recently I lectured a group of students at the Mises
University on polylogism and its problems, and it dawned on
me that the prevalence of polylogism in the modern world may be
one of the reasons the world is threatening to explode in any number
of places. Since polylogism is not exactly a household word,
I probably ought to explain it a little before applying it to my
great economist Ludwig von Mises held that the human mind has a
single logical structure. This structure is the same for everyone,
rich or poor, male or female, gay or straight, Christian, Jew, Moslem
or atheist, black or white or red or yellow or polka-dotted. Mises
did not say everyone has an equal ability to make use of the logical
structure of their minds. No doubt there are people who never so
much as heard of logical relations. But when they see fire, they
infer that if they put their hand in it they will get burned, same
as we do. When they add two and two they still get four. Correct
reasoning is the same for the most primitive tribesman as it is
for one of us. None of us can think out-and-out contradictions (statements
akin to, "It both is and isnít raining at the same time, place,
the end, all successful human communication depends on this kind
of uniformity. As Mises explained,
in his daily behavior again and again bears witness to the immutability
and universality of the categories of thought and action. He who
addresses fellow men, who wants to inform and convince them, who
asks questions and answers other peopleís questions, can proceed
in this way only because he can appeal to something common to
all men namely, the logical structure of human reason.
The idea that A could at the same time be non-A or that to prefer
A to B could at the same time be to prefer B to A is simply inconceivable
and absurd to a human mind. (Human
Action: A Treatise on Economics, p. 35)
denies this. As close inspection of the term suggests, it means:
many logics. One logic for the rich and one for the poor
(this was how Mises characterized the "bourgeois class consciousness"
/ "proletariat class consciousness" dichotomy in classical
Marxism), one kind of logic for men and another for women, one for
blacks, one for whites, one for Asians, one for Moslems, a different
logic for every identifiable group. Of course, it will follow that
no oneís statements are objectively true, following the path of
a single correct logic. The most anyone can produce is ideological
rationalizations for his own group using its provincial logic.
role of polylogism in multiculturalism should be clear if we think
about it. While I am not sure any multiculturalists even know the
term polylogism, they assert that because of their different
origins and cultural collective experiences, different ethnic groups
live in different cultural universes. Blacksí having had ancestors
who were slaves, for example, gives them a different collective
experience than whites. What is true according to one culture isnít
necessarily true for another. And the way you think is culturally
determined. Hence the shirt: "Itís a black thing; you
not saying this makes sense. The similarities to the more familiar
relativism are obvious. Some form of what Mises called polylogism
doubtless hides inside those forms of relativism that say something
like, "Well, this may be true for you but itís not true for
me" and are the reason you want to reply, "You donít know
what the word true means." But thereís a deeper objection.
On what basis does the polylogist claim that polylogism is true?
If all truth is a cultural construction of some sort, then this
would apply to the truth of polylogism, which means that if it is
true, it is only true for the culture of polylogists (whatever that
is). To say that polylogism is true for everyone would make it a
universal truth. This wonít work because polylogism says there are
no universal truths or logical norms. In other words, to a logical
mind, polylogism is self-refuting.
the "culture of polylogists" is no longer limited to the
cultural Marxists in law schools and humanities departments on the
campuses of Americaís dominant universities. It suffuses a great
deal of public thought, often masquerading behind calls for "tolerance."
Most of its advocates do not even understand, much less have an
answer to, the self-refutation charge. They couldnít care less about
such technicalities. On this larger scale, polylogism is dangerous.
To take it seriously is to accept that there are globally incommensurable
rifts between the mindsets of different peoples the world over as
well as different groups here at home. No one really understands
another culture or another groupís mindset; one can observe, but
the only way to understand a culture or group is to be on its inside,
living it. Communication between members of different cultures,
given these assumptions, is extremely difficult at best and, at
worst, simply impossible. Polylogism doesnít mean simply that peoples
have different beliefs thatís obvious. Taken seriously,
it means that different peoples literally do not think the same
way. Their minds do not operate according to the same logical rules.
Whatever the cash value of this really is, the peoples live in different
cognitive and moral universes.
say, Americans moving into the 21st century really do
live in a different cognitive and moral universe from, say, peoples
in the Islamic world then how do we communicate with them,
whatever our purpose? We canít. Not really. They will talk right
past us and we will talk right past them. According to the polylogist,
this is inevitable. Neither one of us can cross that incommensurable
divide. So what happens? The American Empire practically invades
their countries because whatever the rationalizations
America wants their oil and will do what it takes to obtain it.
Americaís rulers will not ask what Arab rulers want, or worry overly
about what is motivating them. They will act astonished when 19
Arabs fly planes into buildings on US soil. Americaís rulers will
be outraged, call it an "act of war." They will scheme
to strike back, and strike back hard. Their schemes wonít make much
sense (unless one remembers the oil). As of this writing, Americaís
rulers have only attacked Afghanistan, although according to the
official accounts the hijackers were Saudis. They havenít yet attacked
Iraq. The attack on Iraq could come at any time, though. This will
further inflame Arab populations against America. They might well
plan new attacks here. Our agencies might thwart the first three
efforts, and the fourth will take out the Golden Gate Bridge or
some other treasured landmark. On and on it will go. Back and forth.
