Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Primacy of Consciousness at West Point

By Henry Mark HolzerIn the May 29, 2014 online edition of Commentary Magazine Peter Wehner (senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center)wrote an article entitled “Obama’s Fantasy World.” It not only deconstructs Obama’s recent speech to the United States Military Academy’s graduating class (and is worth reading for that reason alone), but at the end touches on a diagnosis of the president I made in this blog on November 8, 2013 entitled “Obama and Consciousness.”

Both Mr. Wehner’s article and my essay are reprinted below.

In his speech at West Point yesterday, President Obama attempted to lay out his vision for America and the world in the years to come. 

The address was notable for several things, beginning with what is by now Mr. Obama’s almost comical use of straw men, with the president creating one imaginary critic and sham argument after another. (Max Boot recounts them here; the Washington Post does so here.) What was also apparent in this speech was another Obama trait: prickliness and pettiness, in this case using a military academy commencement ceremony to mock his critics. “Those who argue … that America is in decline, or has seen its global leadership slip away – are either misreading history or engaged in partisan politics,” the president asserted. (More about that claim later.)

The West Point address also revealed an extraordinary category error by America’s commander in chief. Mr. Obama seems to think “winding down” a war is synonymous with success. They can actually be antonyms, as in Obama’s handling of Iraq and Afghanistan. President Obama wants his legacy to be that he ended two wars. It may well be that his legacy is that he lost two wars.

In his speech Mr. Obama could not defend his actual record, which is (perhaps with the exception of Burma) ruinous. So he opted for a “vision” speech. But the problem here is that the president didn’t lay out a vision so much as invoked a myth. He doesn’t seem to realize that false claims, repeated ad nauseam, don’t become more true. And what are the (related) false claims the president kept reciting like an incantation? Let the president speak for himself:

America has rarely been stronger relative to the rest of the world…. the United States is and remains the one indispensable nation…  The question we face, the question each of you will face, is not whether America will lead, but how we will lead… Here’s my bottom line:  America must always lead on the world stage.

But of course during the Obama Era the United States has not led, and intentionally so. As an Obama adviser told the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza in 2011, the closest thing to a doctrine animating the Obama foreign policy is “leading from behind.” Here is the relevant paragraph from the Lizza story

Nonetheless, Obama may be moving toward something resembling a doctrine. One of his advisers described the President’s actions in Libya as “leading from behind.” That’s not a slogan designed for signs at the 2012 Democratic Convention, but it does accurately describe the balance that Obama now seems to be finding. It’s a different definition of leadership than America is known for, and it comes from two unspoken beliefs: that the relative power of the U.S. is declining, as rivals like China rise, and that the U.S. is reviled in many parts of the world. Pursuing our interests and spreading our ideals thus requires stealth and modesty as well as military strength. “It’s so at odds with the John Wayne expectation for what America is in the world,” the adviser said. “But it’s necessary for shepherding us through this phase.”

So there you have it. The Obama administration, by its own admission, believes the relative power of the U.S. is declining. There’s no word yet on when Mr. Obama will indict himself for either misreading history or engaging in partisan politics. 

America in decline has been the operating premise of the Obama administration from Day One; “leading from behind” is how they have sought to manage that decline. But the president, having been hammered for being both weak and inept, is now personally leading a PR campaign to twist things around. He wants you to believe that leading from behind is really leading from ahead. And if you are Barack Obama, post-modernist, facts are subordinated to “narrative.” Truth is not an objective account of the way things are; it is what proves most helpful in interpreting events. (See “If you like your health-care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health-care plan, period.”) Which means the president thinks he can make things up–that he can reinvent reality–as he goes along. What he’s finding out is he can’t. In the end, reality catches up with all of us. Even Barack Obama. (Holzer’s emphasis.)

In these two concluding sentences Mr. Wehner has touched on a profoundly important point, one which exposes the fundamental flaw in the philosophy/psychology that drives the President of the United States. Here is my earlier essay:

In his syndicated column of November 7, 2013, the brilliant Charles Krauthammer has written of “Rhetoric v. Reality.”

Quoting The New York Times headline “Obama to campaign to ensure health law’s success,” Dr. Krauthammer asks, “Campaigning to make something work? How does that work. Presidential sweet talk persuades the nonfunctional Web portal to function?”

Obviously not.

Psychiatrist Krauthammer’s next sentence—“This odd belief that rhetoric trumps reality [Holzer's emphasis] leads to strange scenes”—is the theme of his essay. It is reinforced by the observation that Obama proponents don’t live “in the real world,” and by Krauthammer’s statement that the president and his minions entertain a “bizarre belief in the unlimited power of the speech.”

Putting aside that Dr. Kauthammer seems to be careful not to diagnose Obama and his followers as delusional, there is a more fundamental—and frightening—explanation of the president’s behavior, not just regarding Obamacare but more broadly much of what else he has done and not done.

President of the United States Barack Obama suffers from the ultimately fatal disease of Primacy of Consciousness.

For Barack Obama, the tree does not fall in the forest if he’s not there to see and hear it.

If he wants to believe, for whatever reason, Americans can keep their insurance and physicians, then they can—even if in the real world they can’t.

If he denies having said they could, he didn’t say that—even if in the real world he did.

There are too many other such examples, and in suffering from Primacy of Consciousness Obama necessarily rejects Primacy of Existence—or, one could say, he rejects reality.

The late Ayn Rand expressed the crucial distinction between the two and their centrality to living in the real world rather than in an amorphous never-never land:

The basic metaphysical issues that lies at the root of any system of philosophy [is] the primacy of existence or the primacy of consciousness.

The primacy of existence (of reality) is the axiom that existence exists, i.e., that the universe exists independent of consciousness (of any consciousness), that things are what they are, that they possess a specific nature, an identity. The epistemological corollary is the axiom that consciousness is the faculty of perceiving that which exists—and that man gains knowledge of reality by looking outward. The rejection of these axioms represents a reversal: the primacy of consciousness—the notion that the universe has no independent existence, that it is the product of a consciousness (either human or divine or both). The epistemological corollary is the notion that man gains knowledge of reality by looking inward (either at his own consciousness or at the revelations it receives from another, superior consciousness).

The source of this reversal is the inability or unwillingness fully to grasp the difference between one’s inner state and the outer world[1] (i.e., between the perceiver and the perceived (thus blending consciousness and existence into one indeterminate package-deal). This crucial distinction is not given to man automatically; it has to be learned. It is implicit in any awareness, but it has to be grasped conceptually and held as an absolute.[2]

Despite Obama’s unwillingness or inability to recognize what has happened before his eyes, the private health insurance market has crashed in the real-world forest. 

Indeed, in the five-plus years of Obama’s presidency many trees have fallen in the forest but he has chosen not to hear any of them.

[1] Holzer's emphasis.
[2] “The Metaphysical Versus the Man-Made,” Philosophy: Who Needs It? (1982), 29.