The West’s Ongoing Collapse at the Hands of Identity Politics and Neoliberal Ideology: 2019 Update

. . . How did this happen? Who’s to blame? Well certainly there are those more responsible than others … but again, truth be told, if you’re looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror….

V, V for Vendetta (2005)

This, from Reagan-era economist (later: political-economic journalist) Paul Craig Roberts has been circulating. I’ve received links to it, or online republications of it, three times over the past week.

I’ve no doubt of what the mainstream reaction to it would be … if anyone in those arenas read it and saw fit to respond at all.

I also encountered this just two days ago as I write, penned by a fellow philosopher, Steven Gerrard of Williams College, one of the ones who stuck around in academia (maybe that will change).

What happened: he’d observed how the assault on free speech has been accelerating since around 2014, the year Black Lives Matter was created. This assault had accelerated since the Trump election, including at his own institution. He decided to put together a course on freedom of speech. He taught the course, apparently without incident. As any philosophy course should, it allowed multiple perspectives ranging from John Stuart Mill’s classic defense of free speech and freedom of inquiry in his On Liberty to those of identity politics.

Just short of a year ago he was presenting a pledge signed by a number of faculty at his institution defending free expression. He had been assuming that considerations such as those he had raised were making a difference. I’ll let him tell what happened next:

Then reality hit.

As I stepped up to the lectern in one of the college’s elegant Federal-style halls, students marched into the room, bearing a letter naming me an “Enemy of the People.”

In the spirit of liberal openness, I read their letter aloud. This is what it said: “‘Free Speech,’ as a term, has been co-opted by right-wing and liberal parties as a discursive cover for racism, xenophobia, sexism, anti-semitism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and classism.” The letter reserved special scorn for liberalism: “Liberal ideology asserts that morality is logical — that dehumanizing ideas can be fixed with logic and therefore need to be debated.” But, it added, “dehumanization cannot be discussed away.”

The letter finished, I started to reply. But a group of younger faculty in the front row demanded that I be quiet and let the students speak. And the students did. They had almost nothing to say about free speech; instead, they testified to the indignities they suffered at Williams. The dean of the college, who was in attendance, praised the students for their passion.

And so began Williams College’s annus horribilis, a year marked by protests, marches, threats and demands — everything but rational argument. A significant number of faculty not only supported this, but also instigated it. And the administration? Its response was to appoint a committee consisting of faculty, staff and students. Since “free speech” was now a dirty phrase, it was called “the Ad Hoc Committee on Inquiry and Inclusion.”

The year pretty much went downhill from there.

He went on to describe what is happening as an evolutionary-type process, about to result in what he calls the comfort college:

At Williams College’s bicentennial in 1993, Frederick Rudolph, a beloved and esteemed professor of history at the school, gave a speech in which he defined the three eras of his and other elite colleges: the Christian college, the gentlemen’s college and the consumer’s college. Rudolph predicted that the consumer Williams “will be moving on, making way for the as yet undefined next era in the college’s history.”

Elite private education in America is on the cusp of this new era. The controversies over free speech, safe spaces, trigger warnings, microaggressions and the like are symptoms of this shift. They are currently considered controversies because the colleges are in transition, and many do not realize that the old standards no longer hold. Once the transition is complete, the “correct” side of the controversies will become central to a school’s identity — just as faith was to the Christian college, self-confidence was to the gentlemen’s college, and alumni devotion and achievement were to the consumer’s college.

Some have suggested naming this new college “the therapeutic university” or “the woke college.” I prefer “the comfort college,” because it combines the emotional component of the first with the political elements of the second. Our students are comfortable in their opinions but uncomfortable with their lives, finding their world and the Williams campus a threatening place. Once Williams’ transition to comfort college is complete, the students will expect to find their college truly comfortable in all respects….

….What characterizes the comfort college? The slogan of the comfort college is “diversity and inclusion.” And just to be clear: The presence of previously underrepresented groups is vital, necessary and welcome. What’s more, insensitivity toward people’s identities should be self-censored, and social pressure to do so is a helpful tool.

The comfort college? One wonders how anything resembling education that would have been understood as such even 30 years ago could occur there.

Here’s the bottom line: identity politics dominates the major academic departments in liberal arts in the Ivy Leagues and other high-prestige institutions. Where those institutions go, the rest follow (except, perhaps, for glorified technical schools).

It dominates the major journals in those fields, where aspiring academics must publish if they expect ever to obtain tenure. (And even if they do, there are no guarantees.)

Identity politics dominates corporate media, which is a major reason guys like Roberts have all been kicked out and cannot be syndicated except on a handful of alternative sites. It has a strong presence in Big Tech, forming a core part of the behavioral guidelines being imposed on users which I discussed elsewhere last week.

As is evident from the above, administrators are completely cowed. Those not infected with the identity politics virus are infected with the neoliberal one. Neoliberalism may be thought of as a brand of corporatist capitalism married to materialism, what some call the “business model” academic institutions began to embrace in the 1980s and even more so in the 1990s and 2000s.

Neoliberal ideology promotes a corporate mindset, and the commodification of everything it touches. Its effect on colleges and universities explains why institutions have millions to spend on plush new buildings, high tech facilities, gymnasiums, sports arenas, etc., but choose to pay adjunct faculty starvation wages.

While different from identity politics, neoliberalism has no fundamental quarrel with it. Identity politics, having largely destroyed traditional intellectual / philosophical inquiry and liberal arts learning, keeps the latter from challenging its own premises in academic political economy, and in society more generally. This is because neoliberals have no interest in saving liberal arts learning. They have no interest in anything that does not bring about an immediate material profit. Control over markets by corporations is easily portrayed as “market forces.” The language is everything.

And if that’s what capitalism is, then isn’t it small wonder why millennials are turning to socialism in droves?!

Many millennials are drowning in debt, after all, having attended those institutions in good faith. Some will be repaying student loan debt their entire working lives, and then some. (These, incidentally, include students with degrees in the sciences. Not by a long shot does everyone who goes to a university major in “gender studies” or some other such foolishness.)

Unless they default that is. Defaults on student loan debts are at all time highs. Some millennials will go to their graves owing money for student loans — always assuming the present system lasts that long (it probably will not).

Student loan debt has risen to over $1.6 trillion, and like the national debt (over $22.5 trillion), it is going up with no end in sight.

The academic / higher educational system in the U.S. is broken beyond repair. Even if we have talked about neoliberalism, arguably identity politics is the bigger culprit in bringing about this disaster.

Or is it?

Maybe there is a still bigger culprit. That being the indifference, or unwillingness to act, of those who were warned long ago that this was coming and did nothing.

I know for a fact that what Gerrard calls the comfort university could have been foreseen, because it was foreseen. By me. And by well over a dozen other writers who became aware of what was going on as early as 1990.

While in-depth discussions of the merits versus demerits of affirmative action programs go back to their origins in the 1960s, philosopher Nicholas Capaldi was the first to fully break ranks from academic niceties and note that such policies were changing, at a fundamental level, the legal structure of higher education and of the country. His book was entitled Out of Order: Affirmative Action and the Crisis of Doctrinaire Liberalism (1985).

Sociologist Frederick R. Lynch then penned Invisible Victims: White Males and the Crisis of Affirmative Action (1989). He made a strong case that reverse discrimination had become a real phenomenon, because the law essentially required it. Why was this?

The Supreme Court’s decision in Griggs v. Duke Power Co. (1971) had shifted criteria for establishing discrimination from that of a provable action on the part of an employer to a lack of statistical balance. It shifted the emphasis from equality of opportunity (which everyone I knew supported) to equality of outcomes, which no existing policy could guarantee.

There are no means of focusing on outcomes without offering privileges to some at the expense of others, all the chatter about “white privilege” notwithstanding.

Additional writers showed how such criteria were leading to the hiring of people who had transformed their academic positions into launching pads for political activism. A good example is Roger Kimball, Tenured Radicals: How Politics Has Corrupted Our Higher Education (orig. 1990).

Around this time, the phrase political correctness began to creep into the public lexicon. Used originally by Leninists for those who towed the party line too closely, it began to be used for efforts to shut down criticisms of affirmative action on campuses, and for the “new scholarship” (I was then calling it) that was growing up to justify such policies, increasingly pulled under related rubrics like diversity, inclusion, etc., because the phrase affirmative action was getting a bad name.

This “new scholarship” drew heavily on French thinkers such as Michel Foucault, Paul de Man, Jacques Derrida, and others, who contended — essentially (I’ve limited space and no interest here in crossing all the t’s and dotting all the i’s) — that there was no such thing as objective truth, or rationality, or bias-free inquiry.

Everyone is situated historically, culturally, ethnically, etc.; so everything is political. The personal is the political, radical “second wave” feminists began saying.

Truth claims are concealed assertions of the dominant group. Never mind that sometimes they can be; but sometimes not!

Truth is, for this kind of mind, a straight white Christian male “social construct.”

