The “Moral Philosophers” and the “Power of the Air”

In Ephesians 2:2 we read,

Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.

Now we behold the “atheist” ideologues of the Left channeling Saint Paul.  They are not atheists after all.  They, too, believe in “the power of the air.”  It hovers over our heads like the Holy Ghost in the guise of a “Moral Law.”  It is a powerful spirit indeed, able to dictate to us all what we ought and ought not to do.  Trump has had the interested effect of exposing this latest mutation of religious belief with crystal clarity.  Consider the recent pronouncements of some of the lead actors.  According to Daniel Dennett,

Regretfull Trump voters:  It’s not to late to apologize, join the lawful resistance and pass it on.  Act now.  Every day you wait adds guilt.

Richard Dawkins chimes in:

“Make America great again?”  Obama’s America already WAS great.  And now look what you’ve got!  A childishly vain, ignorant, petulant wrecker.

Sam Harris piles on:

I think Trump’s “Muslim Ban” is a terrible policy.  Not only is it unethical with respect to the plight of refugees, it is bound to be ineffective in stopping the spread of Islamism.

Finally, “pro-conservative” Jonathan Haidt lays his cards on the table:

Presidents can revise immigration policies.  But to close the door on refugees and lock out legal residents is in-American and morally wrong.

I have added italics and bolding to some key phrases.  Absent a spirit, a ghost, a “power of the air” in the form of an objective Moral Law, none of these statements makes the least sense.  Is evolution by natural selection capable of “adding guilt?”  Do random processes in nature determine what is “ethical” and “unethical?”  Did nascent behavioral traits evolving in the mind of Homo erectus suddenly jump over some imaginary line and magically acquire the power to determine what is “morally right” and “morally wrong?”  I think not.   Only a “power of the air” can make objective decisions about what “adds guilt,” or is “unethical,” or is “morally wrong.”

What we are witnessing is a remarkable demonstration of the power of evolved mental traits among the self-appointed “rational” members of our species.  Our ubiquitous tendency to identify with an ingroup and hate and despise an outgroup?  It’s there in all its glory.  Start plucking away at the ideological bits and pieces that define the intellectual shack these “atheists” live in like so many patches of tar paper, and they react with mindless fury.  Forget about a rational consideration of alternatives.  The ingroup has been assaulted by “the others!”  It is not merely a question of “the others” being potentially wrong.  No!  By the “power of the air” they are objectively and absolutely evil, disgusting, and deplorable, not to mention “like Hitler.”

This, my friends, is what moral chaos looks like.  Instead of accepting the evolutionary genesis of moral behavior and considering even the most elementary implications of this fundamental truth, we are witnessing the invention of yet another God.  This “power of the air” comes in the form of an animal known as “objective moral law” with the ability to change its spots and colors with disconcerting speed.  It spews out “Goods” and “Evils,” which somehow exist independently of the minds that perceive them.  We are left in ignorance of what substance these wraiths consist.  None of the learned philosophers mentioned above has ever succeeded in plucking one out of the air and mounting it on a board for the rest of us to admire.  They are “spirits,” and of course we are all familiar with the nature of “spirits.”

In a word, we live among “intelligent” animals endowed with strange delusions, courtesy of Mother Nature.  Shockingly enough, we belong to the same species.  How much smarter than the rest can we really be?  The Puritans of old used to wrack their brains to expose the “sins” lurking in their minds.  We would be better advised to wrack our brains to expose our own delusions.  One such delusion is likely the vain hope that we will find a path out of the prevailing moral chaos anytime soon.  At best, it may behoove us to be aware of the behavioral idiosyncrasies of our fellow creatures and to take some elementary precautions to protect ourselves from the more dangerous manifestations thereof.

Author: Helian

I am Doug Drake, and I live in Maryland, not far from Washington, DC. I am a graduate of West Point, and I hold a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the University of Wisconsin. My blog reflects my enduring fascination with human nature and human morality.

11 thoughts on “The “Moral Philosophers” and the “Power of the Air””

  1. If you’re looking for philosophical rigour on Twitter, you’re condemning yourself to disappointment, Helian.

    Perhaps a slightly more parsimonious explanation than the New Atheists collectively launching their own religion is simply that a 140 character limit on writing forces one into a certain degree of shorthand. Prefacing their moral pronouncements with “I believe” might give them the requisite subjectivity, and therefore philosophical consistency with a belief system that probably overlaps with your own to some degree, but it does tend to take up space somewhat.

    Dennett could have qualified his comment with “given your likely values, you’ll likely feel guilty if this dangerous buffoon destroys the republic I’m sure you care for”. Harris and Haidt could have said “this is against my ethical code and value system”, and perhaps even appealed to those reading with a rundown of those values and why Trump is a threat to them.

    But, you know, 140 characters.

    I’m actually not sure exactly why you included Dawkins there, though, as his comments make no claims to objective morality- he’s making a value judgment on America, calling it “great”, then pointing out Trump’s vanity, ignorance, tendency towards petulance and habit of leaving things worse than he’s found them. All of which have been demonstrated empirically to fairly rigorous standards over the last year.

  2. >Trump’s vanity, ignorance, tendency towards petulance and habit of leaving things worse than he’s found them.

    Are you talking about Obama?

