Feminist Judith Butler writes in her book Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, that, “Destruction is thus always restoration—that is, the destruction of a set of categories that introduce artificial divisions into an otherwise unified ontology.” She is writing on the idea that gender and sexual classification is only realized in the performance of the act. Here she is specifically rejecting traditional narratives on gender, sex, and sexuality. Butler is not alone in this idea that we ought to be deconstructive to the systems of society that preexist ourselves, and it has become the popular narrative of academia, and social media, today to suggest such a thing. As most people who reject this philosophy of Deconstruction, Douglas Murray writes in his work The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity, “To ‘deconstruct’ something is as significant to academia as ‘constructing’ things is in the rest of society. Indeed, it is one curiosity of academia in recent decades that it has found almost nothing it does not wish to deconstruct, apart from itself.” Thus we have both narratives of Deconstruction that have been prevalent in the modern day. One side suggests that all things (even if it is not necessarily doing so) ought to be deconstructed and the other side suggests that you ought not to deconstruct because of the danger it represents. But I find both narratives lacking in their fundamental assumptions.
This post is an attempt to reconcile the anti-deconstructionist view and the deconstructionist view by offering a proper middle ground between the two. Both sides suffer from issues that cause problems within their perspective categories. The Deconstructionists suggest all things must be questioned and broken down to their smallest values, insofar as they relate to societal invention. The attempt to realize this vision in the world was, and is, disastrous; including issues of sexuality, societal construction, race relations, and questions of economic stability. The result thus far has been to throw away anything constructed by man before (or at least the sentiment of throwing away all that man has made before) and live in this new “free” society, yet instead it has caused division and suffering. As the idiom goes, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater,” and as a matter of fact, they threw the whole tub out. They never considered the importance of the things being held in the traditional views of the world. It’s important to consider this when thinking about the old systems that are offered to us from ages past because, while it might be shrouded in religiosity or some other mask, oftentimes when something has been kept and passed on as a tradition it has done so because it works. For instance, the medievales believed that the woods were a dangerous place with monsters lurking in the shadows, and this was somewhat true. While shrouded in the mysterious idea that goblins, leprechauns, elves, and fairies were the ones committing these acts, the woods were still dangerous and ought to have been treated with caution. Same goes for syllogisms like “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” It seems silly to us that this is a highly respected rule of the ancient Jews, but not for them who lived in the ruthless pre-modern world, for us it’s our mode of existence and we think that way because it was passed on from the Jews to the Christians and onto us, to think and act that way. But Deconstructionists think that we must break down these values to our “scientific” baseline and treat the world in regards to that level of understanding. That’s just untenable.
Do not think that I find the Anti-Deconstructionist view, or the Traditional view in opposition tenable, instead I find it just as untenable. While the Deconstructionists throw the bathwater, the tub, the soap and the baby out the window oftentimes the Traditionalist never considers washing the baby in the first place. Now clearly I above gave a fantastic defense of the Traditional view, that it is holding onto the things passed down that have the wisdom of the ancients. I will say if one must choose between the Traditional and the Deconstructionist views, it is better to be a Traditionalist, for it is better to have something rather than nothing, but it still has its problems; where it lacks in its ability to find the real truth. I am not suggesting here that all people who call themselves Traditionalists believe this and I am not suggesting that we must also reject all the teachings of the Traditional viewpoint either. Instead, as I would with the Deconstructionist viewpoint, I suggest we find what is good in it, and dump out what is bad. Traditionalists are unwilling, due to the fear of becoming like the Deconstructionists, to change. They are unwilling to look at the faulty systems and suggest we may have to deconstruct them. This was the case with slavery, and it was the case with universal suffrage, and it remains the case today in economic development in the technological age. It is simply untenable to just be a Traditionalist.
I present to you, my answer, the Reconstructionist position. I agree that there are issues that require deconstruction and I also agree that there are issues that we have answers for already and that do not need to be deconstructed. I offer you this analogy; You buy a house and when you enter it you see damage on the walls, and critters scampering about, it creaks and wind blows through and the elements are affecting it. Now all you can think about are two options; either you tear the whole thing down because it’s unlivable and terrible or you do nothing and simply live there because this was the way you got it and you’re afraid of changing it too much. That’s it, you do nothing else except those two things, which of course is ridiculous, one leaves you homeless, and the other leaves you a junk heap. My view instead says, “Look; this house is not livable and it’s downright terrible, let’s tear out the walls and put new ones up, let’s tear out the pipes and put new ones in, let’s get rid of the windows and put new ones in.” Instead of the house being completely torn down, only the bits that needed tearing down were, and then they were rebuilt using the same structure that came before. My view suggests that what came before is important but it must be used in order to Reconstruct from the Deconstruction. This is something you can find in the wisdom of the ancients. Jesus Christ came and deconstructed the Jewish cultural beliefs about the Messiah and the Empire that they would rise up against, even going so far to die (the ultimate deconstruction) and then to be resurrected (the ultimate reconstruction) and in doing so offered a reconstruction of God’s Israel (the formation of the Church) and ultimately the Destruction and Reconstruction of the whole Cosmos.
But I’m a Stoic, none of this matters to me unless I can present it in its personal sense. If you know me, then you know that I do not believe that ideas (political, religious, or philosophical) matter on the grand scale of things. Ideally, what the Pope does in Rome and what the President does in Washington or what the rioters do in Seattle, matters very little to me. Instead the only changes I can make are those which I am personally able to directly. I cannot change anything , except for myself. (I do not always live this way, though, it is just my ideal. And it is to be noted that I am not being self-centered, just self-conquered.) So in what way does this Reconstructionist view fit into my Philosophy?