We should all know these incantations by now.

Almost no one noticed the paradox in saying there’s no objective truth. If you assert there’s no objective truth, then your own statement isn’t objectively true. You cannot argue rationally and consistently that no line of reasoning can reach a conclusion by rational means, whether historically situated or not. It is the logical equivalent of sawing off the tree branch you are sitting on.

Such observations sailed over nearly everyone’s heads, which is why almost no one was interested in them.

Dinesh D’Souza’s Illiberal Education: The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus (orig. 1991) documented the effects of the new politics mainly on six campuses, but noted how political correctness was spreading. Love him or not (and I know of conservatives who, strangely, hate his guts), D’Souza’s book was a landmark exposition of what was going on.

If you were anywhere near a major campus at the time, you had to be blind to have missed it!

My Civil Wrongs: What Went Wrong With Affirmative Action came out in 1994 (it had been rejected by around 80 publishers). As a trained philosopher, I saw it as my obligation to outline the philosophical premises behind the new academic politics. I showed how affirmative action programs had given this politics life and empowered it, beyond the (sometimes mis)readings of the French thinkers.

My book went further than anyone else’s had, but it still wasn’t far enough.

The following year saw the appearance of Christina Hoff Sommers’s Who Stole Feminism? How Women Have Betrayed Women (1995) working out the details of how a movement that had once sought justice for women in the workplace (“equity feminism”) had undergone a radical transformation, falling into the hands of “scholars” influenced by those French thinkers. What resulted was the idea that knowledge was “gendered” (“gender feminism”), with “gender” to be differentiated from sex. The latter is biological, and pretty much uninteresting. The former is, again, a “social construct.” This was intended to imply it was arbitrary and could be changed.

Then came the infamous Alan Sokal hoax, whereby a physicist purposefully penned an article of utter gibberish that nevertheless pandered to the political biases of the day, and it was accepted for publication in the lead journal of the “new scholarship,” Social Text. Sokal went public immediately following the article’s appearance.

This should have proved to any rational minds left that the “new scholarship” was mostly rubbish, and that academia was in serious trouble.

Despite the embarrassment, for the most part the revelation fell on deaf ears. It presumed a culture in which truth still mattered, or was believed to exist and be discoverable by rational minds.

The revelatory books kept appearing throughout the rest of the 1990s: too numerous to continue enumerating individually. Some emphasized the growing number of campus horror stories: speakers shut down; students verbally attacked for some “insensitive remark,” often to the point of needing to transfer to another school to escape the attacks; faculty members either demoted or summarily fired, or if they had tenure, their lives being made so miserable that they left their institutions on their own. (I documented instances of all these in my Civil Wrongs.)

All this was before 2000!

Can anyone in his right mind say they weren’t warned?????

There were groups organized out of supposed concern to oppose these trends and defend traditional scholarship and its ideals. Among the most visible was the National Association of Scholars, organized in 1989.

I joined at the earliest opportunity.

The NAS published newsletters and a fairly decent journal, Academic Questions. They held an annual conference, with presentations. Overall, their activities were not unlike those any other group of career academics.

By the time my book appeared, one thing was clear: this wasn’t going to be enough. A massive public effort to seize the moral high ground from the cultural left was going to be necessary. And the process was sufficiently far along that the longer we waited, the worse the situation would get until reversal was no longer possible. (I would say now that we have reached that point.)

I offered my services as a philosopher more than qualified to highlight the cultural left’s premises, trace them to philosophers such as G.W.F. Hegel at one end, outline their real world consequences at the other, and begin working with anyone who would work with me to organize a strategy of refutation. The situation was already worsening. It was reaching the point where, e.g., any criticism whatsoever of a black person or of black groups seeking special favors (e.g., their own dormitories) constituted racism, to be confronted as “hate speech.”

Almost never were such terms given clear definitions.

I was the obvious person to point out, on solid philosophical grounds, that if you don’t define your terms, everything is eventually up for the grabs of those who can shout the loudest and swing the biggest verbal clubs.

The major twentieth century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once defined philosophy as a “battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.”

It has become a battle against those who would weaponize language in order to secure and maintain policy dominance.

For NAS I’d submitted a book review, proposed an article, and offered my services as a speaker to begin presenting these ideas at their meetings, arguing how we are seeing a clash between fundamentally different worldviews and values systems. I was prepared to argue that philosophical premises are important to this struggle — which would not be won without challenging the cultural left’s premises at that level.

To my great dismay, the NAS leadership wasn’t interested. Like the majority of academic organizations assembled by groups of colleagues who knew each other, they’d formed what was essentially a closed club where “outsiders” (it helped to have Ivy League credentials!) were unwelcome.

Or such was my impression, when offers met with no response. This is the main drawback of these kinds of organizations, which proceed to shoot themselves in the foot because they are unwilling to make use of the resources available to them.

(In fairness, and for completeness’ sake, I was later interviewed for what would have been a glorified paper-shuffling job at a university out in “flyover country,” i.e., well away from everyone and everything. Being “benched” was not what I had in mind, either.)

And so here we are today, with institutions turned into war zones, where not just conservatives but liberals who hesitate over the contemporary radicalism have been driven from their positions.

For example, Bret Weinstein, a biology professor who self-identifies as a progressive, was driven from Evergreen State University in an infamous case in 2017 when he criticized the reversal of a traditional “day of absence” during which black students stayed off campus. The plan in motion was to have, instead, a day without white people.

Weinstein was critical of the neo-segregationism implied in what was happening at his institution.

Confronted by angry leftist students who called him a racist, and in light of the fact that the administration had ordered campus police to stand down (!), Weinstein abandoned the campus out of fear for his safety. He held his final classes that semester off campus in a public park.

He resigned his position, along with his wife who also taught biology at Evergreen State. He filed a $3.8 million lawsuit against the school, settled for $500,000, but remains — to the best of my knowledge — a professional scholar in exile.

So here we are, with 2018-19 behind us, going into 2019-20, with attacks on freedom of speech still continuing, directed not just at known conservatives but any and all free speech advocates whatever their worldview or ideology (Weinstein had supported Occupy Wall Street and Bernie Sanders).

Here we are, with white Americans being the one ethnic group whose population is actually shrinking relative to the whole, as Paul Craig Roberts is almost alone in having noted. Whites are the one ethnic group on which it is open season: on college and university campuses and in mainstream mass media (unless they are gay or transgendered).

Their only defenders are on alternative media.

Republican organizations able to mount defenses of these people are scared to death of being labeled racists, or (the current demon moniker), white supremacists.

Here we are, with rural white populations actually shrinking, actual victims of a variety of additional changes no one I know of ever voted for, e.g., the outsourcing of the country’s manufacturing base during the 1990s so that global corporations could get richer from cheap labor (NAFTA, GATT II, etc.), and automation.

Suicide rates among this population are much higher than in other groups.

Here we are, going into Fall 2019. Trump is still president, despite an extensive effort to lay the groundwork for removing him from office, via the official Russiagate conspiracy theory no one calls that.

To reduce the matter to one sentence, Trump is where he is because the mainstreams of both major parties collapsed. Their narratives had lost credibility. The Republican base was tired of Bushes and foreign wars. Nor did all progressives identify with Hillary Clinton, especially with the obvious theft of the 2016 nomination for her by the DNC. She wasn’t going to get the “swing state” vote after she dismissed voters in those crucial states as “baskets of deplorables” in one of the stupidest verbal blunders I ever saw a presidential candidate make. Those states had gone to Barack Obama four years before.

Trump is there because to many of those now relegated to outsider status in the “new America” of identity politics, he represented a kind of plain-speaking stand-in for everything his white followers saw as opposed to this agenda, as well as to the economic forces (part and parcel with neoliberalism) that had destroyed their lives and communities.

One would think this to be a fantastic opportunity for alternative points of view to rise and thrive. One would be wrong, mostly. Reasonably well-heeled people and well-positioned organizations are doing little except publishing materials and holding meetings during which they complain about how terrible everything is, but then do nothing substantive.

Admittedly, forming the new institutions that will be necessary if the West is to survive will take hard work and a great deal of networking, if only to get around Google’s increasing algorithmic constraints. A few, indeed, are making gallant efforts (alternative search engines, alternatives to other leviathans such as Facebook, alternative educational entities). But they cannot get the necessary financial support, and as a result, remain invisible outside the personal networks of their founders on an increasingly crowded and cluttered Internet.

What windows of opportunity we once saw are rapidly closing.

One wonders how far the West must decline before those with resources take action. Collapse is a process, not a singular event. Is the present ongoing collapse of the Western intellect just going to have to run its course? Perhaps the era and mindset that produced the best of our sciences and technologies (that landed men on the moon and returned them safely to Earth); the kind of philosophy able to justify real, intellectual diversity; and literature able to move our hearts instead of just inspire immature political rage, really is almost over.

