” I’m just reading what he said. He takes being called a nihilist as a personal insult that he doesn’t believe anything, rather than as a descriptive, formal philosophical / theological term. Is only Nietzsche man enough to have embraced it? If the shoe fits, wear it!

Maybe if he hasn’t changed his mind, what really is happening is that we’re seeing what is really in his mind all along. (any bolding here that follows is mine)

He writes:

I just found this at VFR, and had a laugh.

“Gintas writes:

What you have done with Mangan is forced him to stop hanging, in tension, between traditionalism and materialism. You could see that tension in previous threads, and one had to wonder what would happen in the end. We are at the end now. He has, in trying to resolve the two positions, moved Nihilistically. That’s the Marxist dialectic in action.”

More mind reading. I guess everyone over at VFR can do it. I have not changed my mind on anything (of course one’s personal opinion matters little unless one can back it up). The last time I had a major change of mind on anything was when I decided that low carb diets were in fact the healthiest way to eat.

All this talk of nihilism is pretty amusing. According to how I figure most people use the word, it means the doctrine that nothing matters. Yet here I’ve been on the net for the past 5 years arguing, under my own name and at some risk to myself because of that, against immigration, for the old white America and its people; I’ve openly discussed racial differences in intelligence and behavior; what’s more, I’ve defended Lawrence Auster and during discussions here that concerned him tried to moderate comments in such a way that personal abuse toward him was at least minimized; I’ve openly supported VDare; I’ve been called a racist for my pains; yet none of this makes an iota of difference to the bigots that go under then name of traditional Christian conservatives—expressing the view that one finds the Darwinian theory of evolution by natural selection to accord with the facts that one can see—a view incidentally shared by 99% of all scientists—that makes you a Nihilist with a capital N.

Auster is very quick to denounce anyone who says anything at all that’s even slightly derogatory about Christians as a bigot. Yet look what’s going on here—you disagree with Auster and you are essentially read out of the company of right-thinking people, you are a Nihilist. I ask any disinterested observer: who’s the bigot here? Auster and his crew want no dissension among conservative ranks, so much so that they are willing to pronounce anathema on anyone who disagrees, including calling them traitors and nihilists. What next, calling for them to be taken out and shot?

[end of Gintas’s quote of Mangan]

Ultimately, he’s a sentimental nihilist. I’ll add that I’m OK with that, if he doesn’t ever become a destructive nihilist (see Dostoyevsky’s Devils which foreshadowed the Russian Revolution), because he’s sentimental about the civilization I want restored. But if he believes that Christianity is irrational, then he has to declare our civilization and its builders and maintainers are irrational. Which is downright irrational, and is close in kind to destructive nihilism.

[end of Gintas comment]

Gintas has also posted this at Mangan’s:

Mr. Mangan, I don’t aim to read your mind and call you a destructive nihilist (as Dostoyevsky describes in Devils.) Nihilism is being used as a descriptive, formal philosophical (/theological) term. It can’t mean that you belive in nothing, because it’s obvious that you do; but rather that you don’t believe in something bigger, like God or the gods, or even “the Force”, something, anything, that is outside our cosmos but from which order and moral law is derived.

Let me qualify it in a positive way: you’re a sentimental nihilist, and I’m OK with that, since you’re sentimental about the civilization we both love and want to preserve.

But calling Christianity irrational is to call our civilization and its builders and maintainers irrational, and that sounds too close to destructive nihilism.

A novel that presaged this entire discussion is Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons. Well worth reading. It even deals with Game!

The crisis of the conservative materialist

Kristor writes:

It seems to me that the heretofore irenic Dennis Mangan must indeed have been long poised on tenterhooks between materialist nihilism and traditionalism, as Gintas says, because his materialist ontology utterly destroys any rational basis for his chthonic affection and preference for the civilization of the West. Like anyone else, Mr. Mangan finds it impossible to live an actual life, with actual emotions, as if materialism were really true, so that nothing really matters. No one can hate everything and live. So, Mr. Mangan is not emotionally nihilist; on the contrary, his loyalty to the West is so strong that he devotes substantial portions of his life’s energy to a website in its defense. It’s just that he cannot derive any justification for those beliefs, or for his blogging, from his materialism. The best he can say is that his loyalties are worthy so far as he himself is concerned, whether there is a reason for them or not—and that’s just all there is to it.

But obviously the rhetorical moment of his efforts at Mangan’s Miscellany is greatly reduced if he is forced to say, in effect, “The West should be defended, not because it is really good, but only because I say so.” Takes the wind out of one’s sails, no? Arguments that people ought to behave in certain ways fall to bits if they deny the reality of “shoulds and oughts” from the get-go, as any consistent materialism must.

