opinion article, not letter to the editor

BY MLORELLI@LAW.HARVARD.EDU

Uber-valuesby Michael F. Lorelli, 2L

America’s leading universities are proud of the minds they produce. As they parade their intellectual clout, big name professors, and progressive mores one gets the sense that these places hope to instill not just some sort of intellectual muscle in their students but a superior one at that.

Unfortunately, for all the brain cells and education we claim to possess, at times our debates and conversations are downright pathetic. Nowhere is this more manifest than in our everyday moral and political discussions.

All too often we hear the following statements or some variation thereof: “You can’t impose your values on others.” “There is no absolute truth.” “Morality is socially constructed.” “We need to be tolerant and accepting of diverse views.” The reason I have chosen these four ideals or clich├ęs is their ubiquity in everyday debate. For short, I will call these values anti-impositionism, nihilism, deconstructionism and pan-toleration respectively; as a whole, I will call them Uber-values (Nietzsche reference intentional).

In my brief space herein, I hope to make one point clear. Invoking Uber-values is entirely absurd. Simply put, they violate the first rule of rationality, that self-evident principle of all intelligent thought, which, per se, one cannot deny. I speak of the principle of non-contradiction, that A and not-A cannot simultaneously be; something is what it is, and is not what it is not. One can see that to deny this principle is to concurrently admit the impotency of one’s denial (if the principle of non-contradiction is not true, then, it could also be true).

All the Uber-values violate the principle of non-contradiction because they are what they claim cannot or should not be. This is how:

Anti-impositionism: In telling someone they should not impose their values on another, one is in fact telling that person what to do. In other words, one could rephrase anti-impositionist claims as: “I impose my value that you ought not impose your values on others.” This is because anti-impositionism is always coupled with a desire to prevent persons (usually legislators) from prohibiting an activity, whether it be some sexual behavior, the funding of the arts through taxes, etc.

Nihilism: The dialogue with a nihilist is tragically simple. Nihilist – “There is no truth.” Non-nihilist – “So is that what you believe to be the truth of the matter?” Simple.

Deconstructionism: It is always interesting to hear a decontructionist try to lay to waste another’s allegedly “moralist” leanings because they are (in my case) Christian, raised in America, male, etc. when they themselves are typically an avowedly “post-modern” young adult who has spent the past decade reading Derrida and getting their opinions from the New Yorker and Noam Chomsky. Admittedly, to deny the influence of culture is silly, but to make it this global font of bias and prejudice is to take away one’s own ability to say anything, including one’s belief in decontructionism, from an unbiased perspective.

Pan-toleration: A particular favorite among our peers. Funny how we preach this Uber-value in opposition to another’s opinion. Such an invocation seems strangely to imply that we should not tolerate certain “intolerant” views. How does the pan-tolerationist respond to the view that we should not tolerate any opinion that is wrong?

The irony of this enumeration of Uber-values is that it constitutes the very foundation upon which many of our peers predicate their entire belief systems. Consequently, these worldviews fail to get out of the metaphysical starting gate. Their self-contradictory dysfunction manifests itself primarily in, well, every normative statement made by such persons. When one roots their belief system in anti-impositionism, nihilism, deconstructionism and pan-toleration, the very moment one utters the simplest of thoughts the Uber-value necessarily places themselves into a dark room of opacity and indeterminacy that is of nobody’s making but one’s own. Belief in Uber-values makes one, in a sense, like a blind man opining about the beauty of the sunset.

Jacques Maritain, a 20th century philosopher who taught at Princeton, appealed often, as one must, to common sense. When appealing to this source of basic truth he said it is a rarity an influence could so corrupt the human mind that an appeal to common sense would seem foreign. One of those influences Maritain spoke of was “intellectual vice.” We live, breathe and think in a place where Uber-values have seeped into the very marrow of our modes of thought and their manifestations (law, culture, language). We desperately need to recapture our common sense and reject those values that not only take away our ability to order human society for the common good, but deny the value in seeking to do so.

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