Sunday, March 13, 2011

Ehrenreich's Incoherent Worldview

At the end of Bright-Sided, Barbara Ehrenreich reveals her own worldview, in opposition to the positive thinking that the book criticizes.

“What we call the Enlightenment and hold on to only tenuously, with our fingernails, is the slow-dawning understanding that the world is unfolding according to its own inner algorithms of cause and effect, probability and chance, without any regard for human feelings.”

This strikes me as a curious and unstable mix. She has a dogmatic certainty both that there is order in the world and that is not made by a being that cares about us. I can see how one might believe in a God who created both cause and effect and who regards human feelings, as most people on earth do, myself included. I can see how one could at least try, in the name of intellectual consistency, to believe that there is no God and no order, that these are both illusions we invent to comfort ourselves - though I don't know anyone who can actually stick to this hopeless view. But to insist, as Ehrenreich does, that there is both cause and effect in the world and that it has no human-regarding creator seems to me at least a very eccentric view.


Anonymous said...

Odd. That's mostly my world view. Why is it incoherent?

Gruntled said...

It is hard to give a materialist account of why there is order in the universe. The original Enlightenment at least had the Deist God to rely on to get the ball rolling.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous #1

Ehrenreich thinks there’s a causal order in nature, but not a moral order; or at best nature is indifferent to our human moral values. As Gruntled suggests, this view is coherent, but few actually subscribe to it. Even among professed tough minded materialists almost no one acknowledges the full implications of the view that our values are contingent, social creations derived our evolutionary pedigree. Namely, that our deepest moral intuitions tell us nothing about the way the world is outside of our narrow human reality. Rather they only tell us how our genes have evolved to spot what is (usually) biologically appropriate to our species. However a simple conflation of biologically appropriate behavior with moral behavior is deeply problematic.

Such a view would deflate the moral indignation that drives Ehrenreich. The fact that her indignation is operating at full pressure suggests that she hasn’t thought through the ethical implication of her metaphysical world view.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous #2

Ah. I hadn't realized that was part of her argument. That is incoherent.

Sister Edith said...

I read this last summer, and was also struck by the shift in tone and coherence at the end. Her sociology is on-target in the first part of the book. The relentless bright-siding approach to serious or terminal illness has just as much denial as the silence on the subject that Glaser and Straus identified 40+ years ago. I saw it first hand when I worked on an oncology unit.

But what is the meaning that is being made mockery of by the brightsiding? Randomness and chance don't mind being mocked. The incoherence seems to be the cognitive dissonance between her strong sense that there is meaning and her ideology that only chance reigns.

Gruntled said...

I am coming to think that "secular progressive" is an oxymoron for just this reason - their metaphysics doesn't support their political ideology.