The way we think, the way we exist, the way we interact with reality, exists within frameworks. I’m not nearly as well read up on psychologists, as I am on philosophers, but there is an idea in Frued and Jung that this is true. What is important here is that as I stated before, we have been handed systems of thought and modes of being from the ancients and we use those systems and modes of being in our daily lives. Those are passed down to us from our relationships. First and foremost from our fathers and mothers, secondly from our kin, thirdly from our religion, fifth from our cultures, and finally from our societies. These shape us and set our interactions with reality all the time.
A racist is often made to be racist by their interactions with their parents who themselves were passed on that way of thinking, and even sometimes the racist is made by their interactions with society or religion. (This is not a defense of their viewpoint, just a consideration of its origin point.) Same goes for a kind person who spends their time doing all they can to help others. Both viewpoints and modes of being have their positives and negatives (again not a defense of racism). The racist has a hierarchical view of the structure of society with clear distinctions of tops and bottoms. In my opinion this is not a negative thing, what is negative though is the way in which this manifests in their hierarchical view. Life is by nature hierarchical (read the first chapter in Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life for reference) and having a clear and distinct understanding of that is often positive for each person but people make up certain distinctions of this that are not true nor good for the structure of society. The same goes for the kind person, they are kind, who can think anything negative on that? Except instead of just being kind, they are being taken advantage of by those around them because they are unwilling to not be kind, because that is who they are.
What both of these people can do is go through a period of Deconstruction and Reconstruction. The racist (as everyone should), must be willing to have his worldview challenged, if he is at all thinking that he is superior to others’ world-views, and in doing so he has an opportunity to deconstruct his opinions to their foundational level. You must ask yourself, “Why do I believe this way?” It’s epistemology. It’s truth seeking. The racist can then say to himself, “Well I do not like these people because I lost a job opportunity to one and my life has been bad ever since.” And in that moment (a moment of moral decision making as Kant might point out) the racist has the opportunity to deconstruct his belief and come to the realization that his job loss is not the result of race but rather the result of policy or law or even simply being of lesser quality to the person they lost the job to. And now we have someone who has lived their life for sometime in that manner of being and has come to realize the way they have lived their life is harmful and now they can decide how to move on. As a reconstructionist, I suggest you build up a new way of thinking and affecting the world. If you think it is a matter of policy/law that allows another person to one up, then maybe you ought to live your life to seek equality among peoples through supporting laws that don’t have a negative racial basis. And now you must accept that race is not the thing that has hurt you but rather how race was used against you. They can choose to go back to their rabbit hole and treat the world rather foolishly as if they never realized it wasn’t the races’ fault or they can choose to forge a new view of life. (This is what Malcolm X did before his assassination, and it’s unfortunate that we never go to see the New Malcolm come to fruition.)
The process goes as such;
- Step One: You believe something.
- Step Two: You then must be willing to put what you believe to the test.
- Step Three: If the belief you have put to the test shows error or other answers to the said thing have been presented then you must go to the very beginning the belief and attempt to reconcile it with truth.
- Step four: In the best case scenario you discover that reconciliation.
- Step Five: Live the life that reconciled belief gives you.
This is how we should all be, because every single one of us has something in us that is wrong. Our world-views and our modes of being are not perfect, nor will they ever be, but it is our duty within ourselves to get rid of the wrongs and replace them with the rights. In the Christian tradition this is the point of confession. It is literal reconciliation with the Almighty, who calls Himself “Truth.” (John 14:6) Confession, no matter your faith tradition, in all forms of Christianity you come before God and present Him with your failures and pains and He forgives you and sends you to live a now better life. In the Catholic Church (and Orthodox but I have no experience with it so I will only say how Catholics do it) you meet with your confessor, you tell them your transgressions, they pray with you, (if they’re a good priest) they offer advice on how to stop those sins, they reconcile you with the Lord, and they give you penance to help orient you on the new reconciled path. This is Deconstruction and Reconstruction! You have realized something is wrong, you are seeking advice and help and trying to put yourself on the right path, you find it, and then you follow that new path as best you can.
You do not need confession to do this all the time, while confession has its duty (and you ought to do it) you also must take the opportunities to consider other truths, spiritual battles, decisions, way of living, etc. too. And only you can do that, no one else can do it for you. The priest does not seek you out for Confession, God Almighty does not force you to recognize your faults, and no one around you can make you change the horrible things you are doing. They can help, but it is only you, and you alone, who can reconstruct better versions of you.
And remember you cannot do this to others either, for if you attempt to make them better you have committed two faults. The first being that you are not worthy to do this act (God alone is) and if you have some success in forcing reconstruction on the other, you may give them a false reconstruction. The second being that it is more likely you will force people not to ever reconstruct. The racist remains racist because everyone is constantly screaming at them and treating them worse and worse, trying to change them, that the racist has no inclination that they should change at all because they are now forced to stand against their opponents. It is better to reconstruct yourself always and continuously, and to allow others to see this process taking place in you and want to live a life such as that, than to try to force another. You can help, but you must do it the right way. Just as I said before God does not force people to reconcile, but He gives them opportunities, and nudges, but if He were to demand it, they wouldn’t actually be reconciled.
This is the path of Self Conquest. We cannot be Saints if we are unwilling to give up the horrible things that rule us and replace them with better things (holy things). Reconstruction is your path to a better you, and thus if more of us make ourselves better, then we have better families, better communities, better societies.