The progressive outcry and mob intimidation (a distinction without a difference) in the wake of the George Zimmerman not guilty verdict serves to demonstrate in microcosm the single most disastrous cumulative effect of contemporary psychology, public education, and popular entertainment: the denial of our rational faculty.
Throughout most of Western history, reason has occupied an exalted place among human powers – for good reason. Without it, civil society would be impossible, as modern man is in the process of proving definitively. It is the moderating faculty, the buffer between the ever-changing feelings to which we are susceptible and the physical responses to stimuli of which we are capable. It distinguishes us from the beasts – or if you prefer the more contemporary vernacular, from machines. If “stimulus and response” is all we are, then our reactions cannot be helped, and entire categories of human existence – responsibility, guilt, dignity, self-control, endurance, grace under pressure, and tolerance – are reduced to delusions. We are entirely what circumstances compel us to be, and all our actions are merely misnamed reactions, irresistible impulses, produced not by ourselves, but by our “drives.”
Take away that faculty of moderation and restraint, take away “counting to ten” and “looking before you leap,” and you get the following interpretations of the death of Trayvon Martin, who was shot by a man with whom he had started a fight, and whose head he was banging into the pavement:
(1) It’s 2013 and an American jury just acquitted a man who admitted to stalking and killing an unarmed child. (Richard Dreyfuss, actor)
(2) Ok.. Help me out. Treyvon [sic] got killed because he just outta nowhere decided to attack and try and kill Zimmerman? For no reason?? (Ice-T, rapper)
(3) To the jurors on the trayvon case SHAME ON YOU. May you never feel the heartbreak Trayvons [sic] family feels. How can you live with yourselves? (Ellen Pompeo, some sort of actress or something)
(4) The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy. Not just for his family, or for any one community, but for America. (Barack Obama, community organizer)
All of these interpretations of the case, and others like them, are dependent on our era’s emancipation from mankind’s traditional definition, “rational animal.” Once we reinsert the rationality function into our perceptions, the proofreader’s correction of each of the above comments becomes self-evident.
(1) It’s 2013 and an American jury just acquitted a man who admitted to acting as a neighborhood watch volunteer by watching his neighborhood, and who then killed an “unarmed” male assailant after being beaten to the point where he felt afraid for his life.
(2) “Treyvon” got killed because, feeling angry at being observed with suspicion by a stranger, he confronted and beat the stranger until the man felt afraid for his life.
(3) The jurors did what a civilized society’s justice system requires, and what they had been instructed to do, namely put aside any heartbreak Trayvon’s family might feel – which is logically and legally irrelevant – and decide whether the evidence presented to them was absolutely persuasive, “beyond a reasonable doubt,” that Zimmerman was not acting in self-defense when he shot Martin.
(4) The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy: for Martin’s family; for people who wish young black men were not so often raised to believe that fighting, using drugs, and proving you are tougher than everyone are the keys to being a man; and for George Zimmerman, who has to live with the death of his teenage attacker for the rest of his life, not to mention living his foreseeable future under the stigma of accusations of racism, and in constant vigilance for his loved ones’ and his own safety, thanks in no small measure to the subtle community organizing provocations of the “historic black president” he voted for. (Talk about wishing you could have one back!)
Those who, whether motivated by evil politics or just plain stupidity, see Trayvon Martin as an innocent victim are, in fact, dishonoring him in the most repulsive fashion. They are denying him his humanity, by denying him any share of rationality. Consider again Ice-T’s revealing query as to whether Martin “got killed because he just outta nowhere decided to attack and try and kill Zimmerman.” The implication in this challenge is that the only way to find Zimmerman not guilty is to presume, implausibly, that Martin attacked Zimmerman “for no reason,” i.e., completely out of the blue.
In other words, Ice-T contends that Zimmerman must have “done something” to set Martin off. Yes, he did: he showed an interest in Martin’s behavior, and tried to keep an eye on him. That is manifestly not a crime, let alone a rational justification for attacking someone – assuming rational justification is required. But Ice-T, like Al Sharpton, Barack Obama, and the rest of America’s black on black racists, begins from the opposite assumption, namely that rational justification is not applicable to this case. Trayvon Martin was black, you see, and therefore – so the anti-black racists believe – he is not to be held to standards of rational behavior.
Zimmerman was acting in a way that bothered Martin; that was the stimulus. Martin therefore tried to beat Zimmerman into submission, or worse; that was the response. The faculty of reason, which should have intervened in this process and caused Martin to resist his urge to punch Zimmerman in the nose, or at least stopped him before he was straddling Zimmerman and continuing to beat him on the ground, and certainly should have prevented him from following through on the inclination to bang his victim’s head against the pavement, never enters into the equation, because according to modern “progressive” thinking, that faculty doesn’t exist; it is an illusion born of the naïve philosophy of reactionary Western civilization.