Posted in Academia, Culture, Higher Education Generally, Philosophy, Where is Civilization Going? | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Moon Madness and the Fate of the Liberty Movement

“You look pale.”  —Blair to Clay, Less Than Zero (1987)

My last article garnered responses I predicted but hoped would not occur: emails from folks who not only believe the moon landings were faked, but think the Earth is flat.

Egads!

One of the former self-identified as a “moon truther.”

I asked him if he understood that the truther meme was invented to ridicule those of us who believe some conspiracies are real, and that on at least some occasions, “our” government has lied to us.

The question went over his head like brisk wind over a deserted pier. This acquaintance and long term reader said instead, “I’m worried about you. Concerned.”

Concerned? About me?

Perhaps I looked pale.

I’m fine (I told him).

But the Liberty movement — of which he’s been a member for as long as I can remember — is clearly a bit under the weather!

For I can’t single him out. Other responses were even stranger.

I’ve long thought that among the factors that presaged Donald Trump’s rise was the collapse of the mainstream narratives of both major parties. Republican voters manifestly did not want another Bush. The Democrat base clearly preferred Bernie Sanders who addressed issues they cared about over an icy, entitled drama queen who’d almost singlehandedly wrecked two countries (Libya and Honduras).

What I didn’t realize:

The Liberty narrative — I’ll call it — has collapsed as well. It had been struggling for years, massive denial about the effects of its growing numbers notwithstanding. It went on life support the day Ron Paul retired from Congress.

It survives in think tanks that are effectively irrelevant to the national conversation, as a handful of equally irrelevant academic tokens (a few “thick” libertarians like these guys tolerated because they are pro-aborts and — believe this or not! — support social justice warrior causes), survivalist types prepping for doomsday out in the boonies, and clueless hobbyists who don’t dare give up their day jobs.

What was the Liberty narrative? Let me come back to that. I want to deal with this “moon madness” first.

Let me just ask you, gentle reader: which of the following scenarios is more believable? You tell me.

Scenario 1:  We never went to the moon. We couldn’t (Van Allen belts, etc.). Stanley Kubrick filmed the fakes out in Nevada somewhere (Area 51?). NASA was able to hide the sordid truth that the Apollo missions never went anywhere from well over a hundred thousand engineers and other technicians who had worked on various aspects of the projects. They hid it successfully not once but seven times, including concocting the gripping account of the explosion on board Apollo 13 that nearly stranded (so the narrative goes) three astronauts in lunar orbit. They’ve continued their massive coverup ever since — for 50 years now. Only a handful of Bill Kaysings and a few Liberty types have seen through NASA’s dastardly acts. They’ve figured out the truth about what really occurred — or didn’t occur. Because the government always lies. How do you tell politicians and bureaucrats are lying? Their lips are moving.

Scenario 2: In an earlier and now lost phase of America, we went to the moon seven times and landed there six times. It was our civilization’s crowning achievement. It was watched on television by millions of people the world over. All those engineers and technicians had made JFK’s vision happen. NASA had the technology to get astronauts to the moon at the time, but almost all this technology, along with a grasp of how it worked, has been lost. Those who worked on the Apollo missions retired or moved on. Some who worked for NASA later (like the former high school chum whose views I noted) grew disillusioned and dropped out of the aerospace industry altogether. The culture changed. Education at all levels began to circle the drain. Soon, it became increasingly difficult, even for the liberty-minded, to fathom how that predecessor civilization could have gone to the moon.

Again, my friends: which of these is more credible?

Before answering, consider:

Surely a government clever enough to fake a project as vast as that seven times, hiding the fraud successfully in plain sight, would also be resourceful enough to have addressed practical problems like solving the energy crisis, which in the early 1970s was one of two front-page issues (the other was Watergate).

Surely a government that resourceful would have left the Soviets in the dust then and there — their system ended from the inside long before the end of the 1980s.

Surely, too, a federal government that resourceful would have anticipated the looming health care crisis, which is really a cost crisis. A federal government that resourceful would have solved the problem of how to keep quality health care affordable long before Obamacare came along and screwed things up even worse!

Come to think of it, efficiency at that level could probably give us all a “four-hour work week” as it used technology to create abundance, dropping the cost of all the necessities of life (food, clean water, housing, etc.) down close to zero — all over the world!

Am I getting through? Earth to “moon truthers.” Earth to “moon truthers.” Come in!

Consider, also, the surrounding cultural elements. The moonshots did not happen in a cultural vacuum. They weren’t just about competing with the Soviets. The 1960s were years of great optimism. They produced mindbending cinema like 2001: A Space Odyssey and television series like the original Star Trek. And campy stuff like Lost in Space.

All with one theme: first the moon, then other worlds, then other stars!

It was also a period of great intellectual and economic liberation. Civil rights and movements favoring justice for women were fundamentally healthy movements back then, as were criticisms of undeclared foreign wars like Vietnam. A close look at the history of the latter shows teach-ins dating from 1965: no one had long hair, there was no rock music, no one was on LSD. Antiwar leaders later wondered, “Where did all these hippies come from?” (For those who have a little time on their hands, I recommend this sometimes whimsical but vitally informative series.)

Yes, the federal government has lied to us — many times. Vietnam was based on a lie (Gulf of Tonkin). We were almost surely deceived about the perpetrators of the three most traumatic assassinations of the 1960s: JFK, his brother Bobby, and Martin Luther King Jr. (who had begun to turn from an exclusive focus on race to the war machine and profits corporations were raking in from it).

I’m reasonably sure we were lied to about the Oklahoma City bombing and 9/11.

So doesn’t it probably follow that we were lied to about the Apollo voyages.

Hold the bus. Consider this.

Filmmaker S.G. Collins of Postwar Media explains clearly, and in detail, why films of the Apollo missions could not have been faked.

The reason is that the film technology necessary to fake the moon landings did not exist in 1969.

With today’s CGI, it might be possible now.

Although we no longer have technology capable of getting us to the moon! If some government joker said he’d gone to the moon today, I’d be one of the people calling BS.

But back to Collin’s lecture. I find its final two and a half minutes to be the most instructive.

The fact that the government has lied to us on numerous occasions does not lead logically to everything the government says is a lie.

What actually follows is that we should exercise due caution when listening, follow money trails when possible, and then make our best judgment based on what we find.

We have to go on a case-by-case basis.

That’s more work, I know, but it’s the only thing likely to yield truth. For those who care about the truth.

Are there issues on which the government is (probably) telling the truth? I could list a few, but not in one or two lines. We’d get off track — and I’d be in still more hot water.

The point is that — if you’ll pardon the Freudian imagery — sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

What’s the real problem here?

This:

We’ve trained ourselves to look for conspiracies. But not every earthshaking event results from a government conspiracy.

I argued last week that, however they got there, the rich fields of recent history have been marred by false rabbit trails. Their purpose has been to distract and confuse.

They’ve served their purpose.

As adherents of the Liberty narrative follow the rabbit trails, real conspiracies advance. Small and large. Many of the small just involve misinformation — or disinfo. Especially involving the economy. Their purpose is to make you relax and believe everything is okay when it isn’t.

Is anyone paying attention to what the Federal Reserve is doing these days, or to the reasons for thinking that the most current “economic boom” is another bubble, the most massive in history?

Has anyone noted the collective cognitive dissonance between what “experts” say about the economy and the money worries that keep millions of ordinary folks awake at night?

On the foreign front, does anyone truly believe the U.S. war machine is rattling sabers against Venezuela and Iran because the U.S. government cares about Venezuelans, or because the Iranians shot down a U.S. drone in their own airspace?

How gullible can people be, not to realize that such affairs are about who controls the oil supply to the West (i.e., to the global corporations who have been calling the shots for years)?

Incidentally, global corporations also lie. Like rugs.

If some of this sounds like it comes from the “economic left,” make the best of it, my friends. I concluded some time ago that some of those folks have a few things right.

Which brings me full circle to the fate of the Liberty movement and its narrative.

They get a few things wrong.

Is there any hope for either?

You won’t like my answer.

In its present form, No.

For one thing, the movement is now irrelevant, as noted above.

They’re like a small group of drunks in the upper desk at a baseball game. The action is on the field, and they’re nowhere near it.

Its narrative has gone from a love of liberty and the necessary hard thinking about its conditions (which needs more than appeals to abstract “free markets”) to blind and blinding hatred of “the State” as a monolithic entity.

Not the Deep Establishment, but something they see as far more dangerous. Something that wants to kill you, and sometimes does.

Government is just people. A few, like police, have deadly power, and we rightly get angered when a cop wields it irresponsibly and shoots an unarmed black man.

But “the State” didn’t kill the man. An individual cop did.

Justice demands that he be held accountable, and sometimes he is.

But most people in government don’t have any real power. There are roughly 9.7 million full-time federal employees, counting military, postal workers, agency bureaucrats, etc. I didn’t attempt to find out how many state-level employees there are, or county-level, and so on.

