Mr. Rorty and his animal fellows

Olavo de Carvalho
O Imbecil Coletivo (“The Collective Imbecile”), 5a ed., pp. 60-67.

(Translated by Pedro Sette Câmara)

“Error speaks with a double voice, one proclaiming the false and the other denying it; it is a dispute of yes and no, called contradiction… Error is condemned, not by the mouth of the judge, but ex ore suo.”

Benedetto Croce

“Philosophy originated from the attempt to escape to a world in which nothing changed. Plato, who founded this field of culture we today call ‘philosophy’, believed the difference between past and future to be minimal.”

Thus begins the full-page article Mr. Richard Rorty published in Folha de São Paulo1 on March 3, 1994. Well, when I started working on journalism, more than thirty years ago, such a paragraph would be mercilessly cut off at the copydesk, who also would not miss the opportunity to send the author a note such as follows: “But how, smarty boy, could Plato so anxiously desire to escape to a world of changeless stability, since in this world itself he did not see any big difference between past and future?” Today, flagrant nonsense like this is printed as a deep manifestation of philosophical thought, and nobody from the copydesk is there to say that that is not acceptable even as would-be journalism.

Besides starting his article with such obvious nonsense, Mr. Rorty intends yet to use it as the basis for conclusions which constitute an assault on the most elementary historical truths. So he continues: “It was only when they began to take history and time seriously that philosophers replaced their desire to know another world with hopes for the future of this world. The first attempt to consider time seriously was with Hegel”.

To begin with, it is widely known that Plato, like all the Greek philosophers, did see an immense difference between past and future: if the very fact of change did not seem to him worthy of attention, he would not make any effort to discover a changeless pattern behind the fleetingness of things. Secondly, the preoccupation with “the future of this world” was a strong characteristic of Plato’s project, which was rather the work of a social and political reformer than of pure contemplative theoretician.

Thirdly, to place in the philosophy of Hegel the beginning of the preoccupation with History and time is to jump over two millennia of Christianity, a religion which differentiated itself from the Greek understanding of the world precisely because of its emphasis on the temporal and historical character of human life – and this is already clear enough in St. Augustine.

Fourth. What is the reason for supposing there is a contradiction between a concern with History and the desire for eternity, when it is precisely the inseparable union of both these topics that constitutes the fundamental inspiration of Hegel himself?

Fifth. When Mr. Rorty interprets the desire for eternity as an “escape” or a fleeing, he’s just doing a word game, and one that’s easily reversible: the impulse to revolutionise the world and accelerate historical change can just as well be interpreted as a form of hübrys, of alienated agitation, of relief valve before realities that are permanent and ineluctable, such as death, physical frailty, the ignorance of our ultimate destiny etc. These depreciative interpretations bear no more than a rhetorical value, if they can do so much. To take them as an inquestionable given is not an honest procedure.

Grounded on all these assumptions, Mr. Rorty finishes the article’s opening paragraph stating that “the combined influence of Hegel and Darwin took philosophy away from the question “What are we?” and brought it to “What can we become?”. This pompous historical generalisation denies the reader the information that, for Hegel, these two questions were rigorously the same – “Wesen is was gewesen ist”. The Jena philosopher, besides, was not distancing himself from Greek thought with it, but only folowing the logical development of Aristotle’s doctrine of 2, according to which the essence of a being is not its static form considered in a given moment of time, but the purpose underlying in its development. Mr. Rorty also leaves out that Darwin never said a word about “what we are” or “what can we become”, but was only interested in “what we were”; thus, he mistakes the theory of evolution with evolutionist ideology, which is the work of Spencer and not of Darwin.

In a single paragraph, there are so many absurd implications that maybe it is the very own compressive force of the falsehood rapidly injected in his brain that makes the reader dizzy and incapable of realising he’s before a cheap impostor, disguised by the marketing as a philosopher.

But I do not believe Mr. Rorty writes likes this due to sheer stupidity. He knows he’s lying – and the secret behind the fascination he exerts over hordes of pedant youths consists precisely in that, disbelieving any truth, they envy the power of telling good lies. There’s a lot people dreaming of becoming Mr. Rorty when they grow up.