  3. @Daniel

    I’m not looking for philosophical rigor on Twitter. On the other hand, I don’t think I’m treating the individuals mentioned unfairly. Harris, for example, definitely believes in objective morality. None of the rest do more than pay lip service to the fact of the evolutionary roots of morality. For that matter, I don’t know of a single modern intellectual who’s any different. Jerry Coyne is a New Atheist who explicitly accepts the subjective nature of morality, but it makes no difference when it comes to the moral rules of his ingroup. Then he reverts right back to objective morality. Dawkins is certainly no different.

    The easiest way to test the above is with reference to the outgroup. All these people are on the ideological left. Trump and all his “deplorables” belong to their outgroup. They are not only wrong, but absolutely evil, disgusting, vile, etc. It may be that some of them don’t really believe that Trump is absolutely evil in their heart of hearts, but if so they certainly do a good job of pretending. They have to, or they’ll be shunned by their ingroup, and most of them couldn’t bear that.

    As for Trump himself, everything you say about him may be true. I still voted for him. We are supposed to live in a democracy, and yet none of us were ever allowed to vote on whether we wanted out borders and immigration laws to be ignored. With Trump we were at least given a choice. His attitude towards NATO is ambivalent at best, and I agree with him on that, too. NATO is an accident waiting to happen. Whenever a member does something as stupid as Turkey’s shooting down of a Russian plane, the consequences for us could potentially be very grave. NATO’s reason for existence was to block the expansion of Communism. For all practical purposes Communism is now dead. NATO should be, too.

    Trump also doesn’t like the idea of poking a stick in Russia’s eye at every opportunity. I agree with him on that, too. I think he will avoid stupid provocations like moving military forces close to her borders. As for Ukraine, she made her bed, and I am inclined to let her lie in it.

    As for Hillary Clinton, she is probably the most incompetent, ignorant candidate for President ever to embarrass her country. The media spent much of the campaign bamboozling the American people about the significance of her escapades with a personal e-mail server. In fact, what she did was a felony, punishable by up to 10 years and prison and a heavy fine. I have worked in the classified arena for more than 20 years, and I know whereof I speak. To begin, by law every federal employee or contractor who handles classified documents must attend an orientation on the elementary rules relating thereto. That includes the Secretary of State. It is invariably emphasized that official business will never be conducted on a personal computer, and that it is criminal to do so if the relevant information is classified. E-mails are definitely “documents” in the sense of the law. In fact, electronic documents and media are typically protected even more strictly than, for example, paper documents. Clinton just blew all this off, assuming she ever even bothered to attend the required orientation to begin with. Apparently she thought the law only applied to “little people.”

    In short, you can go on about how Trump is petulant, vain, impulsive, etc., until you’re blue in the face, but I’m not aware that he ever did anything as incompetent and stupid as the antics of Clinton referred to above.

    As far as morality is concerned, it really doesn’t matter in this case whether the individuals I mentioned in the original post consider it objective or subjective in view of their obvious belief that it is even relevant. If you really believe in the evolutionary origins of morality, it is utterly irrational to assume that consulting moral emotions will somehow be useful in determining who is the best candidate for President of the United States.

  4. I object to Trump’s leanings towards protectionism. You don’t need to be a pinhead pushing for hordes of Achmeds and Pablo to question Trump’s economy fixes.

  5. First you claim there is no morality, and then judge atheists who judge others morally vith such vehemence, as if they did something immoral.

  6. I certainly don’t claim there’s no morality, Zenit. I do claim that morality is subjective. My problem with the people mentioned in my post is that they try to apply it as if it had an autonomous existence of its own, independent of its evolutionary roots. Absent that assumption their statements make no sense. It could be that they are merely trying to use subjective moral emotions to manipulate people, but I doubt it. I think it’s a great deal more likely that they seriously believe in a moral “Good,” independent of their subjective minds, whether they do so consciously or not.

    As far as my own moral emotions are concerned, you’re quite right. I experience them, because I belong to the species Homo sapiens. However, if you challenge me I will admit that I am just venting subjective emotions. I certainly did in this case. That doesn’t alter the fact that the people mentioned in the post were referring to something subjective and imaginary as if it were objective and real.

  7. Subjective morality is matter of feeling and opinion. You feel X is good, someone not-you feels X is bad.
    If this is the case, what is the point of your blog at all? Why shall someone not-you read your blog, abandon his subjective feelings and replace them with your subjective feelings?

  8. The point of the blog is not to replace subjective feelings. It is to insist on the fact that morality is subjective, and to point out the consequences of that fact. Today, regardless of the theory people happen to pay lip service to, morality is spoken of, acted on, and perceived to be objective. In other words, people act as if they believe that Good and Evil are objective things, existing independently of any conscious mind, whether they admit to that belief or not. I know of not a single exception among contemporary thinkers, or at least among any I have heard of. Again, it is important to distinguish between theory and practice.

    Morality is a universal and very powerful force. We cannot do without it, and yet it can be extremely dangerous. It has inspired countless wars in the past, and may well inspire a nuclear holocaust in the future. Under the circumstances it would behoove us to understand what morality really is, why it exists, and the consequences of those facts. Only by understanding it will we have any hope of maximizing its advantages and minimizing the existential threat it can potentially pose.

  9. > I know of not a single exception among contemporary thinkers, or at least among any I have heard of.

    You have read Alexander Rosenberg? He arrives to similar conclusions as you.

    The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life without Illusions by Alexander Rosenberg

    In praise of nice nihilism: Alex Rosenberg discusses his new book on atheism

  10. Nice post. I’ll second that recommendation of Rosenberg’s book. He’s a sharp thinker in general.

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