Some are your neighbors or folks you see in restaurants. They have the same bills to pay as you do, kids they love and worry about, cars that need upkeep, a dog (or cat).

Many are as bored with their jobs as you might be.

None are where they are because the Illuminati beamed bozo rays into the heads of the folks atop the Council on Foreign Relations.

Here’s your real problem:

“[T]he powers of financial capitalism had a far-reaching aim, nothing less than to create a world system of financial control in private hands able to dominate the political system of each country and the economy of the world as a whole. This system was to be controlled in a feudalist fashion by the central banks of the world acting in concert, by secret agreements arrived at in frequent meetings and conferences. The apex of the system was to be the Bank for International Settlements in Basle, Switzerland, a private bank owned and controlled by the world’s central banks which were themselves private corporations. Each central bank … sought to dominate its government by its ability to control Treasury loans, to manipulate foreign exchanges, to influence the level of economic activity in the country, and to influence cooperative politicians by subsequent economic rewards in the business world….  The growth of financial capitalism made possible a centralization of world economic control and a use of this power for the direct benefit of financiers and the indirect injury of all other economic groups. This concentration of power, however, could be achieved only by using methods which planted the seeds which grew into monopoly capitalism.”

  • Carroll Quigley, Tragedy & Hope: A History of the World In Our Time (1966), pp. 314, 337.

Thus the nascent world government movement, the purposes of which are to service global corporations which keep the masses on the various continents controlled, as docile as possible, and consuming what the monopoly capitalists produce.

This is the Deep Establishment, which my research tells me is far more advanced today than when Quigley was writing.

And at his very best, all Trump has been able to do is slow it down — if even that. His erratic behavior, if anything, has gummed up its works.

This, of course, has nothing to do with the Apollo missions, which exemplified science, technology, optimism, and a level of intellection starting to escape elite control.

But this goes beyond the scope of what I’ve tried to get across today. It calls for a separate article.

I rest my case. The Apollo missions happened; to believe otherwise and make an issue of it is to have gotten distracted from what is important. (Read Quigley again.) Not to mention making conspiracy research look silly. Oh, and by the way, the world is round. Well … aside from its being ever-so-slightly flattened at the poles.

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Of Moon Landings, False Rabbit Trails, and Approaching Epistemic Oblivion

“I don’t know who to trust.”

“I know what you mean, Blair. Trust’s a tough thing to come by these days. Tell you what. Why don’t you just trust in the Lord.”

Blair and MacReady, John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982)

We’ve arrived at the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing. July 20, 1969.

Apollo 11 left Earth on July 16. The capsule entered lunar orbit on July 19. The next day — or night, in my time zone — the lunar landing module, nicknamed the Eagle, separated and descended to the moon’s surface. After conducting all preliminaries, Neil Armstrong stepped out and down onto the surface of the moon. His famous words made history despite being slightly garbled by his microphone. “That’s one small step for a man,” is what he says he intended to say, “one giant leap for mankind.”

He was joined by his fellow astronaut Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin. The two took photographs, conducted scientific tests, gathered samples, planted a U.S. flag. The next day, the Eagle made its way back to the command module where Michael Collins had been monitoring. Apollo left lunar orbit and returned the three men safely to Earth. They splashed down on July 24.

They’d left behind a plaque whose words may resonate even more loudly. They certainly should:

“Here men from the planet Earth first set foot on the moon – July 1969 A.D – We came in peace for all mankind.”

Except that on Earth there is no peace, and I have acquaintances who believe the whole thing was faked. They don’t believe Americans landed there, or that Neil Armstrong’s “One small step…” was ever more than theater.

One such person asked me last year, “When was the last time the U.S. government told the truth about anything? Why should this be any different?”

He has a point. And given that I’m not a scientist, physician, or engineer, I don’t have an answer for every claim he and a few others have made. I don’t have a front-pocket explanation for how astronauts rode fragile-looking space capsules through the Van Allen Belts not once but 14 times (there were seven moonshots, after all).

Nor do I have a watertight explanation why we stopped going, and why no one else followed our lead….

[To read the rest, go here….]

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Cycles and Stages of Civilization

I may be a Christian, but there are things I believe unequivocally that are not shared by all Christians.

(1) While history is moving inexorably towards establishing God’s Kingdom on Earth, no earthly minds know God’s timetable. Those who “just know” that the Rapture will occur “any day now” are, in my book, delusional. This means we are obligated to care about the future, and our role in building it, not leaving things to chance (i.e., folly).

(2) Even if we see history going in a specific direction, what it clearly discloses is that civilizations go through life-cycles just as individuals do. Empires rise; empires fall. I’ve written about this herehere, and here.

A Biblical perspective, moreover, suggests that there were at least two major civilizational cycles, possibly of global reach, before ours. One was destroyed by the Noachian flood; the other was scattered following its building the Tower of Babel, however we interpret the admittedly sketchy Biblical accounts.

Is there physical evidence for this? Yes. Dozens of “ooparts” — out-of-place artifacts — have been uncovered, some embedded in petrified wood or removed from solid rock geologists say is millions of years old. These are not products of any known civilization. In a major work entitled Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings (orig. 1966), author and science historian Charles Hapgood documented the existence of maps, the most famous used by the fifteenth century Turkish sea captain Piri Re’is, that show the South American coastline, Greenland minus ice caps, and portions of Antarctica prior to its becoming iced over. These were clearly compiled from maps long gone. Studies have shown them to be surprisingly accurate.

The so-called “experts” deal with these anomalies by the “scientific” method of securing them within the windowless museum basements buried beneath consensus reality and forgetting about them.

(3) There are good reasons to believe our present civilization has begun a long-term downhill slide, Trumpism notwithstanding. Where that slide ends, no one can be certain. But there are still things we can do to mitigate its consequences and possibly even thrive in a future that will be better than the present.

I will leave (1) to the theologians and focus more on aspects of (2) and (3).

In the articles linked to above, I took note of Sir John Bagot Glubb’s theory of the lifecycles of civilizations. Glubb’s ideas, as a few readers pointed out, are not perfect. In retrospect, he plays fast and loose with the lifespans of empires, some of which lasted much longer than the 200-plus years he allows. But the essential point is made. Lifecycles of civilizations exist. The idea applies to our own, which has stages or states we can recognize if we know what to look for.

The author who best expressed a stages-of-civilization theory was philosopher-sociologist Auguste Comte (1798 – 1857).

Opponents of the West’s shift toward a controlled, technocratic order see Comte as one of history’s villains. I get it. His philosophical ideology of positivism offered the foundation and impetus for many intellectual and political-economic sins. Still, he had useful ideas how an advanced civilization develops, and my focus is on these.

[To read the rest, go here.]

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Materialism (Vers. 2.0, Part 7)

“Believe in me
Once seemed a good line
Now belief in Jesus
Is faith more sublime….

Don’t be afraid
Just treasure his word
Singing his praises
I know that I’ll be heard
He’s gonna take you by the hand
He’s gonna make you feel so good
Open up your eyes!
And then you’ll see all that you should….”

~Roxy Music, “Psalm” from Stranded (LP, 1973)

 

This will be the final installment of this series. I hope I can tie up the remaining loose ends.

It is difficult for those of us trained as we were to keep in mind: most people, professional intellectuals included, believe their most basic first premises for emotional, not rational reasons.

This applies especially to the foundations of worldviews.

As a general rule this is as true of the “scientifically-minded” as it is of Christians, as much as the former might disbelieve or disdain the fact. As we’ll see very shortly.

Continuing with the dialogue that developed last week in Part 6:

Okay, Mr. Believer, our skeptic might have retorted. Very well, but there’s something you can’t deny, and that’s the accumulated findings of the past 500 years of natural science. You want to credit Christianity for setting out foundations for science, such as nature’s being ordered and intelligible, but you reject science’s conclusions.

Natural science — astronomy, physics, biology, psychology — has destroyed our Christian illusion of “specialness.” The first two removed Earth from the center of the universe. The third removed our origins from the domain of the specially created: we are a species of primate, and got here through a natural process. Psychology came to recognize our “free will” as essentially an illusion. Environment shapes us, for better or for worse. Within this environment are our institutions and our education and our prejudices, including Christian ones, which we can now reshape.

The Russellian hope was that we could make a better world according to our highest ideals of justice and peace. Maybe we’ve fallen and skinned our knees a few times. No one ever said building a new civilization would be easy, or that it wouldn’t take generations of effort.

So where is this supernatural ghost in the sky you assert as your starting point, who you think saves us from ourselves?

At that point our skeptic will brashly conclude with an air of triumph and a grand sweep of his arms:

After all, now we have some idea of the immense size and age of the universe. We know we live on an insignificant planet orbiting an insignificant star. That star is one of millions of stars, in an insignificant spot near the edge of an ordinary spiral galaxy, one of billions of those. We know we’re a tiny speck of dust in a big, vast universe! Maybe we’ll find other intelligent species out there. If we do and if we can someday communicate with them, it will be through mathematics and science, not philosophy and religion.