A confrontation with the philosophical nihilism implicit in his materialism undercuts much of what Mangan’s public activities on the web have been about. It has to be a deeply disturbing experience, and this might account for his present anger at the messenger, Mr. Auster. There are only two ways he can really go: he can decide he doesn’t care about anything at all, including both the West and materialism; or he can decide that a philosophy that makes it impossible to consistently and rationally support any sort of engagement with life cannot be true, and so embark upon a new and deeper gyre in his struggle to understand nature. On the one hand, emotional death; on the other, greater philosophical depth.

LA replies:

Kristor wrote:

But obviously the rhetorical moment of his efforts at Mangan’s Miscellany is greatly reduced if he is forced to say, in effect, “The West should be defended, not because it is really good, but only because I say so.” Takes the wind out of one’s sails, no?

This is an amazing moment, a coming to a head and a crisis of the core liberal idea of the last hundred or more years. Liberalism means you believe in your civilization, without believing in what C.S. Lewis called objective value, the idea that there is an inherent value in things that by its very nature calls forth our attraction, love, and loyalty. Liberals and materialists don’t believe in objective value. The liberals believe that they like their civilization because, well, because they like it. The materialists believe that they like their civilization because in past generations randomly appearing alleles or memes were selected because they were more successful at spreading themselves and those genes/memes make the person love his civilization. But neither liberals nor materialists have the ability to say, “I love my civilization (or any particular thing about my civilization) because it is inherently, objectively good and its inherent goodness calls forth my love.”

The amiably incoherent view that we could call moderate liberalism or relativist conservatism has been a viable option for many people for generations. It was sustainable, so long as not too much attention was brought to bear on it, so long as it wasn’t too closely questioned and not too much was asked of it. But now that the openly atheist-materialist view is gaining head and insisting on becoming socially and intellectually dominant, the in-between position of the “conservative non-believer” such as Dennis Mangan, ceases to be sustainable. He can no longer get by with saying, “I believe in my country, even though I don’t believe in objective value,” because it’s become clear that that position cannot hold the line against nihilism. At the same time, he can’t opt completely for the materialist-atheist position either, because it is more and more clear that that means he really is a nihilist and cuts the strings altogether. So all hell is breaking loose.

Mangan will reply once again that we are unfairly claiming to read his thoughts and attributing to him things he hasn’t said and trying to take over his brain. Not true. There is a large philosophical drama being played out and he happens to be the locus of it at the moment. To put the discusson in terms of a mafia movie: it’s not personal, Dennis, it’s business—the business of our civilization.

LA writes to Todd White:

Cornelius Troost wrote to you at your site:

A society fully accepting Darwinism and atheist to the core, like most of Europe, could, if it retained its Christian values, have a bright future if it held tightly to a biocon perspective reinforced by a strong sense of nationhood.

Unbelievable. They’re intellectually falling apart before our eyes.

I think this blatant falling into absurdity is proof of the value of pushing them on their contradictions as we’ve been doing. They want “European civilization,” and they want atheism and Darwinism. If we keep pushing in their faces that that is a hopeless contradiction, then in their increasingly insistent effort to show it’s not a contradiction, the contradiction only becomes more evident. And then as Kristor says in his above comment, either they will opt for nihilism, or they will accept that there is a truth after all.

LA continues:

Readers should see the rest of the exchange at Todd White’s site, The Mustard Seed.

Todd White writes:

Yes, I agree with everything you wrote, Lawrence, although I would add that - once pushed into making a choice - I fear that a lot of these so-called “biocons” will choose nihilism. For many of them, even the deepest nihilism is preferable to faith. Their antagonism toward God and organized religion is very real and deep, and perhaps impossible to reverse.

I hope to be proven wrong, though.

Todd White continues:
Also, it’s probably worth mentioning that the commentator Cornelius isn’t some random Internet troll; he’s a professor of science education at UCLA and the author of the pro-Darwin book, Apes or Angels: Darwin, Dover, Human Nature, and Race.

Here’s his website.

I don’t want to pick on Cornelius, but at the same time, I don’t think it’s unreasonable of us to expect a less-blatantly contradictory explanation from a man of his credentials.

LA replies:

Of course there are atheists who are “cultural Christians.” That’s fairly common today, especially in Europe. But I’ve never seen a person put it so baldly and expect it to fly, that a society could be “fully accepting Darwinism and atheist to the core,” and yet at the same time “retain its Christian values.”

How could it retain Christian values if it’s “atheist to the core”? It’s like saying a person could be a drunkard to the core, and yet retain the values of sobriety. Or, that a person could be socialist to the core, yet retain the values of private property and free enterprise.