Bush the Youngerís "war on terrorism" threatens to be
like that, even as it destroys liberties here at home and helps
the global centralizers consolidate power.
in theory may be silly its fundamental incoherence is easily
exposed. But in practice it is deadly. If we begin with the assumption
that peoples cannot communicate, no one will ever have any reason
to try. Disputes will be resolved not by any form of reason but
by fighting it out. One cannot help but think of the nasty fight
building over reparations for slavery here at home aided
and abetted by the polylogists in Ivy League law schools. It isnít
even clear that there will be a clear victor and a clear vanquished.
War is inherently destructive. Even those victorious can be devastated
through loss of population, destruction of property and the long-term
effects on an economy diverted from its natural course into the
production of weapons and other accouterments of war.
we will want a global free market system that actually works. Technology
alone the technology of the Internet and other forms of global
communications will ensure that different cultures come into
contact at a rate likely to accelerate (barring, of course, a massively
destructive all-out war). By global free market system I
mean the real thing, not the sham-markets of the World Trade Organization
and other outfits run by and for superelites. There can be no doubt
that unbridled immigration is creating massive problems here and
in Europe. Immigration by nature brings cultures together. Combine
it with polylogism, and you have trouble.
will see no need to assimilate; they will not learn to speak the
language and adopt the dominant culture as their own (except, perhaps,
for its welfarist social philosophy). They wonít even see the need
to obey its laws. Instead they will resent the dominant culture
and eventually try to destroy it. Is this not what is happening
all over the West? Mises believed that Marx and his cohorts had
developed polylogism out of pure resentment against the potential
markets were showing, and against the economic science that was
explaining that potential. Not that much has changed. Polylogism
among intellectuals today masks deep resentment and hostility against
the most successful civilization in history and against the people
who can claim the lionís share of the credit for building it. Sadly,
polylogism suggests that real multicultural education education
about the beliefs, practices and desires of those in other cultures
without the egalitarian implications of multiculturalism
whatís the solution? There isnít a single, easy or quick solution.
We didnít get into our present morass overnight, and we wonít get
out of it overnight. I stated at the outset that polylogism
is not a household word. I am all for making it more of a
household word. It may be unfamiliar, but it can be made clear,
as the doctrine that different groups think according to fundamentally
different logical principles and so live in fundamentally different
worlds. The answer is that this doesnít make sense but nothing
short of a potentially demanding excursion into the laws of logic
will explain this. I am consequently all for more logical instruction.
We need to understand the foundations of correct human thought.
This is as important as any form of moral instruction.
am aware that some readers will be uncomfortable with my comments
above on immigration, simply because I did not repudiate the whole
thing and recommend that the US close its borders. Of course, if
we had a system based exclusively on private property rights, then
if immigrants entered this country illegally they would be little
more than trespassers and could be prosecuted as such before being
sent home (a point Hans-Hermann Hoppe has made). This is the solution
to the problem of unbridled immigration. If Western Europeans have
a worse problem with immigration than we do it is because their
ruling elites and intellectual classes are even more addicted to
socialism, polylogism, and political correctness than we are. But
even were there no immigration at all, technology would still bring
different cultures into contact. The World Wide Web is, well, world
wide. Left to themselves, moreover, peoples will try to act in ways
they believe will improve their lives or, at least, the lives
of their children. It is not a given that different peoples will
fight when they can trade. Once the costs of war become clear, why
on earth would they fight?
of this cries out for bringing basic logical instruction into the
center of how we educate the next generation (I hope home schoolers
are paying attention). Iím not advocating some "national education
policy" here. Iím pleading for reason. At present, basic logical
instruction barely exists. We see the consequences: citizens who
have not thought through the consequences of the idea that our rulers
can keep us safe if only we give them more power, college professors
who will support anything so long as it is trendy and politically
correct, university students who often donít know what to believe
(and sometimes couldnít care less) because they have given up trying
to sort through the barrage of sometimes contradictory information
hitting them everyday, peoples ready to do battle whether in the
courtrooms or in the streets.
back logical instruction is not the entire solution, but it is part
of the solution. The politically correct will say that "white,
Western male logic" is just more cultural imperialism. They
havenít understood the subject. While white Western males may have
taken more successful actions in history from having understood
implicitly how causality a fundamentally logical notion
works in the world, logical principles are no more inherently "white,
Western and male" than they are anything else. Being able to
reason and use logic in effective actions, whether in commerce,
diplomacy or science and technology, is part of what makes us human.
No other form of life on the planet possesses this ability. But
all human beings possess it.
should be learning this themselves, and then be preparing to teach
the rest of the world by example. This calls for going down a different
road, one that wonít lead to our making war on an entire culture
(and inviting further attacks on our own). I would think this new
road would be a whole lot more interesting and challenging than
the one our rulers are taking us down now.
Yates [send him mail]
has a PhD in philosophy and is a Margaret "Peg" Rowley Fellow
at the Ludwig von Mises Institute.
He is the author of Civil
Wrongs: What Went Wrong With Affirmative Action (ICS Press,
1994), and numerous articles and reviews. At any given time
he is at work on any number of articles and book projects, including
a science fiction novel.
© 2002 LewRockwell.com