There’s a lot running around in that.

At first blush, our skeptic misses the point: without the first premise of a Creator, part of whose essence is Logos, who created us in His image, with a rationality able to grasp the creation’s inherent rationality, there is no reason for believing said Creation — the universe — to be fundamentally intelligible to our insignificantly small and finite minds.

Which is why nothing akin to Western science developed in cultures untouched by the Christian worldview. Other cultures developed crafts indicating a grasp that there are patterns or regularities in nature. They developed and lived by worldviews, because that is what human beings do. But they did not develop science in the Western sense, which indeed was, within limits, self-correcting and constantly improving itself.

Nothing in contemporary astrophysics, moreover, rules out the possibility — or likelihood — that “the heavens declare His glory” (Psalms 19:1).

Perhaps all our big and vast universe requires is a big and vast God!

As for whether or not the Earth is special, perhaps our skeptic should read first this book and then this one. He probably will not, but he should.

But let’s set aside all the theological disquisition for the time being. We can do this because there are objections to materialism that have nothing to do with anyone’s theology. Ultimately, the intellectual problems with materialism stem from its inadequacies to scientific facts, and to some of our experiences having to do with language and with understanding.

First, the science. The way our skeptic concluded his statement got me thinking. I’ve long been fascinated not merely with the findings of those who are using high-resolution telescopes to peer ever further into the depths of space in search of extrasolar planets (exoplanets, of which astronomers have now catalogued over 4,000), but with the curious urgency of finding Earthlike planets in so-called Goldilocks zones around other stars.

Such worlds would have atmospheric pressures and temperatures where liquid water could exist — and so be able, at least in principle, to support life as we know it — possible homes of extraterrestrial (ET) civilizations.

Just recently, a number of astronomers were in a tizzy over “Tabby’s star,” KIC 8642852 (nicknamed for astronomer Tabitha Boyajian who had been studying it along with numerous “citizen scientists”).

KIC 8642852 is roughly 1,470 light years away, which means that anything we see going on in its vicinity actually occurred in the late 500s. The star’s brightness was observed to have dimmed irregularly by up to 22%, far more than the very slight dimming that would be caused by an exoplanet moving across its face (the way many have been detected).

Some of the “citizen scientists,” and even a few of Professor Boyajian’s peers, floated the idea that the star’s anomalous drops in brightness could be explained if ETs had constructed a massive mega-structure in space, perhaps orbiting the star, and that its bulk was blocking light from the star.

An intelligent race able to pull off such a feat would have to be centuries ahead of us technologically.

That would imply they had solved the problems threatening to overwhelm our civilization: environmental issues, political and cultural meltdown, the ever-present threat of nuclear war!

Maybe they’d even figured out how to build a global society that didn’t become a controlled society and a technocratic de facto dictatorship in the process!

The discovery of such a civilization would breathe new hope and life into our fading Third Stage modernity!

High-powered equipment has been trained on “Tabby’s star” for some time now.

Nothing out of the ordinary.

No detectable signals of possible intelligent origin, that is.

It is possible to answer that beings at that level of advancement might be using communications and information transmission systems our technology is too primitive to detect.

The situation would be analogous to a group of Native Americans previously untouched by our civilization (assuming there could be such) watching one of our cities from a distance and trying to see, e.g., the kinds of smoke signals they use to communicate across long distances. They would be assuming we use methods similar to theirs. They would know nothing of our actual technology, of course.

Their keenest eyes might see pollution, perhaps indicative of something curious. But they’d see nothing intelligible.

Would they be safe in concluding that whatever those structures were, no one akin to themselves lived there?

It’s an interesting analogy. We can’t conclude anything from it, however.

The best analyses we now have of KIC 8642852 suggest the presence of a large and unusually massive cloud of dust in close proximity to the star, perhaps in an extended orbit. This would explain its aperiodic darkening.

Maybe a planet once existed there and somehow got smashed. Maybe more than one.

The point is, E.T. has yet to call.

And the bottom line: there is no hard evidence that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe.

Yes, evolutionary theory — both at the stellar and at biological levels —strongly suggests that such life should exist. Perhaps on billions of other worlds. There should be races of sentient beings millions of years in advance of us!

Unless, of course, they fail to cross the Great Barrier, posited by expositors of the infamous Fermi Paradox (I’ve discussed it here, in light of the trajectories of the civilizations we know of).

There is no empirical evidence one way or the other. There is no empirical evidence of anyone out there.

This is the bottom line.

A gold mine, perhaps, for imaginative science fiction, but that’s all.

If this changes, rest assured, I will pay attention! As all of us should.

But until then, I repeat: there is no evidence.

Why do I belabor this? Because I often encounter folks — our skeptic above might be an example — who love to cite science when it supports their worldview and sometimes a political-economic ideology, but ignore actual findings (or lack of them) when they do not.

What this represents, I submit, is a strong and fundamentally emotional desire on the part of many scientists, nearly all of whom are de facto materialists, for us not to be utterly alone in this vast universe they posit as godless and uncreated.

If we are entirely alone in a universe godless and uncreated, it would be bizarre. Our planet, teeming as it is with life, would be an inexplicable anomaly!

Does this render materialism dubious? You tell me.

If we can believe contemporary physics, “material reality” is quite different from what we experience. Its fundamental properties are best described by mathematics. This is not new. Galileo said, centuries ago, that “the book of nature is written in the language of mathematics.” Interesting phraseology even today. Unless we are out-and-out Platonists mathematics suggests thought, which, in turn, presupposes: a Thinker.

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889 – 1951) would say we are pushing at the limits of language. In a sense, he was right. But limits to language and understanding do not limit reality. In the last analysis, God’s Trinitarian nature as both one God in “three persons” (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) are mysteries, as is how Christ could have been both one hundred percent God and one hundred percent man, how creation was accomplished, when it was accomplished, how human free will operates, and possibly how consciousness itself works.

Mysteries are states of affairs our three-dimensional brains existing in linear time were not designed to be able to grasp.

Positivism / scientism dislikes and distrusts mysteries. Materialists believed they had explained “the mental.” Rorty, who admired Wittgenstein, believed the problems of consciousness were artifacts of our insistence on “mentalist” language.

But some recent philosophers of mind — Colin McGinn (1950 –         ) is an example — have noted that consciousness remains fundamentally mysterious despite over a century of hard, sustained, patient, technical, analytic, multi-disciplinary investigations.

There is nothing in the brain, observes McGinn, to suggest that as a physical entity it is able, somehow, to generate subjective conscious awareness of the rich phenomenal world we inhabit — of what David Chalmers compared to a “movie” completely surrounding us all, playing in three-dimensions, through which we move as the central character for all of our lives, negotiating plot points and panoramas of sights, sounds, aromas, etc., beyond anything James Cameron could have come with in Avatar.

Chalmers began with the idea of trying to make materialism work, but throughout his career has been willing to face, honestly, considerations that throw it into doubt. In the above talk, he is clearly casting about for an alternative.

Colin McGinn concludes that our minds just aren’t structured so as to fathom their own nature. His explanation is evolutionary. Understanding consciousness at a deep level would confer on us no advantage in the struggle for existence.

But if materialism is false, the utter mysteriousness of consciousness makes perfect sense! Consciousness is the proverbial square peg that cannot be forced-fitted into the round hole materialism provides.

Language use and understanding, too, confound materialism. What am I doing when I understand a word, or sentence, or the proposition the sentence might be intended to express?

Suppose I, as an English speaker, am standing on a street corner in Budapest, Hungary, with a companion, and we are listening to two native Hungarian speakers a few feet away. We don’t understand a word they are saying, of course, because we don’t know Hungarian — we can’t discern its patterns. We hear vocal sound, but can’t discern meanings. We have no understanding.

The speakers understand each other perfectly, of course. Isn’t that interesting?

Were we to speak in English, and the Hungarians hear us, our situations would be reversed (assuming no grasp of English by the Hungarian interlocutors).

What is this understanding, this discerning of meanings?

I am aware of the volumes upon volumes of philosophical literature on this, especially since Wittgenstein’s day.

What was that line from Macbeth about tales told by idiots, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing?

No, I am not saying that the legions of academic philosophers who authored that literature are idiots. But surely it is possible that they have allowed themselves, collectively, to be misled. Even the best remaining living philosophers, such as Berkeley’s John Searle (1932 –       ) whose work debunking the idea that understanding is a matter of programming seems to me definitive, continue to be wedded to some form of materialism about mind and consciousness.

For roughly a hundred years now philosophers have wrestled with the idea and been — in my humble opinion — unsuccessful in fitting understanding and meanings (which presuppose consciousness) into the “material world.”

A square peg just won’t fit into a round hole!

The “materiality” of spoken language is nothing more than what I hear when I hear spoken Hungarian: a sequence of sounds coming out of persons’ mouths, nothing more! (The written language is similar: marks on paper or in cyberspace or wherever!)

