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Conscientious Omniscience

Modern liberal people have replaced the Church calendar of moveable feasts with the Awareness Calendar.

(Image: ileezhun/us.fotolia.com)

The notion of a liberal education that developed in Western civilization is grounded on the assumption that there are certain subjects with which properly educated people should be familiar and about which they should be functionally knowledgeable.

Post-modern liberalism has replaced this belief with the conviction that certain things, people, conditions, and ideas have a moral claim to familiarity in the minds of enlightened and morally responsible people, beginning with progressives who have a reciprocal obligation to extend this familiarity to ignorant and unprogressive ones.

Among the more general matters that concern them are global “problems,” as they see them (“Where there’s no solution,” James Burnham once wrote, “there’s no problem”), like racism, war, the weapons trade, the oppression of women and the inequality of the sexes, the sex trade, human trafficking, slavery, homophobia, poverty in the Third World, global warming, deforestation and desertification, melting glaciers and the growing scarcity of water, mass extinction of species, and so on.

In fact, “awareness” for liberals is really something else. When one liberal interest group or another—“#Me too!” is a paramount example; so is anything to do with “hate”—demands “awareness” for itself, it is actually demanding that it be advanced to the forefront of public consciousness and maintained there indefinitely. So liberal causes become liberal obsessions. There are literally hundreds of these, since the more general ones tend to fracture into subsets and particularities, some of them minute and worse than trivial.

This explains why there are at present a hundred times more varieties of “awareness” than there are months and weeks in the calendar year to mark and honor them separately, with the grave and severe attention they supposedly deserve. Along with awareness and “consciousness raising” go celebration and commemoration. A company called PinMart (“More Than Just Pins…Recognize, Inspire, Promote”) offers a yearly “Awareness Calendar” whose logo is a bracelet from which dangle four charms serially inscribed “H,” “O,” “P,” and “E.” (No doubt some competing company offers “C,” “H,” “A,” “N,” “G,” and “E.”)

Such an array today of jostling but deserving causes, such a wealth of virtue represented by the Calendar for 2019! January alone includes the following:

January 1st: New Year’s Day (shared with “World Day of Peace”)
January 9th: National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day
January 11th: Human Trafficking Awareness Day
January 12: National Pharmacist Day
January 20th: World Religion Day
January 21st: Martin Luther King Jr. Day
January 27-Feb 2: Catholic School Week

January—Cervical Cancer Awareness Month—is additionally Glaucoma Awareness Month, Thyroid Awareness Month, Blood Donor Month, Birth Defects Awareness Month, and National Slavery and Human Trafficking Awareness Month. February kicks off with National Wear Red Day, also known as Give Kids a Smile Day (Feb. 1), World Cancer Day (Feb. 4th), and Chinese New Year (Year of the Pig (Feb.5th).

Given this initial avalanche of caring awareness, what could possibly go wrong with the world and humanity over the subsequent eleven months? The answer is, “Plenty”, as one infers by glancing ahead through the remainder of the Calendar: Black History Month (Feb.), Rare Disease Day, Zebra Pattern (Feb. 28th), National Eating Disorders Week (Feb. 25-March 3), World Water Day (March 22), Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month (March) and National Women’s History Month).

May 31st is Necrotizing Fasciitis Day, July is UV Safety Month, and the 26th is System Administrator Awareness Day. Who could have guessed? Let alone known. (Dozens of Systems Administrators are doubtless required to cope with the profusion.) Or—to be illiberally and brutally frank—cared.

Yet, all of us need to care, all of the time. We are morally obliged to stay abreast of new developments concerning those unthinkably numerous unimaginable evils that liberals agonize over, the ones that keep them awake at night and running all day to reform and fix. That is the message and meaning of conscientious omniscience. It is the “caring” postmodern equivalence of Terence: “Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto.” Yet even this “radical openness,” in the parlance of modern philosophy, is insufficient for liberals, impatient of the indolent passivity this receptivity to new objects of attention and concern suggests. For them, each one of us is obligated actively to seek them out as we earnestly expand the boundaries of awareness and harness our ever-widening consciousness to progressive ends for the purpose of “making a difference.”

And so we have Smile Power Day June (15th) and World Breastfeeding Week (August 1-7), Women’s Friendship Day (September 15), and National Yoga Awareness Month (October).

