I wonder how many religious and atheist bloggers are as certain about their political opinions as they are about their opinions on religion?
My guess: most!
Indeed, one of the first things I noticed when started visiting atheist blogs in 2009 was the clear “Democrat” bias. To the majority of blogging atheists, the natural outcome of a rational mind is both atheism and liberalism.
John Gray’s book, “The Silence of Animals“, opens with stories and insights into how we establish our opinionated worldviews where he exposes both Meliorism and Political Meanderings of famous opinionated political writers.
Meliorism: a secular humanist religion
Do some atheists hold unfounded, irrational worldview-forming beliefs as potentially destructive as those proffered by religions? Gray feels the answer is “yes” and I agree. The belief in the unstoppable march of progress is one such view, and another is the overconfidence in reason and logic — especially one’s own. Because the assumptions (articles of faith) are prevalent in Secular Humanism, I could never align with most secular humanist. I often see Secular Humanism as a religion of its own sort, minus ghosts, spirits and demons.
What really inspired me to write this post however was not the obvious religion-like assumptions of Secular Humanism, but the vicissitudes of human ideology. In post after post I expose my own silly vicissitudes here on Triangulations: my drifting into various type of religions, into various medical ideologies and into various political worldviews. I do this to embrace the silliness that informs all of humanity and my own.
During the his first 60 pages, Gray exposes the political meanderings several early 20th Century writers. I list them at the end of this post including the writer’s dates, one of his famous books and a tantalizing quote from that section of Gray’s book to show how he touches on both meliorism and political meandering.
For each author, Gray tells us of how their political and philosophical opinions varied widely over their careers. So, are the late view of an author his wise and truly informed, reasonable views or are they merely similarly vulnerable rationalizations for the vagaries of conditions at the end of their lives, and no more objective than their younger year utopianisms?
By reading this review of Gray’s book in National Interest, I learned how over the years Gray, while remaining characteristically opinionated and devastatingly discerning, Gray himself has held contrary political views: With this is mind, why are we to trust his present views?
Question to readers: With these observations in mind, how important is it to get our opinions right about politics or even about religion?
Appendix: To give you a taste of Gray, here are the writers explored in the opening of “Silence of Animals”:
Joseph Conrad 1857-1924 “Heart of Darkness” (1899)
” ‘Humanity’ is a fiction composed from billions of individuals for each of whom life is singular and final. ”
[see my post “The Myth of Culture“]
Stefan Zweig 1881-1942 “The World of Yesterday (1942)
Ideals and values were irreconcilably opposed. In these circumstances gradual improvement was just another utopian dream. Progress in civilzation seems possible only in interludes when history is idling.”
Joseph Roth 1894-1939 “The Emperor’s Tomb” (1938)
“Starting as a progressive who looked eagerly to the future, Roth ended as a reactionary who looked back fondly on the empire of Franz Joseph.”
Eugene Lyons 1898 -1984 “Assignment in Utopia” (1937)
“Contrary to generations of western progressives, it was not Russian backwardness or mistakes in applying Marxian theory that produced the society that Lyons observed. Similar regimes came into being wherever the communist project was attempted. Lenin’s Russsia, Mao’s China, Ceausescu’s Romania and many more were variants of a single dictatorial model. From being a movement aiming for universal freedom, communism turned into a system of universal despotism. That is the logic of utopia.”
Curzio Malaparte 1898-1957 “The Voga Rises in Europe (1943)
“There are not two kinds of human being, savage and civilize. There is only the human animal, forever at war with itself.”
Arthur Koestler 1905-1983 “Scum of the Earth” (1941)
Observing at close quarters the fall of France, Koestler abandoned the beliefs that had guided his life until then. He had imagined that humankind longs for freedom. Now he came to think that humans were incurably irrational: ‘Perhaps Hitler’s genius was not demagogy, not lying, but the fundamentally irrational approach to the masses, the appeal to the pre-logical, totemistic mentality.’ [
Norman Lewis 1908 – 2003 “I came I saw” (1985)
“Until now I had clung to the comforting belief that human beings eventually come to terms with pain and sorrow. No I understood I was wrong, and like Paul I suffered a conversion — but to pessimism … I knew that, condemned to everlasting darkness, hunger and loss, they would weep incessantly.”