Likewise with English — a different pattern or sequence of sounds. The only difference is that I can understand those!

But a speaker of Hungarian who does not understand a word of English will hear nothing but sound when I speak!

Understanding a language, spoken or written, is something the mind adds. It is a phenomenon of consciousness, that mental square peg still resisting that material round hole.

Materialism can’t explain conscious self-awareness and understanding period. The “hard problem of consciousness” (David Chalmers’s colorful phrase) will remain not just “hard” but intractable because the problem is not solvable given the round hole most philosophy of mind offers it. It is an indication, when all is said and done, of the fundamental irrationality of continuing trying to explain “how a material organ, the brain, generates conscious awareness,” including understanding language and concept.

I would argue further, that unless we want to lapse into a problematic dualism, this militates in favor of the idea that the world “outside our minds” is inherently “mental” in the sense implied above with our reference to the capacity of mathematics to explain it at its most fundamental level.

But this suggestion of panpsychism (which Chalmers toys with at one point in his talk referenced above) as an appropriate ontology for the world of space and time, consisting of systems each of a type or kind, with each type or kind having its own level of awareness of its proximate environment, is an idea for another time.

The point is: none of this has anything to do with anyone’s theology. We can dispute the idea that consciousness, meanings, understandings, can be fitted into the materialist’s world, without ever mentioning God.

There is much more in our world, and our lives, however, that indirectly points towards such a worldview.

From the successes science has enjoyed it does not follow that this world, the world of space, time, and causality where science and technology operate, exhausts reality.

This should be evident, further, in that science tells us what is, not what should be, or what we ought to do.

Our “material” circumstances and our responses to them (painful or pleasureful) can guide us prudentially, in a means versus ends sense, but they cannot tell us that a given end is a moral one.

Science and its applications can tell us what an abortion is and how to perform one, that it “solves the problem” of an unwanted pregnancy. This cannot tell us whether abortions ought to be performed.

Science can describe, clinically, in whatever vivid detail is desired, a mass murder or genocide. It cannot isolate the specific material component of the event that compels us to describe it as evil.

According to wildly accepted geological findings, mass extinctions have occurred on our planet several times in the past. Were these evil?

To state that cultures evolve morality as survival mechanisms is to imply that moralities could be invented differently, in ways that write murdered “others” out of given moral communities.

This was done in societies guided by one of the variations on the materialist worldview. It had been done before, of course, in societies guided by other worldviews. Only the Christian worldview, of course, asserts that all persons were created in God’s image and have intrinsic value. The early Enlightenment implicitly accepted this with its idea of universal human rights.

Our argument is that materialism gradually undermined this outlook and, by the twentieth century, has left us back where we started. The retribalization of the West (identity politics) confirms this.

But had we an ethics with a foundation other than stipulations hanging in mid-air, we would all react to the aborting of over 63 million unborn babies with the same horror as we do Nazis murdering Jews.

All of this takes us far afield from the fundamental questions a Christian worldview invites humanity to consider. Questions to which a discussion such as this invariably must return.

Who was — is! — Jesus Christ? Was He God made into man, as Scripture says?

What was His mission?

What are you going to do about it? Are you going to face the fundamental questions about the human condition head on, or continue dodging them going down rabbit trails?

If you’re a Christian, you are not out of the woods. Are you living the life Christ commands you to live? If not (and I would argue, none of us truly are), what are you going to do about it?

It is time to begin summing up this series.

Whatever our worldview — Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, or materialist — it might be a good idea to talk to one another as best we can, however difficult it might be to converse across these incommensurable divides.

Communications technologies, especially social media, products of the West that have spread worldwide, have brought different worldviews into the same meeting place as never before: cyberspace, which transcends location. There is also the fact that some of us are able to travel anywhere and experience the cultural embodiments of other worldviews firsthand.

We should encourage respectful interfaith dialogue as never before.

Christians, in my humble opinion, should not aim at setting up some kind of theocracy. That type of system has never worked, and never will.

We should build — or rebuild — our communities from the bottom up, not from the top down.

Our dialogue should be conducted respectfully and with an eye to seeing what is similar in the beliefs of others, and not being so eager to focus on what is different. It should set out, that is, to find common ground, starting with the undeniable fact that we are all human, we all have the capacity to suffer or feel joy, and we all could use more companionship — and the sense that someone cares.

And to look to the future rather than dwelling on errors of a past no one can change.

The world needs people both able and willing to communicate, especially with divisive and destructive personalities everywhere. We can then show how the world looks from the Christian standpoint, present what we believe is true in Christianity, why we believe it, and what it does for us (it gives us peace, it gives us hope, and it places our caring on a solid moral footing).

This, we must add, goes along with acting as Jesus Christ would have as act, in accordance with His words during the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere. It includes setting examples in our personal lives. Not cursing, not lashing out in anger at others, not getting drunk in public (or in private!), not reading or viewing pornography, not cheating on a spouse, not being dishonest with bosses or coworkers or employees or the government, not erecting false idols such as money (the so-called prosperity gospel!) or putting ever-fallible political figures on pedestals.

We need to show others what the Christian worldview looks like when lived, and not just talked about. Talk, as the saying goes, is cheap. The supply is so much greater than the demand.

This will mean taking a public stand on issues that matter, and working to ensure not just, e.g., that there are no abortions but also that unplanned pregnancies are minimized by reducing the conditions for such.

What the Christian worldview says about sexuality might be a place to start. As well as what it says about males and females, husbands and wives, parents and children, families generally. There is responsibility all the way around.

Christians should take an active and personal interest in public health, and health education. This includes mental health. That mental illness stands at an all-time high in materialist civilization must be significant!

If public schools are hostile to Christianity, then Christians need to start more of their own schools. There now exists a library of books arguing this point and advising how to do it.

And Christians should be interested in whether impoverished peoples both at home and abroad have food to eat, whatever the latter’s beliefs. And that they have opportunities to learn the practices that will enable them to feed themselves.

Fortunately, thousands of Christian missionaries all around the world are already doing these things, sometimes placing themselves at risk!

We need to become missionaries in our own secular cities as well.

Will we get everything right? Of course not. No one ever does. What is important is that we will be taking action, not simply sitting in our church pews and home offices.

Words without deeds, after all, are idle chatter.

Having attended to such matters, the most constructive thing we can then do is to step aside and trust God to do His work.

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Materialism (Vers. 2.0, Part 6)

 “Jesus, help me find my proper place
Jesus, help me find my proper place
Help me in my weakness
Cause I’m falling out of grace.
Jesus. Jesus.”
~The Velvet Underground, “Jesus,” from The Velvet Underground (LP, 1968)

I confess I had a difficult time choosing open song lyrics for these final two segments, if only because openly Christian-friendly themes are relatively rare in progressive rock.

Yet that world contains artists who engaged in intense self-exploration and reached out to a spiritual reality, even if by accident.

The enormously talented Lou Reed (1942 – 2013), who penned the above lyrics, is an example. He’d seen the seamy side of human existence, including from the standpoint of a heroin addiction when he was in his twenties.

The song cited above sounds surprisingly like a prayer for someone who never became a Christian (I am assuming). Reed’s music has always struck me as that of an observer and seeker, commenting on the dark side of human life as if from a vantage point somewhere above.

According to materialists, there is no “vantage point somewhere above,” of course. There is just this world, and whatever neural synapses are firing in your brain and causing those Maslovian peak experiences. And instead of spending eternity with God, Christians end up as worm food no less than non-Christians.

The New Atheists (Dawkins, et al.) have reiterated the “death of God” by predicting the decline of Christianity in the twenty-first century.

At first glance, indeed things do not look good. Whether Christians like it or not, the scientific outlook plus the dopamine drip supplied by endless streams of new high-tech gadgets and other sources of immediate gratification has made the Christian worldview seem irrelevant.

Understanding it, after all, does require an attention span longer than that of a goldfish.

Millennial church attendance is hence dropping, a source of commentary on Christianity losing ground in the U.S. The number of Americans answering polls on religious belief by marking “none” or the equivalent stands at its all-time high.

The Christian worldview is, moreover, incompatible with the political correctness that now grips Western culture from top to bottom, and which is all that millennials have ever seen.

All is not lost, however.

The fruits of secularism are evident, if one knows what to look for. These are impacting on everyone, everywhere.

Europe has been the scene of a reigning secularism for longer than the U.S. Perhaps this has something to do with the declining birthrates of native Europeans, the centralization of the European financial power structure under the EU, the accompanying impoverishment of the common people under “austerity” measures imposed by the central banks, and the gradual overwhelming of European cultures with unassimilable Muslim immigrants.

I can’t say I know this. I’ve not asked native Europeans why they aren’t reproducing themselves. Doubtless there are other contributing factors. But by now it should be clear what secularist materialism does to a civilization over time, as its ideals prove increasingly toothless and its values, uninspiring. Cultures embracing secularist materialism seem to die slowly from the inside out.