Take away the presumption that man is a reasoning animal, the presumption that has been the basis of all civilized law, civil order, and human decency achieved on this planet – reduce us to nothing but bundles of raw nerves, automatic reflexes, and itches that must be scratched – and suddenly Trayvon Martin was justified in beating George Zimmerman into fearing for his life. After all, Zimmerman was annoying him; how could he not attack a man who annoyed him?
In the Phaedo, Socrates offers the following simple argument against the reductionist view that the soul is merely our name for the combination of man’s material elements:
And yet do we not now see the soul… leading the elements of which she is supposed to be composed? – almost always opposing and tyrannizing them in all sorts of ways throughout life, sometimes more violently with the pains of medicine and gymnastic; other times more gently; sometimes threatening the desires, other times warning them, speaking to the passions and fears as if talking to a thing which is distinct from herself, as Homer in the Odyssey represents Odysseus doing in these words:
“He beat his breast, and thus reproached his heart: ‘Endure, my heart; you have endured far worse!’” (Phaedo, 94c-d)
Reason continually resists, reproaches, and guides the passions, desires, and fears rooted in our bodily existence. We call this living as a human being. For it is from this capacity that we derive and develop the habits and propensities that ennoble our species, produce our greatest projects, and make civilized social existence possible: delayed gratification, personal responsibility, respect for the dignity and property of others, foresight.
Reason is the ultimate source of the self-restraint that stops us from doing everything and anything that we feel a momentary urge to do – pound that annoying man, grab that attractive woman, take that unguarded object, cop out on all the risks and challenges that might lead to a better life, or passively conform with mob stupidity and cruelty rather than stand alone and face the music. The will to resist these urges depends on possessing and fostering the faculty that allows us to do so. This will, and that faculty, are what separate us from Hobbes’ state of nature, in which life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
Locke disagreed with Hobbes’ portrayal of our pre-governmental nature, on the grounds that it effectively leaves human moral reasoning out of the picture. Barack Obama, Ice-T, Richard Dreyfuss and the rest of the Trayvon excusers are doing more than merely vindicating Hobbes’ pessimism. They are seeking to produce the very social conditions Hobbes regarded as hell on earth, by justifying and praising a young man who lived, and sadly died, on the principle of irrationalism: impulse without foresight, anger without self-restraint, reactive violence without the mind’s warning against carrying things too far. In this sub-human world, you are justified in instigating a fight with someone and beating him mercilessly if his behavior bothers you; jurors who base their judgments on facts, rather than acquiescing to the feelings of a heartbroken family, deserve shame, hatred, and death threats; and a boastful street fighter, whose friends and family have been trying to discourage his violent habits, who has been using drugs, who has been caught with stolen jewelry, and who was kicked out of his house by his mother, was just an innocent “unarmed child.”
Now, Barack Obama, seeing how successfully he got under his opponents’ skin by saying Martin could have been his son, has raised his race-baiting ante, declaring that he himself could have been Trayvon thirty-five years ago. I think we would do best to take him at his word here – although this strikes me as a very unsatisfying way to “honor Trayvon Martin,” as Obama says you must do. Perhaps he was similar to Trayvon at the same age: using drugs, getting caught up in conformity to stereotypes of the “cool,” disengaged, angry young black man, and full of misdirected resentments against “society.”
And look at him now, all grown up: a cold, progressive rabble-rouser without a conscience and without humility, propped up artificially miles beyond his actual talents and skills, pandering to the “gangsta culture” that helps to promote Trayvon train wrecks, and focused on the twin goals of infantile ego-gratification and the vengeful annihilation of individual success, public morality, and all the self-reliant achievement and happiness he never learned how to earn for himself.
Now that I think about it, how dare he dishonor Trayvon Martin’s memory with this comparison! After all, we’ll never know whether Martin, had he not gotten himself into that violent confrontation with Zimmerman, might have turned himself onto a better path at some point, and become a responsible, rational adult, rather than what he seems to have been tending towards at the time of his death. We do know, however, that Obama never got himself turned around. That is to say, he never learned to respect human nature in general, and reason in particular. “You didn’t build that” means “You didn’t think that – your ideas and effort are an illusion.” “Spread the wealth around” means “individual dignity and property rights are nothing.” Lying is just a convenience, law is just a safer way of beating the heads of people you don’t like into the pavement, and fomenting and/or sleeping through violence against innocent people is just another day at the office – in all of these ways, Obama’s public life has been a consistent rejection of the moral buffer of human reason.
Progressivism itself is the denial of reason elevated to the level of a political doctrine. (If you doubt this, read any of its major theorists, from Marx and Dewey through Marcuse and Derrida; the denial of individual human reason, or the imperative of destroying it, is invariably the primary theme.) The explanation of this is simple: reason and coercion do not mix. If coercive authority is your goal, the human rational faculty is your enemy.
Trayvon was once found with some stolen jewelry in his backpack. Barack’s backpack is currently stuffed with a nation’s constitution, system of government, wealth, health, personal data, morality, and the minds of fifty million children. What a difference thirty-five years can make, if you just stay on the straight and extremely narrow path of progressivism, the political philosophy of the irrational animal.
(This article first appeared at American Thinker.)