Conscientious omniscience includes several major elements of the new liberal “ethics,” liberalism’s substitute for the old morality. One of these is the principle of inclusivity, which holds that the world’s various societies, cultures, peoples, and sexes (there are, of course, no longer only two of them) should be equally represented in the public square and in public discussion. When liberal publishers, educators, and others speak of the artistic, social, and moral imperative of introducing “new voices” to the literary world and so allow the forcibly mute to be “heard” at last, inclusivity is what they have in mind. (The phenomenon is notable especially in post-modern fiction, from which white male authors have been largely excluded save in the case of certain genres—war and spy novels, chiefly—in favor of females, representatives of racial and sexual minorities, and other officially recognized “victims” of white male heterosexual society.)

A logical corollary of this argument is that every voice should be valued equally, gradations of critical attention and praise being absolutist and discriminatory—elitist. A second element is the celebrity principle, formulated by the pop artist Andy Warhol and now half a century old, by which everyone is entitled to the enjoyment of a quarter-hour’s celebrity, fifteen minutes in the limelight of public adoration. Each individual is a potential celebrity.

And a third is the claim that “everyone has a story to tell,” since everyone’s “life experience” is unique and uniquely valuable (true to a degree in the Christian sense) and hence of special and equal interest (obviously and profoundly untrue). Everyone can and needs to “listen to,” “empathize with,” and “learn from” everyone else, and applaud him afterward. As progressively minded mothers so often put in during an adult conversation at which a child is present, “Let’s hear what Teddy has to say.” Liberalism, which grows increasingly infantile, sends up its Trump Baby balloons with an utter lack of self-awareness, as well as the inevitable want of a sense of humor.

Omniscience is a unique attribute of God. So is the capacity for total and all-encompassing love and care. Post-modern people, who remain human beings despite strenuous efforts to reduce themselves to something much less, look instinctually to avail themselves of these things. But they refuse to search in the direction of the sole source in which they are to be found, since they deny the possibility of its existence. In the institutional sense the fons et origo is Christianity; in the personal one, Our Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God.

Modern liberal people, imagining it to lie within themselves, have replaced the Church calendar of moveable feasts with the Awareness Calendar. As Mencken wrote almost a century ago in a wholly different context, it is as if a hungry man set down before a lavish banquet were to choose to satisfy his stomach by catching and eating flies.


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About Chilton Williamson, Jr. 6 Articles
Chilton Williamson, Jr. is the author of several works of fiction, narrative nonfiction, and “pure” nonfiction, including After Tocqueville: The Promise and Failure of Democracy and Jerusalem, Jerusalem! A Novel. He has also written hundreds of essays, critical reviews, and short stories for publications including Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, Harper’s, The New Republic, National Review, Commonweal, The New Leader, The American Spectator, among others. You can visit him online at www.chiltonwilliamson.com.

4 Comments

  1. When mandatory public education began in the United States in the 1920’s, the goal of the “liberal” education was to teach the classics of literature, history, and philosophy so that the individual could learn to think and question and avoid being propagandized by government, the corporate world, etc.. This was designed so that education wasn’t just about developing a trade, be that an engineer, scientist, or business person. The classical education was designed to promote self-reflection, contemplation, or “higher learning” as opposed to obedience training. Now we think that a classical education makes one a “conservative” rather than a “liberal.” And thinking and questioning skills? Well….
    Good article in that I am lead to reflect once again on the nonsense being taught today in the educational institutions.

    • Classical liberal (meaning free) education began in Ancient Greece, not the 1920s and compulsory education. And talk to Saint Augustine about melding classical learning with Christianity.

  2. I’m hurt. Yes, July is UV month, but as a skin cancer survivor, I feel I must point out that May is Skin Cancer Awareness month. Melanoma gets its due (sort of) but Basal Cell and Squamous are far more common. Indeed, BCC is the Number 1 cancer in the world and can be disfiguring.
    .
    Actually, celebrating both UV Protection and Skin Cancer is both ecologically and culturally correct. Many sunscreens are hazardous to the aquatic environment (bleaching of coral reefs). UPF clothing is far better at protection, but I am constantly amazed that clothing manufacturers tout their bikinis as being sun protective. (Seriously, its true).
    .
    We ought to be wearing burkinis to the beach and burquas to the park between the hours of 10a and 3p at the very least. Liberal pale-skinned people could identify with the oppressed minority Sunni/Shia populations, I suppose, and avoid damaging the environment with chemicals.
    .
    On the other hand, would a white girl be just engaging in frowned-upon cultural appropiation to avoid ugly sun spots and disfiguring BCCs? Would it be acceptable for a Scandinavian trans-woman?
    .
    All this feeling and caring and agonizing gets very confusing.

    • Oh, the joy of satire. Kathryn, your letter made my morning. I am sending it to my like minded girlfriends.

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