ISSUES IN FOCUS
Week of September 27, 1998
Every so often, the radar screen of American culture lights up with a blip that symbolizes and expresses the essence of its dominant ideas. One such blip recently appeared in the form of television and print media ads for a new men’s fragrance, called Contradiction. The ads extol the virtues of the Contradiction man, the man who embodies a mixture of contradictory ideas, attributes and feelings. Such a man is intriguing, sexy and sophisticated; he is presented as attractive and "modern with an edge."
The selection of this product’s name is no accident; it was chosen because its marketers thought the name would be an asset in selling the product. The very idea that Contradiction is an attractive name, one that would help sell a product, is profoundly indicative of the changes that have occurred in America in the last 30 or so years. We are now witnessing, in popular culture, the celebration of the disintegrated and unintegrated man, the man of contradictions, the man who compartmentalizes his mind and life in order to deal, not honestly but evasively, with his inconsistencies—and Clinton is our most celebrated example of the Contradiction Man. How many reporters have we heard who have spoken, glowingly, about Clinton’s ability to compartmentalize? This ability, according to these reporters, has become a virtue, an attribute to be admired, envied, emulated. They pay a tribute of wonderment for the powers of the Contradiction Man.
Three decades ago, Contradiction would never have been selected as a product name: contradictions and irrationality were not glorified in popular, mainstream culture back then; their veneration was largely confined to college campuses. Contradiction Man is the payoff for the ideas planted into the minds of students back in the 60’s. It also provides a key to understanding Clinton’s high approval ratings and their significance.
Clinton’s strong poll numbers provide an almost laboratory-like test of the power of ideas. Thirty-five years ago, the philosophy of Existentialism swept college campuses. Existentialists maintained, among other things, that there was no objective standard for moral decisions, that reality was irrelevant to morality, that morality was a matter of personal whim—which means: anything goes. Logic was declared to be an old-fashioned superstition; existence didn’t exist, only "nothingness." Students were reminded of Emerson’s oft-quoted dictum that consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. Far too many children of the 60’s, the so-called baby boomers, absorbed these ideas all too well. Today, they are the adults who provide the bedrock of Clinton’s support.
Since Clinton was first elected, it has been clear, alarmingly, that a majority of Americans no longer morally disapprove of lying. This is why the recent revelations about more lies by Clinton have not undermined his public support. However, the continuing widespread support of Clinton signals a new, ominous development in the decline of reason in America: a significant number now not only approve of lies, but are indicating their approval and acceptance of contradictions on the part of Clinton and his statist cronies. They like and support the Contradiction Man.
The acceptance and approval of contradictions is far more devastating than the approval of lies, even though approval of the latter eventually leads to the approval of the former. To openly sanction contradictions—and worse yet: to admire them—is to attack the foundation of knowledge as such. Knowledge is the non-contradictory identification of reality. A contradiction is not knowledge; it is error, falsehood, a mistake. Contradictions and knowledge are incompatible, mutually exclusive. To praise a contradiction is to destroy knowledge.
In a society dominated by reason, contradictions are rejected, not accepted, approved and rewarded. Inconsistency is scorned. Hypocrisy is condemned. In a society dominated by irrationality, contradictions are embraced. Rising numbers lose respect for truth, for knowledge, for the falseness of contradictions; reason is rendered impotent in the minds of those who lack such respect. Such individuals become impervious to reasoned argument—and it is this, a state of mindlessness, which statists seek to induce by the acceptance of contradictions.
America is on the verge of establishing in popular culture what has long since been established in our universities: disdain for reason, for consistency, for truth. If this philosophic precedent is successfully established, it will pave the way for the achievement of the political goals of statists: total power. If you cannot reach someone through persuasion, then you have no way of changing their mind, of gaining their support for individual rights and freedom. As the numbers of admirers of Contradiction Man swell, there will be fewer and fewer open to reason. If their numbers grow sufficiently, these dead minds will lead to the death of freedom.
The acceptance of contradictions will eventually destroy respect for reason and bring the destruction of the original American culture that gave birth to freedom in America. The future of America, of freedom, rests upon having enough who retain a respect for reason and the truth. To preserve that respect, Contradiction Man—the man who flaunts his contradictions and inconsistencies—must be repudiated.
September 27, 1998
© Copyright 1998 Fulton Huxtable