My point is, normally when people are trying to reconcile opposites, they will shave something off of each position to make them fit together. So a person who wants Christian values to be maintained in a non-believing society, will say that non-believers need to respect Christian tradition, not undermine it. But the phrase “atheist to the core” obviously leaves no room for such compromise. A person who was atheist to the core—examples that come to mind are Ayn Rand, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens—would have zero regard, zero tolerance for anything to do with Christianity. Which is the actual case. That Troost doesn’t realize this, doesn’t realize that two mutually exclusive opposites cannot coexist together in the same place and the same time—suggests to me a mind at the end of its tether, a mind in crisis that doesn’t realize it’s in crisis.

LA writes:

I initially hesitated posting Kidist’s below comment, as I didn’t want to make Dennis Mangan’s personality the issue. I have no desire to “go after” Dennis Mangan or put him on the spot personally. But on further thought I realized that Kidist is simply quoting things Mangan had said publicly at his blog about himself and his beliefs and direction, or lack thereof, and she was adding her reflections on the meaning of what he had said. and that seems like legitimate material for posting.

Kidist Paulos Asrat writes:

I wonder if you remember this discussion with Dennis last December?

Mangan writes in his post “Sects and Religion”:

Only the experience of a loving divinity is compelling to [Mr. Auster], and were I to experience the same, I might say the same. But I have not so experienced it, do not find a rational proof of God’s existence of much use because it doesn’t tell me how to live my life, find that the doctrines of the world’s religions mutually conflict, and therefore remain adrift—I’m not ashamed to admit it—on the sea of life.

And you put him to task about the adrift on the sea of life part.

Mangan brushed this confession aside by saying “I also suspect that exposure to Dennis Mangan will not make many people feel adrift or alienated.” To which I responded:

[I]t isn’t one Dennis Mangan, but it is the many Dennis Mangans that are adding up…There is now a clear and marked culture of atheism.

But, what struck me was that the non-believing Mangan admitted, in a moment of lucidity, the lack of guidance and direction in his life. I am sorry to say this, but how can such a person contribute to saving such a big thing as a civilization (and a nation), if his own self is so aimless? This struck me those many months ago, and I was waiting for Dennis to come clean with this revelation, that whatever he is doing isn’t working.

September 2

Ian B. writes:

Mangan’s reaction to being called a nihilist reminds of John Derbyshire’s. You may recall that Derbyshire outright said that he didn’t think there was any purpose to life beyond the biological imperative to reproduce, and he used pretty nearly those exact same words. Then, later, he acted offended that some of his emailers were calling him a “nihilist” despite the fact that his stated views are very nearly a dictionary definition of nihilism!

What’s up with these “conservatives” who come out and say “life has no ultimate meaning”, and then get all hurt when they are described with a term that means “person who believes that life has no ultimate meaning”?

It seems that being confronted with what they in fact are is emotionally painful to them. They want to believe that they aren’t shallow, that they aren’t the sort of inhuman types that nihilism is associated with after a century of atrocities perpetrated by those under its sway, because they *care* about stuff. But everybody cares about stuff, including Nietzsche himself. Caring about stuff doesn’t mean you’re not a nihilist, when you believe that even the stuff you care about has no ultimate meaning.

LA replies:

This is the idea I constantly emphasize, in order to overcome the conventional view that nihilism means not believing in anything. There’s no one who doesn’t believe in anything. So if there were the definition of nihilism, nihilism would be a meaningless concept.

Nihilism means, as stated in the Preface of Rose’s Nihilism: The Root of the Revolution of the Modern Age, “the belief that there is no Absolute Truth, that all truth is relative.”

Rose continues:

Nihilism has been defined, and quite succinctly, by the fount of philosophical Nihilism, Nietzsche.

“That there is no truth; that there is no absolute state of affairs—no ‘thing-in-itself.’ This alone is Nihilism, and of the most extreme kind.”…

And by “truth” we mean, of course—as Nietzsche’s denial of it makes explicit—absolute truth, which we have already defined as the dimension of the beginning and the end of things.

“Absolute truth”: the phrase has, to a generation raised on skepticism and unaccustomed to serious thought, an antiquated ring. No one, surely—is the common idea—no one is naive enough to believe in “absolute truth” any more; all truth, to our enlightened age, is “relative.” The latter expression, let us note—“all truth is relative”—is the popular translation of Nietzsche’s phrase, “there is no (absolute) truth”; the one doctrine is the foundation of the Nihilism alike of the masses and of the elite.

