What's it like to live in a modern, diverse, tolerant, vibrant, inclusive, multicultural society? Everyday experience in early twenty-first century America is enough to sketch the situation in bold strokes.
Growing up absurd
Such a society lacks sustaining stories, symbols, and models of a good life, and indeed intentionally eradicates them. Such things are racist, since they reflect the specifics of a particular culture, and sexist and heteronormative, since they express fundamental patterns of human life. They're also theocratic, since they connect the order of human life to a particular understanding of the order of the world.
The result of the lack is that life, art, and human relations become crude, rude, perverse, willful, violent, and boring. Doing away with recognized patterns of a good life frees up the baser motives: lust, envy, ambition, greed, hate, domination. Personal attachments and sentimental altruism provide some leavening, but without concrete images of moral order there's nothing reliable to limit immediate impulse and bring it into a humane system.
In such a society education disintegrates for inability to treat one thing as better than another. Human personality comes to base itself on narcissistic self-affirmation that masks emotional fragility and depression. Young people deprived of culture invent their own or absorb commercial pop culture. They live in a world populated by jocks, nerds, wimps, players, hipsters, couch potatoes, and other trivia. If they reject such identities they define themselves by reference to "alternative" culture, a negation of the trivial that lacks substantive content and has no way to rise higher than what it rejects.
Nor do they grow up. How could they, where there's nothing to grow into and no serious responsibilities to give adult activities weight? Marriage and family can't amount to much among people who idealize self-creation and feel no settled connection to anything. So young people don't get married, or if they do their marriages are sterile, fragile, or both. Without a higher pattern to aspire to the relation between the sexes sinks into low-level war: hos and playahs at the lower levels, game and the New Girl Order at the higher. Refugees from the conflict swell the ranks of homosexuals, porn fans, video game addicts, feminists, misogynists, and the new sexless.
Children are badly brought up, never born at all, or brought up to be winners in a competitive game of careers and consumption. Foreign workers are imported to fill the gap. Their presence and numbers help disintegrate weakened local cultures while absence from their homeland disrupts their own. Those who assimilate soon reproduce the problems of the native population; those who don't sink to the level of a hereditary and radically uncultured proletariat.
The older generation, who after all created or at least accepted the situation, are no better. They have gotten along by going along, and soon enough accommodate themselves to whatever comes up. More often they accept it as good and take advantage of what it offers.
A world without independent standards
Under such conditions personal identity disintegrates, and with it the possibility of self-rule. No one knows who he is, so no one knows how to speak or act. Manners become careless and awkward, conversation is shot through with "likes" and "whatevers," and standards of conduct (other than political correctness) become vague to the point of uselessness.
Normal spontaneous responses are silenced, because they involve prejudgment and prejudice. Spontaneity needs a background of normality, and the normal has been abolished. Pretense and moral posturing become the norm. If you want acceptance you have to pretend that your responses are other than they are and the world is something other than what it evidently is. The only escape from pretense is crude willfulness, and there's plenty of that as well.
No one has an assured place, so there's always something to prove. If you aren't a psychopath able to invent a persona and impose it on others you are defined by your relation to a public order based on abstractions, formal institutions, and whim. You are your bank balance, job title, and consumption choices. Freedom becomes career, consumption, private indulgence, and public servitude. Ambition becomes unrewarding, but to give it up, in the absence of stable higher goals, is to sink into the stupor, self-indulgence, resentment, and brutality of a growing class of proles.
Intelligent public life disappears. The fluidity of relationships does away with common understandings and conventions based on extended common experience of life. There's no answerability and no basis for loyalty. All is slogan, spin, propaganda and bullying, with certified experts trying to take charge in the name of their version of rationality. The outcome is suspicion, inefficiency, crime, corruption, and irrationality.
In response to the new public order, architecture becomes inhuman and disorienting. The arts disintegrate into commercial junk for the masses, official state-subsidized high culture for the classes, and various alternative expressions that show dissatisfaction with what's on offer but lack a positive vision. All favor the regime, since that's what there is, while pretending to a radically critical stance that in substance mostly consists of attacks on the regime's opponents.
In the background, of course, life goes on. People have no principled way to oppose the regime but maintain an order to live by however they can. They still go to church and get married, do their best for their children, friends, and neighbors, and are often much better than their stated principles. If nothing else, they try to be "nice." Even in the arts a great deal of good work goes on, springing out of a natural love for what's good but deprived of recognition and theoretical justification. The good must be excused by its lack of authority, so minor forms provide shelter. Genre fiction, gardening, and cooking enjoy a comparative golden age.
Progress or decadence?