But, do you really want to know who this man is? Do you wish to have an idea of how ridiculous it is to honour him as a philosopher? Going a little beyond what he said in the newspaper, let’s follow a brief examination of his more general concepts.

“Language is not an image of reality”, assures Mr. Rorty, a pragmatist and anti-Platonic philosopher. Should we interpret this sentence in the sense Mr. Rorty calls ‘Platonic’, that is, as a denial of an attribute to one substance? It would be contradictory: a language that is not an image of reality cannot give us a real image of its relations with reality. Therefore, the sentence must be interpreted pragmatically: it does not affirm anything about language, but only indicates the intention to use it in a certain way.

The main thesis of Mr. Rorty’s thought is a declaration of intentions. The sentence “language is not an image of reality” rigorously means this and nothing else: “I, Richard Rorty, am firmly decided to not use language as an image of reality.” It is the sort of unanswerable argument: an expression of someone’s will cannot be logically refuted. Therefore, there is nothing to debate: keeping the limits of decency and law, Mr. Rorty can use language as he may wish.

The problem appears when he begins to try to make us use language exactly like him. He states that language is not a representation of reality, but rather a set of tools invented by man in order to accomplish his desires. But this is a false alternative. A man may well desire to use this tool to represent reality. It seems that Plato desired precisely this. But Mr. Rorty denies that men have other desires than seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. That some declare to desire something else must be very painful to him, for, on the contrary, there would be no pragmatically valid explanation for the effort he puts in changing the conversation. Given the impossibility to deny that these people exist, the pragmatist will perhaps say that those who look for representing reality are moved by the desire to avoid pain as much as those who prefer to create fantasies; but this objection will have shown precisely that these are not things which exclude each other. The Rortyan alternative is false in its own terms.

In the face of such a painful realisation, Mr. Rorty claims that his philosophy consists in the proposal of a new vocabulary, in which the differences between absolute and relative, natural and artificial, true and false, will be abolished. He acknowledges having no argument to offer in defence of his proposal, since it, “not being able to be expressed in Platonic terminology”, is above, or below, the possibility of being proved or refuted. “Therefore”, he concludes in the name of all pragmatists, “our efforts of persuasion take the form of a gradual inculcation of new ways of speaking.” Mr. Rorty, therefore, does not intend to convince us of the truth of his ideas: he only intends to “gradually inculcate” in us his way of speaking; which, once adopted, will make us gradually forget to ask if what is said is true or false. But, to gradually inculcate in others a linguistic habit, while at the same time putting it beyond the reach of any rational arbitration, is sheer psychological manipulation. We leave, therefore, the field of philosophical discussion – which Rortyanism rejects as “Platonic” – to enter the field of the subtle imposition of wills achieved through the repetition of slogans and the change of vocabulary. It is what George Orwell has called Newspeak in his novel 1984.

This is perhaps the deep and secret reason why, after saying that men are nothing but animals in search of pleasure, and reducing language to an instrument for the domination of weak animals by the strong ones, Mr. Rorty still can declare that “we, pragmatists, do not behave like animals”, when his words seemed to indicate the exact opposite. The truth is that they are, actually, animal trainers. A man who trains horses does not argue with them: he just makes use of psychological influence in order to “gradually inculcate” in them the habits he desires them to have.

Like all trainers, pragmatists are driven by pious intentions: “What matters to us s to create means of diminishing human suffering.” It is with such a noble goal the Mr. Rorty proposes the abolition of the oppositions between false and true, real and apparent, absolute and relative etc., which have been causing great distress to philosophy students, and suggests the universal adoption of the Newspeak.

Once such a measure is approved, philosophical debates will cease to be as they used to, that is, an uncomfortable clash of arguments and proofs, to become an effort to make all the more pleasurable and pain-free the gradual inculcation of new habits in the minds of the audience. New theories will not anymore call to their help the heavy weapons of logic, but rather the delicate instruments of marketing, giving out free gifts to new followers, and putting smiling Playboy bunnies in the cover of academic works.

