Sunday, November 11, 2007
Feser, Edward. "We the Sheeple: Why Conspiracy Theories Persist." TCS DAILY September 20, 2006.
Still, the standard Enlightenment narrative has had a powerful influence on the way modern people understand the relationship between authority, tradition, and common sense on the one hand, and science and rationality on the other. We tend reflexively to assume that the popular or received wisdom, especially if associated with some 'official' source or long-standing institution, is always ripe for challenge, and also that if some independent thinker or writer takes an unconventional position, however extreme or counterintuitive, then there simply must be something right in it, or least worth listening to. 'Innovator' and 'iconoclast' are among our favorite terms of approbation, and 'questioning authority' and 'thinking outside the box' are applauded even by many self-described conservatives. By contrast, 'unoriginal' and 'conventional' are treated as if they were synonyms for 'unintelligent' and 'unthinking.' . . . This pretense of contempt for authority per se is by no means a mere foible. It can lead to very serious intellectual errors, as it does in the work of such apostles of the 'hermeneutics of suspicion' as Marx and Nietzsche. For the former, all moral, legal, religious, and cultural beliefs, practices, and institutions are 'really' mere expressions of the interests of the dominant economic class within a society; for the latter (and especially for such contemporary Nietzscheans as Michel Foucault), they are 'really' just expressions of a more general "will to power." As such, they are to be regarded with distrust, and indeed (on at least some interpretations of these doctrines) as having no objective validity whatsoever. Authority, tradition, and common sense come to be regarded as something to be constantly unmasked and undercut rather than consulted as necessary, though fallible, sources of wisdom. Indeed, they come to be regarded as something positively hateful and oppressive, from which we must always feel alienated. . . . Read the rest here: http://www.tcsdaily.com/article.aspx?id=092006B.