The afflictive thing about living in our polarized society is the terrifying thought that there is something permanent in our incompatibility with each other.
No one desires the present unpleasantness. We sincerely wish that we could get along. However, most people want a quick fix. They want magic buttons to push that will make the crises go away. Perhaps a charismatic figure could bridge the gap and reconcile the contradictions that divide us. It would be nice if we could all be friends again.
Not Going to Happen
However, everyone senses this is not going to happen.
There is no quick fix. Something very profound needs to be sorted out, which makes our divisions difficult to resolve. Our postmodern times reject everything that takes effort and thought. They embrace all that is shallow and inconsequential. Many believe it is better to plod along cursing the polarization than light a candle of clarity that will require painful personal changes.
Thus, we remain mired in our postmodern crisis. We do not desire the clarity and certainty that produces harmony and truth. Instead, we prefer the dark and lazy ambiguity that allows every error to flourish and every contradiction to co-exist.
The First Principle of Contradiction
This is a philosophical problem in an age that detests philosophy. However, there can be no other explanation for our plight. Something is hampering the way we think, do and desire. It must involve those fundamentals that touch upon our human nature.
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Indeed, one major reason we do not understand each other is that the principle of contradiction is collapsing in our society. Saint Thomas Aquinas says this indispensable philosophical principle is the foundation upon which all thinking, doing and desiring is based. Today, it is at the core of our social incompatibility.
This principle of contradiction is the most universal of all judgments, and it can be stated simply as, “It is impossible for a thing to be and not be at the same time.” Another formulation says “that which is, cannot be that which is not.” It is also known as the law of non-contradiction.
The Consequences of Not Following this Principle
Most classical philosophy from Aristotle onward, teaches that without the principle of contradiction, we cannot know anything because we would be incapable of distinguishing between what is and what is not. We cannot develop thought since it requires us to make relationships with the things that we know.
Without the principle of contradiction, we cannot distinguish between truth and error, good and evil, or beauty and ugliness. We cannot classify and identify a hierarchy from which society is ordered. Without this principle, we could not even distinguish ourselves from nature or the cosmos. Thus the knowledge of a Creator, distinct and superior to all His Creatures, would be impossible.
A world without the principle of contradiction is confused and dysfunctional. The most absurd things rule, and nothing works according to its nature since it cannot be known. Communications become difficult because there is no single meaning. This is a picture of our society today.
Relativism and Denial
A spectacular clash of being and not being is destroying our society. It has long been prepared by bad philosophy, “liberated” theology and lax customs.
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For all practical purposes, the principle of contradiction is collapsing, especially in the field of our social relationships. Not all discourse has ceased since many practical aspects of these relationships still operate almost mechanically due to habits and practices long in place. Remnants of the principle of contradiction keep some things working.
However, large sectors of the public have adopted an attitude that denies this principle. A climate of relativism pervades in which things are increasingly uncertain. It undermines ideas and concepts long accepted as true. It conspires against the permanency of our institutions.
This relativism posits the mistaken belief that each person develops and determines his or her own truth. When a significant portion of the population holds this view, it creates tension since these different “truths” contradict one another. Moreover, these contrary positions are forced to co-exist, even when this blending denies evident reality. When everyone can be both right and wrong at the same time, rational debate become untenable.
The more this relativism spreads, the more social life becomes difficult. For a long time, this relativism has eroded the social fabric of society and led to social disintegration. However, we are now seeing the most basic applications of the principle of contradiction being contested, which makes for explosive situations.
Radical Manifestations of the Denial of the Principle of Contradiction
This denial of the principle of contradiction now extends to identity, for example. We have reached the point in which a person can be and not be something at the same time. The person can now self-identify to be what the person is not, as can be seen in the raging transgender revolution. This aberration is not limited to the confused individual but extends to all society. People are asked (and sometimes legally coerced) to deny the truth they see to favor an illusion they must pretend to see.
Moral relativism has long been a fault line. It demands that individuals suspend their moral judgment on acts that were once clearly considered wrong and sinful. These acts become relative to the person committing them. Abortion, for example, is no longer considered taking the life of an innocent child but merely a woman’s choice. This position is now extended to include the child’s life at birth. The destruction of morals through a denial of the principle of contradiction is creating a broken society where relationships no longer have foundations.
This same relativism can be found in an erroneous notion of freedom. The modern concept of freedom comes to mean the ability to experience all contradictions. We have now reached the point that a person self-determines what freedom means—often inside the most enslaving passions and modern addictions. The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey expressed this well: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”
This general attitude where all contradictions co-exist has invaded every area of life—religion, government, fashions, art, literature and education. Those who seek to reinvent and reimagine the world around us, each to a different image and likeness, leave nothing untouched.
The Cause of Our Polarization
This denial of the principle of contradiction is a major cause of our polarization since it shatters the truth into fragmented poles. Some embrace this shattering since it allows them to gratify their passions and live out their wildest imaginings. They often do this at the expense of others who are grounded in reality or on the taxpayers’ tab. The explosion of personal gratification cannot fail to break down the social restraints that maintain order.
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Moreover, the destruction of certainties wrought by denying the principle of contradiction numbs the intellect and weakens the will. The person cannot understand truth or appreciate its beauty. People are reduced to indifference and apathy toward the political, cultural or social realities that are part of living together in society. Each becomes polarized inside silos of immediate pleasures and interests. Society loses its coherence and structure.
Polarization also affects those who defend the principle of contradiction and embrace the arduous fight to defend Truth—and condemn error. Against these is directed the wrath of the “tolerant” and “politically correct.” They are pressured to deny the truth since it risks offending others. They are further threatened with sanctions for daring to oppose the terrible tyranny of relativism.
Thus, in our world, where the principle of contradiction is denied, everyone is polarized. Things have now reached a point where our ability to know, think and desire in society is impeded. We can no longer live harmoniously with one another. We even live in fear.
A Surreal World of Irrationality
This is the situation, not only in America but in the world in general. We sense the world is turning to the absurd as solid institutions crumble, and Truth fades away.
When the denial of the principle of contradiction reaches the point of collapse, it creates a surreal world of fantasy and irrationality. Things no longer correspond to reality. Public discourse decays and takes on the appearance of theater. Social interaction assumes a virtual character with social media. “Fake news” proliferates as perception and reality are blurred, facts become unimportant, and the speed of information accelerates. If everything can be and not be at the same time at a quick pace, then everything is possible—and impossible.
Hence, governing also becomes impossible in such circumstances since nothing can be known or executed with certainty. There is no moral compass to guide our actions, only the never-ending spectacle of contradiction.
Worse yet, everyone starts expecting things that are unmoored from reality. Even those defending truth feel tempted to play a role in the absurd theater of relativism, which is easier than living in reality. They too can be swept away by the advancing chaos.
Fighting for the Principle of Contradiction
In fighting for the principle of contradiction, we must realize that there are only two real poles in our polarization. Moral relativism shatters society into a thousand shards, with each person pursuing his or her agenda. However, those embracing moral relativism become absolute tyrants in the face of those who defend an objective Truth and moral law. Despite their differences, they quickly unite and engage in a ruthless battle against Truth-holders.
The only way to fight the principle of contradiction’s radical deniers is with a much more emphatic affirmation of the Truth, especially as defined by the Church over the ages. We must be willing to define things according to their nature. We must have the courage to condemn the moral, philosophical and religious errors that are taking our nation to ruin.
There is no middle ground between the two positions. One will lead us to ruin as it rushes down to ever-greater depths. The other will lead us to all that is good, true and beautiful. It will necessarily bring us to Holy Mother Church and Christ, “the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.”
As seen on The Imaginative Conservative