The established order reflects established beliefs, so it has its defenders, and they make some points that are hard to deny. If career and consumption are the ultimate human goods, then an overriding emphasis on how they are apportioned makes some sense. And if racism, sexism, homophobia, and the like, simply as such, are ultimate moral horrors, then our public life today is decisively better than in the past, because it insists so strongly on suppressing them.
Are career and consumption really the best things though? And are traditional discriminations so very bad, or even--simply as such--bad at all? After all, they have always permeated normal social life, and not everyone wants to live with permanent radical revolution for the sake of an impossible egalitarian ideal.
People view such issues differently. Some find particular social institutions and the attitudes and standards that support them intolerably burdensome. Those who feel burdened may dream of getting rid of them, or at least radically changing them or depriving them of authority.
The point applies to all institutions, not just those targeted by inclusiveness. The standards that foster personal freedom and security also burden some more than others. There are some who would have been happier in Calvin's Geneva, others who would have been happy as Vikings and are miserable today because of limited opportunities for pillage and plunder.
Nobody pays much attention to radical Calvinists or Viking wannabes, since the interests and institutions now dominant would be injured by the rule of the saints or unrestrained brigandage and piracy. In contrast, complaints about inherited arrangements that stand in the way of absolute rule by the institutions of liberal modernity are given privileged status. They trump the views of those attached to traditional institutions like family and religion that are at odds with what is now considered just, decent, and rational.
Burdens of judgment
It's always possible to argue over facts and what they mean. If the liberal order makes us narcissistic, maybe that's superior consciousness of our freedom and human worth. If it leads to broken homes, that could show it empowers us to bail out of bad relationships. Also, people at the top buy into the post-'60s moral order more consistently than others, and it hasn't injured them as much. So maybe the solution is for everyone to get with the post-60s program and join in the yuppie lifestyle.
So who's right and who's wrong? It's impossible to decide without adopting a view of human nature and flourishing. The difficulty is how to discuss something so basic. It's hard to deal with fundamental issues in any event, and liberalism has a variety of ways to silence discussion and impose its own view by default. It couldn't work otherwise, since it insists on getting particular results efficiently while claiming to make discussion sovereign and free.
Subjectivism helps square the circle. Modernity denies objective goods as well as human nature, except by defining man as he who creates himself and posits his own goods. That's why racism, sexism, and homophobia are considered so horrible--they put us in set categories, with some more highly regarded than others. That's also why it's so hard to argue against liberal modernity. If we say it leads to bad things its defenders tell us it's all a matter of taste and interpretation and therefore subjective. Since argument requires shared authoritative principles, there's no way to continue the discussion.
Consensus might provide a guide, but which consensus? The consensus of the moment differs from consensus over time. The former is a matter of polling data, the latter of accumulated traditional understandings. Each has its weaknesses. Traditional understandings might be outdated and unjust, while modern methods of propaganda can make current opinion more an amplified echo of official views than a reality check.
In any event, contemporary liberals don't really accept consensus as authoritative, since it can lead to results at odds with their views (as they say, to "a denial of human rights"). The best thing to do, then, is to adopt a system that gives equal play to every scheme of value and belief--in other words, to adopt liberalism--and let liberal functionaries administer social life in the name of freedom, equality, and neutral expertise. Staff the Supreme Court with graduates of Yale and Harvard Law School whose personal background distinguishes them from America's white Protestant majority, staff the major media with their friends, and let them run everything.
The consensus liberals propose as authoritative is thus the expert liberal consensus. Unfortunately, the consensus of certified experts--academic thought--has the same problems as academic art. It's hard to argue against, partly because its proponents refuse to recognize the legitimacy of outsiders' criticisms, but it falls short because it leaves out whatever can't be made explicit and reduced to the terms of current expert discussion.
In addition, experts have an interest in the abolition of traditional arrangements. Such arrangements enable people to run their own affairs by their own standards, so they're at odds with the interests of the academic and professional classes. Asking experts about tradition is like asking auto manufacturers about public transportation alternatives. They undoubtedly know a great deal that's relevant to the issue, but why trust their judgment?
On the whole, the dominance of liberalism rests largely on a general sense of the superiority of the present and those who dominate public life. People today are convinced they're radically superior, morally and intellectually, to those of the past. They were bigots in the old days, and bigots are inferior, so why pay attention to what they thought?
On such a view, present-day thought has succeeded in extricating itself from inveterate error. We now see the obvious, so that any drug-addled rocker against racism is justified in looking down on former saints and sages. Our very self-centeredness has become a virtue, since it cuts the ties that lead people to prefer some to others. We have passed an irreversible historical turning point.