But Mr. Rorty’s decisive contribution to the relief of human suffering is his fierce combat against the idea that life may have a meaning. It is understandable that, in a meaningful universe, Mr. Rorty feels very bad – an outsider, a stranger, just like a non-pragmatist would feel in a meaningless world. However, Mr. Rorty sees no use in arguing with those who do not feel like him. The controversy over the existence or non-existence of a meaning intrinsic to the universe, as he says, “is way too radical to be judged from a neutral point of view”. There is no way to argue: all that a man can do is to express his desires. Therefore, once again, Mr. Rorty’s thesis is a declaration of intentions: he Richard Rorty, will do everything within his power in order to guarantee that life makes no sense whatsoever. And he does that, by the way, with great zeal and competence. There are those who believe that it is the lack of meaning that makes human beings unhappy , but Mr Rorty just couldn’t care less. He defends democratic pluralism, the expression of all points of view.

Yet, the confrontation of points of view, unable to be arbitrated by any intellectually valid means, becomes a mere competition between desires, which will have as winner the party with the greatest ability to manipulate.

Those who know Mr. Rorty personally guarantee he is a really nice person. I believe that. But I doubt he wags his tail. After all, he’s not the animal in the story3.


1 Translator’s note: Folha de São Paulo is the best-selling Brazilian newspaper, even though it is read by the ‘elite’ of the country. We can say that it similar, in tone and ideas, to The New York Times and the other big liberal newspapers.

2 A case in point: Viktor Frankl, the never enough praised Jewish psychiatrist who, inside the hell of nazi concentration camps, found out that the meaning of life is more necessary to man than freedom itself. Frankl said to an American audience: “It was not just some Berlin ministries that invented the gas chambers of Maidanek, Auschwitz and Treblinka: they were prepared in the offices and classrooms of scientists and nihilistic philosophers, among which were and are some Nobel-laureate Anglo-Saxon thinkers. It’s just that, if human life is nothing but an insignificant by-product of some protein molecules, little does it matter whether a psychopath be eliminated as useless, and that to the psychopath a few inferior people are added: all this amounts to nothing else logical and consequent reasoning.” Man’s Search for Meaning.

3 Re-reading the proof sheets of this chapter, it occurred to me reminding the reader that a proposal like Mr Rorty’s contains in itself, together with the refusal of rational proof, a crowd f antibodies against any attempt to refute it in the serenity of an academic discussion. “Gradual inculcation” never comes face to face with arguments, but takes advantage of the reader/listener’s moments of distraction to surreptitiously induce in him a mood change. Its modus argumentandi is neither the philosopher’s nor even the rhetorician’s, but that of the neurolinguistic programmer: it works below the threshold of conscience, after inducing the victim to relax its defences by means of nice conversation. Against this kind of action, the only possible defence is to face the enemy in the field he has chosen: that of psychological action. It is not the case, therefore, of arguing, but of unmasking, as in psychoanalysis. During Mr. Rorty’s stay in Brazil, I was shocked at his audience’s inability to perceive the difference between argumentation and seduction: since Mr. Rorty himself admits there is no use in arguing, what could his apparent arguments be but a diversionist manoeuvre, a trompe l’oeil aimed at entertaining conscious attention while below and beyond any critical supervision, the gradual inculcator discretely manipulates the depths of the distracted audience’s souls? But, what small-town girl would be foolish enough to try to rid herself of a seducer using polite sentences that would only lengthen the conversation? In order to repel the seducer it is necessary to definitely refuse him any sign of sympathy from the very beginning. These days, many are the trends of opinion that prefer psychological influence to logical argumentation. They do not try to conquer our adhesion, but to monopolise our attention. Extending a conversation which even they do not acknowledge as leading to any intellectually valid results, they gradually involve us in its atmosphere, so that without ever having explicitly agreed with them, we suddenly find ourselves speaking their language, judging by their values, acting according to their rules. Thus they obtain, above or below our superficial disagreement, our most complete obedience. There is no way to oppose them but with overt manifestations of antipathy, so that they grasp that what separates us from them is not just some intellectual disagreement, but also an absolute moral rejection; that, in short, we don’t like their conversation. The tone of the present book [chapter] has therefore a prophylactic meaning.

Three False Roads

Olavo de Carvalho
Época, September 29, 2001

They help you understand nothing about the terrorist attacks

Two weeks after the attacks, all the most obvious and predictable mistakes of analysis, which would be a shame for someone of average intelligence, have occurred, with the easiness of the unconscious, by the wise men in charge, who give their opinion about the matter. We’ll consider three, and their respective authors.

