The advantages of a Catholic education are pretty obvious: a long tradition of thinking about philosophy, religion, history, etc. The obvious disadvantage is that a few bad philosophical habits creep in: the habit of setting up a definition and dragooning it to cast its meaning over other areas, of making definition do more work for you than logic allows.
The classic case is “man is a rational animal.” From this, neo-Thomists and Catholic neo-Aristotelians wring all sorts of putative truths, many of which strike me as spurious. Often, all that they really achieve are farragoes, curious spillovers from the initial definition — certainly not a neat-and-tidy argument.
Bill O’Reilly, of Fox News, is a proud Catholic. And his habit of “reasoning” based on definitions that don’t stay put is pretty glaring. My favorite of his goofy arguments is his attack on all psychoactive drug use as “trying to escape reality,” and then arguing from there that all such drug use is morally wrong. The incrementalist idea, the notion of marginal differences, one dosage at a time, doesn’t ever really cross his mind. The fact that not all users are addicts is mostly lost on him. The more controversial notion, that not all addicts ruin their lives, is anathema to O’Reilly. He defends the War on Drugs because he thinks that all illegal drugs are wholly dangerous, their use entirely immoral, thus allowing his sympathy for those whom the war persecutes to drop to near zero.
All nonsense, of course.
Most every drug can serve a variety of purposes other than “escaping reality,” which, by the way, is not a block concept. Reality itself is quite malleable. I can adjust my attention (an old Stoic and Epicurean trick), I can adjust my actions, I can change my emotional reactions.
I can even stop watching Fox.
At what point am I “avoiding reality”?
Last night, O’Reilly restated his case for the importance of the White House’s mishandling of the Ben Ghazi attack. I agree with Bill O’Reilly on this matter. I think it is indicative of concerted prevarication and responsibility-avoidance on the part of folks at the very highest levels of American office.
Where I disagree with O’Reilly is in his insistence that the attack that killed American diplomatic personnel, and other government functionaries, amounted to “terrorism.”
O’Reilly makes much of this being “terrorism.” If Leon Panetta immediately told the president it was an act of terrorism, then this means something. Actually, it means several somethings. It means that the subsequent White House publicity that the event was a spontaneous uprising in protest of a goofy anti-Islamic video on YouTube was a concerted cover-up, just as O’Reilly says.
But it doesn’t mean that it was terrorism. Panetta can be wrong.
I believe he was wrong. Panetta saying something doesn’t make it any more so than O’Reilly repeating it, as if a mantra.
Terrorism is the use of violence against random innocents or in some similar way in order to instill terror in a population, for political ends.
What happened in Ben Ghazi was insurrection — insurrection by people associated with terrorism, perhaps, but not engaging in terrorism as such. Attacking an imperial outpost — or the outpost of any enemy — is not terrorism. It’s old-fashioned warfare, in this case insurrection by non-state combatants against a state enterprise.
Not every bit of violence committed by a person designated as a terrorist is terroristic.
O’Reilly wants to make the “terrorism” label stick because he is, as he likes to say, a “simple man.” The complexities of reality are things he wishes to avoid. He treats definitions like addicts treat drugs. Evasions of responsibility. Escape.