Still, that outlook might only show that our perspective is awry and we've lost our grip. It's hazardous to assume that we've suddenly become smarter and better than anyone else who ever lived. Those who have seen the future and know it works have been wrong before. Pride goes before destruction, bubbles eventually burst, the dreams of youth dissipate, and the world seems very different the morning after.
Overall consequences may provide the only way to decide the issue. If people really know better today, their superior understanding should make itself felt throughout intellectual and practical life. The record is very mixed in that regard. The progress of modern natural science shows that our quantitative knowledge is more developed than in the past. With regard to quality, though, intangibles like artistic achievement suggest severe regression.
Quantity and quality
It's evident that the most basic judgments are qualitative, since quantitative judgments require a system of standards already in place to tell us how to form, relate, and interpret them. How do we classify what we observe? What constitutes an explanation? Does a particular explanation make sense? What does it make sense for us to do? Such questions are much more qualitative than quantitative.
For that reason, the difficulty people have dealing with qualitative issues today suggests caution in accepting their judgments on basic matters. That's all the more so, since inclusiveness and the cult of expertise distort and disrupt thought by forbidding us to think with our own minds and discuss with our own voices. They demand the abolition of common sense in favor of an artificial system of thought--backed by the power of government and all institutional authority--that excludes important aspects of reality and tells us a priori how the remainder has to be.
So what to do? In basic matters we can only be guided by our own reason, experience, and judgment. In a time when we're told that common sense and past knowledge are misleading, so we should accept on faith what the experts tell us, each of us has to make his own survey of the situation and decide what--and who--to believe. In particular, we must each decide the effects of inclusiveness: whether it shows the way to a better world or a worse, and whether it will work or fall apart.
People claim that "affirmative action" and similar programs have noble motivations. Why believe it? They're like any government program that advantages some at the expense of others. Some support is no doubt well-intentioned, but some comes from self-seeking and from dislike of ordinary white men on the part of minorities as well as whites who want to get a leg up at the expense of other whites.
In any event, motivation does not guarantee results. When we look at the situation candidly, it seems doubtful that many people gain overall from inclusiveness. People are in a better position than government to sort themselves out.
Inclusiveness creates losers no less than exclusion does. Affirmative action is institutionalized injustice, with a direct victim for each direct beneficiary. Frank Ricci is one of the few who successfully fought back, and he had to take his case all the way to the Supreme Court.
Nor is it just those edged out by the less qualified who lose. Institutionalized lying and favoritism hurt everyone, especially when driven to ideological extremes. Who can doubt that medical school affirmative action kills patients? Who wants to fly on an airplane flown by an affirmative action pilot?
More generally, we all do better in an intelligently-guided society, and inclusiveness makes it impossible to discuss human affairs realistically. The most basic and obvious features of social life become unmentionable. Sample consequences include reckless mortgage lending, degradation of civil service tests, and Nidal Malik Hasan.
Even supposed beneficiaries suffer, and not only from general social inefficiency. Inclusiveness has deprived whole communities of a reality check. Is it good sense to live cocooned in patronizing lies that validate the prejudices they are intended to counteract?
Antidiscrimination rules make it risky to deal with those they're intended to protect. Apparent qualifications become unreliable, firing becomes difficult if things don't work out, and those protected can no longer make up for risks and uncertainties by offering to work for less even initially. As a purely rational matter it's better to have nothing to do with them.
If you can't avoid dealing with members of protected groups, you will try to play it safe. Like much protective legislation, antidiscrimination laws help those with special connections and qualifications, who seem safer to deal with, but hurt the less advantaged. They therefore increase the inequalities within less successful groups. It's worth noting in that regard that only a third of the black students admitted to Harvard are American blacks: the rest (like Barack Obama, Eric Holder, and Colin Powell) are African, West Indian, or biracial in origin.
The civil rights revolution has led members of less successful groups to put their hopes in society in general--practically speaking, the government--rather than each other and their own efforts, institutions, and relationships. It has induced mainstream organizations to bribe talented minority group members away from their own communities, thus neutralizing minority leadership and turning it into a privileged self-seeking clique that uses minority problems to extract additional benefits for themselves from white institutions.
Such laws do not even satisfy their direct beneficiaries, since they induce them to build their careers on grievance and spend their lives working with people whom they suspect would rather work with someone else. What does it do to people to become part of such arrangements? If there were no antidiscrimination laws people who wanted to work together would find each other. In the long run that would bring a better way of life and more happiness than current arrangements.
Local social breakdown
Inclusiveness demands more than lies, regimentation, and stupid decisions. It demands that traditional moral standards applicable to private life be made strictly private and so deprived of any authority. The alternative would be lifestyle and cultural discrimination.