LA continues:

Also, on Derbyshire, it’s not just the charge that he’s an nihilist that he objects to. He’s objected to all of conservative readers’ complaints about the non-conservative positions he’s taken, which I summed up in a 2006 entry called “Derb Agonistes”:

Meanwhile, John Derbyshire is expressing increasing and uncharacteristic annoyance at the many readers who write to him complaining about his lack of real conservatism and his lack of Christian belief. He makes this complaint in a long article he just wrote explaining his, uh, lack of Christian belief along with his total reliance on biology as the source of the truth of man. For some reason he fails to understand that readers’ indignation at him is perhaps set off by the fact that he is a ubiquitous, endlessly talkative figure at America’s leading conservative magazine, sharing with the reading public every twist and turn of his interior thought process, and that the main drift of all this chat is his distancing of himself from conservative beliefs and allegiances, including foundational conservative principles.

Thus he’s an Anglican—but now he tells us he gave that up, doesn’t believe in it any more and is no longer a Christian. Thus he’s a conservative—but he happily informs us that he prefers the company of New York City liberals to red state conservatives, and, after all, he’s really a “metropolitan conservative.” Thus he’s a race-conscious, immigration-restrictionist paleocon—but he’s married to a non-Christian Chinese woman. Thus he’s a hard-line immigration restrictionist—yet he now urges Republican voters to stay home on election day, which, if they followed his advice, would lead to the election of a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives and the passage of President Bush’s catastrophic open-borders bill. Thus he supported the invasion of Iraq—but only for punitive reasons, not for national defense reasons, and now he’s renounced his support for the invasion in any case. Thus he’s against homosexual rights—but only because he is personally repelled by homosexuality, not because he can articulate any argument against it—not a very helpful stance in the culture wars (however, he has made useful comments about the issue). Thus he says he believes in some kind of mysterious (non-Christian) divine being—but he regards as an idiot anyone who doubts the neo-Darwinian view of life, he has withering contempt for advocates of Intelligent Design, and he thankfully states that the most formative experience of his intellectual life has been his participation at Steve Sailer’s Biodiversity e-mail list, a collection of mostly stone-cold materialist atheists and religion-haters. (I know whereof I speak; I was a member of the list back in 2001 and fought many battles there, alone against a room full of atheists.) It never occurs to Derbyshire that if he stopped calling himself a conservative or at least absented himself from the supposed seat of the conservative movement (where readers are—gasp!—looking for conservatism, not Derbyshirism), conservatives would stop being offended at his continuing demonstrations of his non-conservatism, and stop being annoyed that he is weakening conservatism from within. No. Derbyshire is a modern guy; he wants it all. He wants to spend his life hanging out at a conservative online magazine while gassing on about his non-conservatism, and have no one criticize him for this.

Of course, he denies that he’s non-conservative. After all, he “respects” traditional beliefs. Right, he respects traditional beliefs, after approving whole-heartedly of the sexual revolution and arguing at length that Darwinian evolution by random mutation and natural selection explains everything we are and makes it impossible to believe that man is created in the image of God.

And let me add, as proof of Derbyshire’s intellectual emptiness, that he has never responded to any of my criticisms, except with a purely personal, fact-free attack consisting of nothing but adjectives saying what an awful human being I am.

Ian B. writes:

You wrote in 2006 about Derbyshire:

“For some reason he fails to understand that readers’ indignation at him is perhaps set off by the fact that he is a ubiquitous, endlessly talkative figure at America’s leading conservative magazine, sharing with the reading public every twist and turn of his interior thought process, and that the main drift of all this chat is his distancing of himself from conservative beliefs and allegiances, including foundational conservative principles.”

Wow, I don’t think I’ve seen anybody capture so well in writing what it is about Derb that I find so obnoxious. I don’t mind that people like him exist. I don’t even mind National Review having a “token atheist conservative” on board offering up an unconventional take now and then in an article. Andrew Stuttaford’s occasional BS doesn’t really bother me, for instance, because he doesn’t try to dominate the place, or try to present his views as the authentic conservatism, or go out of his way to tear down everyon eelse.

What I do take offense at is going to the main area of a website that is supposed to be a source of conservative thought, and instead having shoved in my face, everywhere I look, the relentless bloviations of a hostile jackass who constantly attacks conservatism at the most fundamental level and harshly ridicules the conservative readership, and tries to pass of the fraudulent conceit that his godless reductionism is real conservatism, while the other authors stand meekly by, offering up barely a thimbleful of resistance, and allow the guy to rampage about like he owns the place.

LA replies:

I’d say there are now at least two good accounts of why Derbyshire is so obnoxious. :-)

Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 01, 2009 03:26 PM | Send

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