At the same time, it might be worth remembering that the Soviets spent 70 years trying to wipe out Christianity. They failed. The Maoists also tried to wipe it out. The present-day Chinese leadership is still hostile to Christianity, but Chinese Christians continue to worship underground, often at great risk. The North Koreans put Christians in what amount to death camps — but Christianity survives there. Radicalized Muslims behead Christians — but Christians continue to be active in the Middle East. There are cases of Muslims observing Christians’ bravery in the face of a cruel and bloody death, sometimes singing hymns during their last minutes, and converting to Christianity!

It may be losing ground in the West, but elsewhere, Christianity is the world’s fastest growing faith!

In light of all this, I think it’s safe to assume that the Christian worldview isn’t going anywhere. Not ultimately. What we should be thinking about is what it says, and what we (i.e., you) ought to do about it.

What does it say?

It stands, as I argued in Four Cardinal Errors (2011), in contrast to the materialist worldview. Here are its main pillars:

1- The God of Christianity exists, as a Being who transcends space and time as we experience them. God created the world of space, time, and causality. The things of God, including rational order and morality, transcend space and time. Logos and Ethos (logicality and morality) are inseparable aspects of God’s eternal nature, as is love (Agape) for the creation and all that it contains, including us.

God’s existence is a starting point or premise or axiom, not a conclusion of our reasoning (the central insight of a school of Christian thought known as presuppositional apologetics).

2- There is therefore this world of space, time, and causality and a transcendent reality “beyond” these, outside our mortal experience.

Reality is not, that is, coextensive with physical or material reality, where the properties of what we experience are conditioned by how our brains and senses are put together.

3- What science does it does reasonably well (when not corrupted by politics or corporate dollars). Science is designed to answer questions and solve problems in this world. It cannot effectively solve metaphysical problems, i.e., those mysteries noted above, any more than can reason alone. Reason, though its starting point is Logos, is human, all too human. It is finite, and so not designed to reach or grasp an infinite and eternal God.

Both Pascal and Kierkegaard grasped this. Later theologians, in awe of the successes of the sciences, let God slip away until He become nothing more than a feeling, a poetic word in our vocabulary, or until He “died.”

Until, that is, He seemed to become irrelevant, and belief in Him became a sign of backwardness.

4- According to Christianity all human beings (unborn babies, too) were/are created in God’s image. Human lives thus have intrinsic value. Nonhuman lives and the objects that surround us have, at best, extrinsic value. Although this is not to say we are free morally to treat them in any way we see fit.

Paraphrasing Aquinas, our reason is an imprint of God’s eternal nature within us. Thus we have the finite capacity to acquire knowledge of the Creation, whether through science or rational insight. Likewise our sense of morality. We have a built-in instinct, however finite and corrupted, for right versus wrong, justice versus injustice.

In this lies the early Enlightenment’s foundation for universal human rights. It is the only such foundation we have discovered, which explains why, once support for the Christian worldview in the intellectual centers began to erode, the ideal of universal human rights (once used to further political-economic rights of, e.g., ethnic minorities) has slipped in favor of the pseudo-intellectual free-for-all of identity politics.

The idea that all human beings were created in God’s image is the foundation for Christian ethics and for the idea that “all lives matter,” if you will.

5- The Christian worldview’s deep diagnosis of the human condition is not ignorance or corrupt institutions but sin: the first humans (whether we read Genesis literally or not) turned away from God. They rejected His authority. They believed they could do better on their own, as moral “free agents.” They were wrong. Sin corrupts everything, including the quest for truth.

Few modern thinkers want any frank discussion of sin. The idea flies in the face of human perfectibility, a legacy of the later Enlightenment. It flies in the face of the dogmas of countless schools of psychology and the self-improvement gurus who tell us that fundamental goodness is locked within each of us and has only to be freed.

Any honest, empirical look at ourselves in the context of history ought to dispel the idea that we can save ourselves. We can “reprogram” ourselves in specific areas, make cosmetic improvements here and there, akin to learning to bathe or ride a bike or use a computer. We can break bad habits, and acquire good ones. We can make ourselves more productive. Societies can improve themselves materially by learning how nature works and acting accordingly (agriculture, engineering, health and medicine, and so on).

It is true, moreover, that most of us tend to act better when our stomachs are full. But an empty stomach alone does not cause bad behavior. Nor does governmental policy or social sanction necessarily lead to good or just or even responsible behavior, or responsive institutions.

My argument is not that the materialist worldview has made us bad, or evil. It is that materialism has failed to change that fundamental sinfulness that prevents us from perfecting ourselves morally. Moreover, because of sin, technology developed in secular civilization has made us far more dangerous to ourselves and to the natural world!

The problem in secular civilization is: how do we have an ethics which sees our lives mattering?

Such a morality is simply not our human “default setting.”

Consider children. Some see them as pictures of innocence. It should be obvious, though, that children can be hideously cruel to classmates who do not “fit in.” Not all, of course. But enough. Where do they learn cruelty? Perhaps in some cases from their peers, but then where did their peers learn it? At home? Parents are not necessarily abusive; in today’s world, they are more likely to be absent.

So did they learn it from television?

There were bullies before there was television.

There is something in some of us that leads us to bully others, to the extent we can get away with it.

Most children who are not cruel, moreover, stand aside when someone is bullied out of fear they might become the bully’s next target.

Some adults remain bullies. While most of us probably mean well (we’ve internalized Christian moral principles even if we are not Christians), there are a few among us whose “principle” really is, “Doing as I please will be the whole of the law, to the extent I can get away with it.”

Which yields some of the societal results we see. We still try to devise rules that operate under the assumption that the desire to do good should be a primary motivator, when it often isn’t. Most of us have little interest in what does not affect us directly, or bring us immediate benefits, or enable us to better position ourselves in some social hierarchy, or win favor with some “in” group. All of us have our lapses, some of which are truly breathtaking!

Secularists believe we are autonomous in some sense, but absent an external moral compass, we often act as destroyers, of others if not ourselves, whether on the grand scale of the recent wars of choice in the Middle East or the small (but from the victim’s standpoint all-too-real!) one of the young teen who is bullied or cyberbullied until she commits suicide.

Unless such things happen to one of our own, we drift with the herd, or with the quiet secularists Peter Watson noticed (see Part 5).

6- The Christian prescription is: Jesus Christ, as God Incarnate. Read the Ten Commandments, Isaiah 53, the Sermon on the Mount, Paul’s letters to early Christian Churches, Peter’s instructions to Christians, and so on. Yes, there are sometimes problems interpreting what we perceive God’s will to be. Christians have disagreed over specifics. This is why we have so many Christian denominations.

The Christian worldview cuts through all this by focusing with laser-precision on Jesus Christ. Who was He? Why was he here? What are we going to do about it?

The Christian worldview’s answers are unequivocal: the fundamental problem with the human condition is sin (Romans 3:23). God is perfectly holy and so cannot tolerate sin. Hence the need for human redemption in salvation. Salvation is to be found in Jesus Christ who alone promises salvation from sin’s consequences if we call on Him (Romans 6:23; Romans 10:9-10; Romans 5:8, John 3:16f.; and elsewhere in Scripture).

We cannot save ourselves through “works” (Ephesians 2:8-9). The Christian worldview recognizes that if we try to start with ourselves morally we get nowhere, and that this observation is fully consistent with what we observe in history and society. This is a good place to begin appreciating the fact.

Skeptics prefer to try to throw us off track from this central message of the Christian worldview, and take us down a variety of rabbit trails of doubt.

The skeptic may say, You Christians think you have a monopoly on morality. Why then, have you fought wars with one another, and exhibited as much greed and cruelty as non-Christians?!

It is true enough, Christians have not always acted justly or with kindness or responsibly. No sensible Christian denies this.

What Christians have gotten wrong could fill a separate essay series: tragic historical battles between Catholics and Protestants; power struggles between different groups of believers, sometimes in the same organizations; personal moral lapses with major ramifications.

One thinks of the revelations of sexual abuses within the Catholic church, but again, these are just the now-visible lapses. Failures within Christian families lead to divorces and embittered and sometimes lost children. Failures to care for their neighbors and fellow citizens as God commands turns people away from Christianity.

Some Christians take it upon themselves to preach in public, haranguing people going about their business without any sense of the need to establish relationships with those people based on trust and good will. Then they wonder why they get a negative reaction.

Many contemporary televangelists preach a false gospel holding that God wants us all to be rich (the so-called “prosperity gospel”) — and please be sure to send the televangelist your generous contribution to his work.

There are times when I think supposedly Christian leaders and followers have done the Christian worldview more harm than atheist materialism ever could!

Those with power have repeatedly abused Christianity. Kings once proclaimed themselves anointed by God; their minions invoked God’s name while committing hideous acts. One thinks of the Spanish Inquisition. There are more recent examples.

When a politician today tries to intimate that “God is on his side” (he’s usually a Republican), frankly, I cringe with embarrassment!