The result has been disruption of the traditional and informal institutions by which men live, liberation of destructive and self-destructive behavior, and frustration of the ends inclusiveness claims for itself. The weak and marginal have become weaker and more marginal, resulting in special injury for those without resources and dependent on their connections to others. Thus, the loosening of sex roles and sexual standards has separated men and women, and the result has been to feminize poverty and deprive children of fathers. The consequences have been especially bad among black people, where it has radicalized the battle of the sexes and made the men all but irrelevant.
More generally, the new order has turned millions of people into drug addicts, criminals, crime victims, divorced and unwed mothers, abused and neglected children, homosexuals dead of AIDS, and girls abused by their mothers' boyfriends. Should those people--those who are still alive--be grateful to it?
Antidiscrimination laws and related changes in racial and cultural attitudes are thought especially necessary for black people, but to all appearances they've done little for them economically and injured other aspects of their lives. Barack Obama, Colin Powell, Oprah, and Condoleeza Rice don't outweigh the general tale of unsuccess.
Loss of legitimate particularity hurts Hispanics as well. Social scientists have been puzzled by the "healthy immigrant paradox" that new immigrants are healthier than second and third generation U.S. residents from the same countries. The paradox of declining well-being in the land of wealth and opportunity applies to more than physical health. For example, Hispanic teenagers who usually speak English are twice as likely to be sexually active as those who usually speak Spanish.
Such puzzles become less puzzling if the situation is viewed from a human rather than technocratic point of view. The aspects of life that most affect well-being, like sexual conduct, depend on culture. Since culture is particular and depends on setting, large-scale migration into an alien environment disrupts it and degrades its ability to function.
The degradation increases as assimilation goes forward, and the more inclusive the society the greater the effect is likely to be. Immigration enthusiasts insist that assimilation works, since the children of Chinese immigrants pick up American pop culture. That is believable, but who wants the habits and attitudes unsupervised teenagers pick up from a commercialized and bureaucracy-ridden environment to become the basis of our common life?
The more diverse our society the more likely such a result becomes, and since we're all living together it applies not only to immigrants but to the native population. Why would anyone choose such an outcome?
Legitimation of hatred
Antidiscrimination laws set people against each other by creating entitlements based on a few characteristics, principally race. The most basic task of their proponents is to raise consciousness: to use divisive rhetoric, propagate horror stories, violate the law to demonstrate contempt for an insufficiently reformed social order, and so on.
The result is universal resentment as governing elites respond to pressure by making the wickedness of white males an all-purpose explanation for everybody's problems. Those targeted resent it, those benefited justify the system by keeping alive real or imagined grievances, and arbitrary interference in normal social functioning further increases ill-feeling.
The system has its rewards, and people become attached to it. The doctrine of majority bigotry justifies the efforts of our rulers to free themselves from majority control, and many of their hangers-on find that they enjoy the opportunities the system offers for licensed hatred and abuse of their fellow citizens.
Abusive conduct has its practical advantages. Words like "racist" resolve all issues against their targets by putting them outside the sphere of normal human relations. They serve the same function as "traitor" and "nigger." Their use to shut down discussion is rising, even with regard to issues that have very little to do with race. President Bush said opposition to the Iraq war was racist, President Obama's supporters say the same about opposition to their man or any of his policies.
The accusations are not purely cynical. People see hatred everywhere, if only because they see it in themselves. The abolition of positive principles of connection make enmity a natural assumption, and the abolition of culture gives prominence to the crudest connections and oppositions. Hence the paranoia about racism. And in any case social cohesion must have some basis. In the absence of a positive principle it must be based on opposition, so in the advanced liberal state it is based on hatred of the presumed enemies of the regime: the racists, sexists, bigots, and homophobes.
Where will it go?
Inclusiveness is not a strength but a "challenge"--that is, a problem--and it's one that liberal society can neither avoid or solve. It's part of the general problem of advanced liberalism: the liberal ideal of a perfect system of perfect freedom leads in practice to a perpetual tug-of-war between ideological tyranny and unprincipled chaos.
Ideological tyranny seems invincible just now, but unprincipled chaos is likely to win in the end. In politics as in physics systems tend toward entropy. The tendency is strengthened by the tendency of a multicultural ruling apparatus toward inefficiency, corruption, and stupidity, and by its policy of concentrating power in its own hands by getting rid of implicit and informal principles of social order.
