Friday, August 22, 2008

The Logic of Prejudice

A Prejudice must also be considered a Presupposition and an Assumption. “Prejudice” is a pejorative term, and insofar as a prejudice is not based upon evidence, the pejorative is apt, but a Prejudice may be based upon evidence. Still, it is probably more useful to use the term “presupposition” rather than “prejudice.”

While reading Hans Georg Gadamer and R. G. Collingwood, I engaged in a good deal of self-examination in regard to prejudice. For example, as I began studying Islamism after 9/11, I presupposed that those who taught that there was nothing to fear from the Islamists were wrong. That initial prejudice was not informed by anything more than the fact that we had been attacked by Islamists and certain people had taught that Islamists weren’t to be feared. Edward Said and John Esposito were two that I presupposed to be in error inasmuch as they saw no danger from Islamism. I therefore sought out historians and political scientists who warned about the dangers of Islamism. As I read them my presupposition became informed.

However as my understanding of Islamism increased, and I debated more and more people who wished to defend Edward Said, I eventually read his Orientalism as well as a number of his articles and parts of other books. At heart I subscribe to the Scholastic ideal: One ought to strive to understand opposing arguments in such a way that one can present them as formidably as those who hold them. But nothing I read convinced me that Edward Said was correct about Islamism. And I notice that his reputation has suffered considerably since 9/11. Others must share my prejudice.

I may be of the small minority who reads quickly enough and has time enough to read fairly extensively. More typical, perhaps, would be someone who hasn’t the time or inclination to read very much and instead looks to a revered authority for his presuppositions. I frequently ask people I am debating where they get their information. I want them to cite books or articles they have read, and if not books or articles, then the authority they revere. Their presuppositions come from some place, but I almost never got a decent response to my inquiry. I was reminded of college graduates who would come to work at McDonnell Douglas and at some point present their philosophies to me. Many of them were Existentialists. Typically they would deny that they were existentialists and claim they had come up with their philosophies entirely on their own. All of which means that it is not necessary to know where one gets ones prejudices in order to have them. But if one doesn’t know where one gets his presuppositions, then . . .

I assume that if one wants to know about Islamism, one should seek out the best authorities and read them. One should even read the writings of the originators of Islamism: i.e., the writings of Sayyid Qutb, Ali Maududi and Ruhollah Khomeini. However, inasmuch as I did not read these fellows with sympathy, I found the going difficult. I suspect anyone reading an opposing view would find that. Some might be so daunted by the prospect they wouldn’t even make the attempt. The ideal would be to “suspend disbelief” which is what one does while reading a work of literature, but my beliefs were too well-developed to suspend them on the subject of Islamism. Nevertheless, I soldiered on and studied the opposing viewpoint as much and as objectively as I could bear.

Years ago I studied Marx, Engel, and Lenin with sympathy. Later on I read Keynes who was an important milestone for me. He destroyed Marx’s key presupposition about the necessity of economic depressions. One may have actually studied something “sympathetically” that one subsequently becomes prejudiced against. I didn’t start out with a prejudice against Marxism and Leninism. That came later. I can relate to others who went through these developmental stages. David Horowitz and Christopher Hitchens come to mind. We can be prejudiced against Leftism, but in our cases our prejudices can be shown as being informed rather than uninformed. My prejudices against Marxism, Communism and its modern Western outgrowth Leftism are based upon considerable evidence. I read a great number of books and debated Marxism and Communism with a number of people over the years – initially for, but eventually against. However, my knowledge isn’t current. I haven’t studied Marxism in many years. A present day Marxist would be inclined to dismiss my knowledge. He would say that I should read this modern writer or that one and until I do I shouldn’t claim to know anything about Marxism. I am not willing to do that, nor am I willing to concede that I know nothing about Marxism or Leninism. It is inconceivable to me that a new study of something I rejected years ago would cause me to change my mind. I am too prejudiced!

Some modern Marxists have told me my knowledge is of Political Marxism which they also reject They say they are “Marxian” and not “Marxists.” Whatever.

My presuppositions and prejudices about Political Marxism incline me to oppose such people as Ward Churchill and Chomsky. I am “prejudiced” against them, but not without cause, and not illogically so. I can show that my presuppositions are identifiable and that my arguments, arguments based upon these presuppositions, are valid. I can make the same statement about Islamism.

Lawrence Helm

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