First: consider the crime a legitimate reaction against the “aggressive militarism of the U.S.” Authors: practically all leftist intelligentsia in the Third World.

For the past century and during two world wars and various local conflicts, the total number of victims of U.S. military actions has been 1.6 million people – a third of what Communist China killed in its own land in only half that time. In World War II, the U.S. killed 925,000 people on all fronts, only half of what the Communists killed in Cambodia alone, less than they killed in Tibet or — guess where else — Afghanistan. In Vietnam, victims of the U.S. numbered 213,000 from 1960 to 1972. In Rwanda in 1994, crowds driven by leftist agitators killed four times that number in only 10 weeks.

In this context, when a leftist describes the U.S. as an aggressive and military state, he is simply not being honest.

Second: explain the attacks as acts of “fanaticism,” “war,” or “backwardness” of the Islamic religion. Authors: pro-Western Christian, atheist, or Jewish intellectuals – who are proud of what they see as superiority of their respective countries, cultures, and religions.

There is no single bellicose commandment in the Koran that is not also present in the Old Testament. At least until the 20th Century, Muslim invaders have always been more tolerant of religions in defeated lands than Christians in India or in Africa, or than Israelis with the Cananeus and Amorreus.

The eminent Paul Johnson, in condemning the Muslims as having no history of modernization as the West has had since the 16th Century, totally misses the mark because these modernizing trends gave way to colonial absolutism and later to totalitarian ideologies which gave birth to the age of terrorism and genocide, two plagues which only later and through those ideologies came to infect the Islamic population.

This error is possibly the worst because it urges a general conflict between Islam and the West, playing into the hands of anti-capitalist forces – and Islamic forces, only in name – which subsidize and manipulate Muslim extremists.

Third: morally condemn the American reaction, using the excuse of “forgiveness.” Authors: Pharisees, goody-goodies, terrorists dressed with cassok.

No religion in the world gives anyone the right to “forgive” the offenses of third-parties, against the will of victims or their descendants. The forgiveness this people are talking about is the easy forgiveness  of someone who has never suffered and has only to gain with somebody else’s suffering.

Making anti-American proselytism over a total contempt for the voice of the victims is an unqualified low blow. For this reason, the ecumenical cult “in favor of peace” gathered in Sao Paulo on the 23rd was a satanic parody of the simultaneous celebration in Yankee Stadium. In the latter, followers of all religions – including Islam – gathered together in an act of gratitude and faithfulness, offering their lives in defense of the country that has given them freedom. In the other, what we saw was the word “forgiveness” blossomed into obscene disregard from the mouths of individuals who, beneath their affectation of good sentiments, still fume hate at the memory of the defeat suffered by their terrorist friends, 30 years ago, during military dictatorship. Any man who cannot forgive the death of armed revolutionaries, but cynically wants the unarmed victims to fraternize the murderers of their fathers, mothers and brothers, is not and can never be a man of God.

Question from a Desperate Man

Olavo de Carvalho
Zero Hora, September 23, 2001

A few weeks ago I mentioned in passing the maxim of Sun-Tzu: “Appear weak when you’re strong, and strong when you’re weak.” It sums up the key behind timing, the rhythmic alternation in Communist rhetoric. Anatoliy Golitsyn, the KGB defector and probably greatest mind on the subject in the Western media, provides the following interpretation: when the Communist movement is involved in some long-term global maneuver, time can be bought with soft, sweet, simple talk suggesting frailty, division, and hesitation, in order to placate Western suspicions with a flowery show of conciliatory sentiments and some “modernizing” approximation to democratic values. In the threat of danger and in need of restoring the warlike spirit and martial discipline to the foot soldiers, it’s time to abandon all affectation of prudence and stir up fierce threats and shows of force.

At this moment, this movement is engaged on the most far-reaching and complex operation in its history: reorganize itself on a global scale, moving from a centralized, hierarchical structure based in the USSR, to a flexible, multi-centric organization with diverse sources of financial support, transitioning from the Soviet money-laundering machine into a complex network of independent sources, ranging from respectable multinational companies founded with secret KGB funds to smuggling operations.