That policy is intrinsic to the regime. Liberalism is progressive, and it values clarity, logic, and explicit principles. For that reason it tends toward a continual self-purification. It trumps everything, demands perfection, and stands for principles that make normal social functioning impossible. It destroys standards of competence and the informal habits and understandings needed for formal institutions to function. It erodes public spirit and rectitude by sacrificing social ties to self-definition. And it makes it impossible to recognize obvious problems and solutions.
It therefore destroys the conditions of its own existence. Its bad effects can be masked to some degree by making it universally compulsory so they become part of the general conditions of life. They're nonetheless real, and lead to increasingly radical dysfunction. There's no limit in principle to the damage it can do. The real question is how destructive it becomes before it's abandoned or falls apart.
How will it end?
The future is hard to predict, and liberalism is adaptable. From seeming death it has come back to life more than once. Still, nothing lasts forever, and a failing system can continue in form while disappearing in substance. That may be the most likely outcome of the current situation. If the inclusivist regime bogs down in its own inefficiency, corruption, and stupidity, as seems likely, that could slow down its self-destruction while turning it into something quite different from what was intended.
Corruption saved the Soviet system for a time by limiting the destructiveness of its principles and allowing illegal but useful arrangements to function. The same could happen with the current regime. Its inability to control social relations as it would like could help preserve it, at least in form. Economic and social life involve informal arrangements--family connections and other informal networks of trust--that are very difficult to suppress. Such arrangements are generally racist and sexist, since they're based on common blood, sexual bonds, and common heritage, and in any case they're indifferent to multicultural sensitivities. They get things done, though, and are very difficult to do away with.
Other important escapes from inclusiveness that may extend the life of the system at the expense of its integrity include homeschooling and communities centered around local churches. In an inclusivist society such arrangements, which after all involve self-segregation, should not exist at all. They can be awkward to do away with, however, if only because it would be difficult to suppress them without suppressing Jews and Muslims.
They are likely to survive in America, where they can appeal to ideals of freedom as well as diversity, if not elsewhere in the West. In the coming decades it will matter a great deal how much the state will allow such independent arrangements to thwart diversity and other schemes of social improvement. In principle it shouldn't, but it may have little choice. To allow life to go on ideology often has to avert its gaze from what's actually happening. Controlled economies lead to black markets that are troublesome to get rid of, and a similar principle may apply to controlled societies in general.
It's likely that the current regime will become less effective while maintaining its official ideology, and tend toward a pattern common in ethnically divided regions of the Third World: a radically divided society with little public life, a government that combines weakness, corruption, hypocrisy, and tyranny, and crony capitalism combined with socialist rhetoric that no one believes. Officially liberal inclusiveness would reign, but below the surface the real life of the society would go on in ethnic, kinship, and religious networks.
The most obvious fate of the New World Order, then, can be seen in the radically diverse and cosmopolitan--and therefore radically particularist and inward turning--way of life that has long been established in the Cradle of Civilization. In America, we are already headed in that direction. Instead of bazaars, walled urban quarters, and Mamluks we have shopping malls, gated communities, and Elena Kagan, but how much difference does it make? At a time when we are trying to change the Middle East into Iowa through foreign policy and military intervention, our domestic and immigration policy is changing Iowa into the Middle East.
Every tomorrow has another tomorrow. Chaos doesn't last forever because people can't live that way. Some principle will eventually create or impose a new order. In the Middle East that principle was Islam. That result makes sense, since absence of intelligent public life should correspond to the dominance of an aggressive simple-minded religion. If the West becomes the Middle East, then, it will likely end up Muslim.
That result isn't inevitable. Scientism, liberalism, and inclusiveness lead to a radically cosmopolitan form of society that becomes radically inward-turning, because otherwise it can't function at all. The one extreme provokes the other. The great opponent of both is the Roman Church. Its doctrines of Creation and Incarnation and its hierarchical and sacramental structure make the Church local as well as universal by nature, and enable it to reconcile universality and public reason with necessary particularity.
That combination of qualities made Europe what it has been and enabled the Catholic West to turn the tide against Islam at Tours and later at Lepanto and Vienna and in Sicily, Crete, and Spain. Unity in diversity was our strength. On that view, the survival of the European form of society depends on Catholicism, and the issue for the future is whether the Church can pull itself together, revert to type, and revitalize the West.
That seems an unlikely prospect. Still, we live in an age of dissolution from which no one seems exempt. The EU and Islam have at least as many problems as the Church. There's a race to the bottom, and we can't all lose. In the end, whoever is best founded--whoever has the best account of life and the world and the most intelligent and flexible scheme of authority--will have the best shot at dealing effectively with whatever complications life throws up. Truth matters in the end, so how you think things will end up depends on what you think is so. We shall see.