Mark Shea: Ungarbling Some Bafflegab

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Nonsensical propaganda needs to be called out, writes Mark Shea. PHOTO: Robbin Higgins/Pixabay

Prager University is a fake.  It is no more a university than the discredited grift that was Trump University.  It is, in fact, a propaganda outlet that releases little videos that are a fool’s idea of wisdom, a stupid person’s idea of intelligence, and a con artist victim’s idea of trustworthiness.

Recently, PragerU sent out a tweet that is worth considering since it demonstrates for those still capable of thought the degrading effect that living in an ideological bubble has on the human heart and mind.  It read:

“Since the Left is so much more interested in fixing society than in fixing the individual, politics inevitably becomes the vehicle for societal improvement.”

It says everything about these MAGA false prophets that they regard this as a self-evident indictment. And that brings us to our first point about the intellectual degradation so deeply at work among people who proudly call themselves “Deplorables” while never stopping to ask if their ideas, acts, and thinking are, in fact, deplorable.  What is being practiced here is what CS Lewis’ Uncle Screwtape calls Flippancy, a form of false humour the little devil praises unreservedly:

“But flippancy is the best of all. In the first place it is very economical. Only a clever human can make a real Joke about virtue, or indeed about anything else; any of them can be trained to talk as if virtue were funny. Among flippant people the Joke is always assumed to have been made. No one actually makes it; but every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies that they have already found a ridiculous side to it.

If prolonged, the habit of Flippancy builds up around a man the finest armour-plating against the Enemy that I know, and it is quite free from the dangers inherent in the other sources of laughter. It is a thousand miles away from joy; it deadens, instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no affection between those who practice it.”

The logo for Prager University. According to its website, it is not an accredited academic institution. It uses social media to promote its messages. IMAGE: snapshot

Precisely what makes the tweet so insidious is that its tone is suffused with a suffocating atmosphere of “Aren’t They so stoopid?” that the consumer (reader is too strong a word for its intended brainwashing victims) is encouraged to assume he is in on a joke that has already been made at the expense of the hated Leftist bogeyman.

What matters to the vendor of this tweet is not any truth being asserted (for the words are, as we shall see in a moment, incoherent) but the projection of Unit Cohesion with the rest of the Cult in mocking that bogeyman.

As to the statement itself, what can it possibly mean?

That societal improvement is bad?  That’s idiotic.

That politics (which is about absolutely nothing other than rightly ordering our common life) should not be a vehicle for societal improvement?  That’s idiotic too, as everybody from Aristotle to Aquinas to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church will tell you.

That politics should be about “fixing the individual”?  That’s not just idiotic, but deadly dangerous and the polar opposite of anything any conservative of the past has ever believed.  Precisely what nobody in their right mind should ever want is a political regime obsessed with “fixing” individual human beings.  The state was made for man, not man for the state.

So is there a ghost of an idea here amid the garbled sneering and dangerous stupidity?

My best guess (and it is only that) is that it is flailing toward “You can’t legislate morality” or perhaps something about how the individual is better than the nanny state.  But whoever wrote it so inept at getting an idea into words, it is impossible to say for sure.

For myself, as a Catholic with some familiarity with the Church’s teaching, I answer that it is absolutely the job of the state to ensure justice.  That’s just Paul in Romans 13.  Therefore it is absolutely the work of politics to improve society and ensure the common good.  This does not, in the slightest, mean that individual persons don’t matter or don’t have a dignity that comes from God and not the state.  We absolutely do.  The Dignity of the Human Person and the Common Good are both (along with Subsidiarity and Solidarity) harmonious and inseparable pillars of Catholic Social Teaching.

The garbled, half-baked nonsense that crazily whipsaws between Libertarianism and the nutty totalitarian suggestion that the state should be “fixing individuals” is what you get when you forget that only God can fix individual persons—and that one of the things that needs fixing is our relationship to our neighbour in justice and the common good, which it is absolutely the job of the state to ensure.