This is not the time for blusters, rather it’s time to play the nice guy, the poor guy, to play dead. The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were the rash work of fearless allies, Taliban lunatics. Applauding them ostensibly would be the declaration of a war which the Communist forces are not prepared to fight. Condemning  them “in totum” would be humiliation before the U.S. Therefore the command words, ambiguous and elusive, are emanated from Cuba and obeyed uniformly by leftist militants around the world: vocally condemn the violence of the attacks, but provide moral legitimacy and blame the victims through allegations of “those who reap what they sow.”

D. Luciana Genro, state representative of the labor party, was one of the many voices that, in the general chorus of leftism, faithfully echoed the message of the master in the Brazilian press, condemning the attack while explaining it as the logical  — and, in the bottom-line, just — reaction of communities pushed to desperation by the oppression of the U.S. empire.

This rationale is clearly insane. No country is under the occupation of U.S. troops, while places like Lhasa, Tibet, have fewer Tibetans than Communist Chinese soldiers. Afghanistan has never been violated by the U.S., rather by the Soviets who killed a million Afghanis and who abandoned the country only when U.S. support tipped the scales in favor of the Islamic militants. The Iranian revolution never encountered U.S. military opposition, rather it received some secret support in toppling Rez Pahlevi. Finally, during the Gulf War when there was a chance to invade Baghdad and turn Saddam Hussein into atomic dust, the U.S. stopped at freeing Kuwait and left the Iraqi dictator humble but intact, in his little throne of shadows. In general, the economies of the Islamic world would all have gone to hell if not for the U.S. support, and the only thing that Muslims can really object to about Yankee imperialism is that it prevents them from annihilating the Jewish population of Israel, as so many of them would so like to do.

Comparing one kind of desperation with another, there would be greater reason to smash two Boeings into the Kremlin or the Palace of Celestial Peace rather than the World Trade Center.

To reveal this to D. Luciana, but in simple, didactic terms, accessible to her recalcitrant neurons of this stubborn pupil who skipped the democracy classes, journalist Diego Casagrande conceived a pedagogical little story in which liberal and conservative gaucho voters, faced with such desperation at the rise of the prepotent Labor Party in their state, beat the representative as well as Father Roque, also a Labor Party representative, who accompanied her in such an inauspicious and hypothetical circumstance.

In the short example, smaller than a regular paragraph, Casagrande reveals the moral of the story: no matter how great the desperation, nothing can justify such evil acts against two respected individuals or anyone else.

The message could not be any clearer: if desperation cannot justify the beatings of D. Luciana and Father Roque, it cannot justify smashing planes into buildings.

Surprisingly, D. Luciana interpreted the story in a different manner and said that Casagrande was inciting people to beat her and Father Roque, before announcing plans to sue the writer.

I don’t think I could have been any clearer than the writer of this little story. I believe I am a reasonable university professor, but I admit that I have little skill in child pedagogy. So I’ll give up explaining anything to the representative, and limit myself to present to my readers the following dilemma, which troubles me at this difficult moment. The FARC has already killed 30,000 people in its country and, thanks to Fernandinhos Beira-Mar and “tutti quanti”, have gained control of a good share of the Brazilian illicit drug market. I would like to do something about that, to prevent Brazil from becoming the next Colombia. I would like to, but I cannot. Here, the FARC receives official recognition, welcoming from the governor of Rio Grande, and homage from the World Social Forum. Even Fernandinho himself, a dangerous drug dealler, cannot be touched: shortly after being captured, waves of misinformation filled the press, intending to cover up the macabre alliance between the country’s number one bandit and the international revolution.

Therefore, my hands are tied. I can do nothing. I feel desperate. What do the readers think? If, in this extreme situation, I hijack, I don’t say a Boeing, but maybe a twin-prop Embraer and smash it into the Piratini Palace, would I be morally justified in my desperation? Or better yet: if, in light of my complete lack of piloting skills to such an enterprise, I find something closer at hand and choose to smash my notebook into Dr. Olivio Dutra’s head, could I allege in defense that I merely released the tempest that was created by his official acts?

And if Diego Casagrande, in trying to dissuade me from such terrorist inclinations, writes a story to show how it would be ugly if Dona Luciana and Father Roque, in despite of their unger, decided to beat me, could I conclude that he induced them to be violent with me?

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