Liberals sometimes speak of a conspiracy they call “dominionism,” which they associate with such politicians. But God gave humanity dominion over the world (Gen. 1:26). This does not mean what either group of politicians thinks it means. Dominion means assuming responsibility, not destructively plundering natural resources, or treating the oceans as dumping grounds for our nonbiodegradable plastic trash.

All this notwithstanding, we can still answer the skeptic: human, all-too-human failings do not prove that the Christian worldview is false, or that materialism is true. The latter, as we have seen, gives us no firm basis whatsoever for condemning these lapses other than expedience, or exercises in cleverness or free-floating, arbitrary postulates such as the libertarian / anarchist NAP.

For whatever failings Christians have exhibited surely pale next to the failures of secular ethical theories, and of secularism more broadly. As we saw in Part 5, secularism seems to lead straight to corporate-state control, the individual person reduced to a nonentity, a statistical cipher with a cubicle job or a sequence of “gigs.”

Appropriate for future worm food.

Turn to Christ! says the Christian.

But was there such a person? The skeptic may say no, no hard proof exists that He ever existed. The Christ figure seems copied from earlier Egyptian and other deities.

I find this strange. This last view seems based entirely on slipshod research about who these deities were and what they were supposed to have done. Christ-deniers, we might call them, cannot explain the direct observations of Jesus Christ following the resurrection by large crowds of people. Thus began what was recorded in the Book of Acts — Acts of the Apostles, that is — designated as such because they had seen the resurrected Jesus (Acts 1:3-9, 21-22; 1 Cor. 9:1; 2 Peter 1:16).

Should we believe these texts? our skeptic asks. Why?

One reason is that Biblical texts have been the most scrutinized of any texts in the world. They are, moreover, the only texts of which we can say we have manuscripts dating to within the lifetimes of their authors. We cannot say that about writings we ascribe to Plato, Aristotle, or other ancient authors, without really thinking about it. Biblical texts have survived close scrutiny. No one has been able to show that they are inauthentic, or contain demonstrable errors.

There were, as everyone knows, multiple gospels. Four made it into our New Testament. As for the others: early Christians were unequivocal: they don’t reflect what happened!

No one denies, moreover, that thousands of Christ’s disciples went willingly to their deaths at the hands of the Romans, so confident was their faith. Some of these deaths were truly grisly and excruciatingly painful! Any skeptic who doesn’t believe this should investigate for himself what crucifixion, a common method of execution in the Roman world, does to the human body and how long it takes.

Christianity won Rome over when Emperor Constantine converted at the start of the fourth century. It was too late for the Empire. The damage done by that era’s brand of secularism was done. Christianity went on to survive its decline and fall, going on to serve as the epistemic as well as the moral foundation of a new civilization: the modern West. Christianity afforded Western science the premises it needed: a universe of order that is intelligible to the human mind, a world in which there are definite rights and wrongs. Because the world was created by a Being of Logos and Ethos.

At this point, our skeptic might take a different tack. What of other faiths? he might ask. You were born in the U.S. and have been surrounded by trappings of Christianity for much of your life. You thus assume them. Suppose you’d been born in Baghdad. Or in Riyadh. Would you not condemning Western materialism as part of your submission to Allah, as a devout Muslim scholar (the word Islam means submission)?

Would you not be a Hindu or possibly a Buddhist, had you been born in, say, India? Or a Confucian, had you been born in Tibet?

There are no easy answers to such questions. I do not know if Christians can have the best answers to them, as those answers (obviously) presuppose Christianity, and to a logical mind will sound circular. The fact that everyone considers his/her religion or faith to be “the right one” is a given; no one would believe in it otherwise. Other religions stand at the center of other worldviews, non-Western ones in most cases. That means (by definition) they are not widely represented in the West.

High or low representation of a belief in a population has no logical implications for truth or falsity, however.

But one thing about the Christian worldview sets it apart from all those others.

All other faiths present human beings as able to save themselves, or some equivalent. None present us with precise criteria for when we have done enough. If you’re a Buddhist, e.g., you adhere to the “four noble truths,” and may enjoy a life of relative self-induced tranquility, but not a life in which you are assured of something infinitely better to follow.

In other faiths, the believer is never sure he or she has won salvation! The Muslim is never certain he’s submitted enough to win Allah’s favor!

Christianity alone asserts that you cannot save yourself. Rather, one becomes a Christian by accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. One’s sins are then forgiven. Christians are assured by their worldview that they will spend eternity with God: a state of affairs we are unable to imagine in this life (1 Cor. 2:9).

We’ll end Part 6 on this note. This is the Christian worldview, and what sets it apart.

Have we proven that Christianity is true? To the unbeliever, almost certainly not.

Perhaps it will be more appealing if we see the Christian worldview as offering hope at a chance of an eternity of happiness beyond our present imaginings in the presence of the Creator of the universe … as opposed to one of our having suffered in this life, followed by a death of nothingness as our bodied become worm food.

Or not.

For as we’ll see in the seventh and final installment of this revamped series, our skeptic isn’t done.

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Materialism (Vers. 2.0, Part 5)

“Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream
It is not dying, it is not dying.
Lay down all thought, surrender to the void
It is shining, it is shining.
That you may see, the meaning of within
It is being, it is being.
That love is all, and love is everything
It is knowing, it is knowing.”

~The Beatles, “Tomorrow Never Knows” (1966)

The upshot, so far, is that in our moral lives in a material world in any familiar sense of moral, everything is up for grabs. The final realities in the material world are money and power. Reactions to this have varied. Corporate titans pay little attention to such matters as this. The same is true of successful members of the political class. Both have what they want, and have no qualms about using money and political connections to get more. Some, of course, give away plenty of money to causes. This allows them to take tax write-offs.

I am more interested here in the responses of those who don’t have enormous accumulations of money or wield the levers of power.

One response is to escape mentally, by turning to mind-altering drugs. This route was charted by such writers as Aldous Huxley (1894 – 1963) whose The Doors of Perception (1954) was the source of a different 1960s rock group’s name, and of course Timothy Leary (“Tune in, turn on, drop out”).

Transcendent reality may not exist in the material world, but it can be found in your head!

The 1960s hippies began to “drop acid” (LSD, lysergic acid diethylamide). Some would claim to “see God.” Acid rock was their musical expression, proclaiming mystical revelations of peace, love, revelations from beyond, and blissful harmony.

Others experienced terrifying hallucinations caused by the drug’s radical altering of their perceptions. I recall, from my graduate student days, a former user telling me how he’d seen his stereo grow eyes and a mouth, the music coming from his speakers taking the form of two quavering arms reaching his way as it tried to eat him.

People with latent personality disorders, or just the anxiety-prone, were especially susceptible to bad experiences with LSD. Some users ended up with psychoses. Others, without such conditions, simply “burned out” after a couple of years of constant use. Their problem was permanent brain damage: “acid casualties,” they were called.

All of which makes the reality-is-in-your-head route a risky one to travel down!

The hippies tried to travel it. Among the things tempting them were that many of their parents had turned away from the problems we’ve been discussing. The “greatest generation” may have fought and won World War II, but later, they seemed to bury themselves in their careers and demand only conformity from their progeny. But did they have a choice?

The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904-05), classic treatise by sociologist Max Weber (1864 – 1920), ends on an ominous note that is relevant here. Weber, having drawn the two together (Protestant morality and can-do capitalism), feared that the economic machine was already developing into an “iron cage” that would encircle everything and everyone.

The world of the 1950s reflects such a development. An era of paradox, it delivered great prosperity — the beginnings of the largest middle class in history — and very early television shows that were family-friendly (think of Father Knows Best, Leave It To Beaver, and so on).

But on the other hand, it also produced works expressing unease, such as David Riesman’s The Lonely Crowd (1953), William Whyte’s The Organization Man (1956), and Alan Harrington’s Life in the Crystal Palace (1959). These works all seemed to say that in a culture in which the production and consumption of material goods assumed center stage, something in us was stifled. That same era produced the Beat Generation. They refused to be stifled, and instead gave us dangerously freewheeling literary output such as Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (1957) and Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” (1956). The British had their equivalent Angry Young Men, the most famous of whom were the playwright John Osbourne best known for Look Back In Anger (1956) and author Kingsley Amis whose Lucky Jim (1954) made fun of British academia.

There was also the incisive social criticism of Vance Packard (1914 – 1996), author of The Hidden Persuaders (1957), one of the first criticisms of mass consumption culture; The Status Seekers (1959) which looked with cold eyes on social stratification; The Waste Makers (1960) then criticized planned obsolescence, the purpose of which was to keep consumers consuming; and other such books. And finally there was The Power Elite (1956) by C. Wright Mills (1916 – 1962) who did the most to introduce that phrase into the public lexicon.

The stage was set for the 1960s, as already seen. The older generation, successful though it was by its own standards, had made itself vulnerable to criticisms that it was morally shallow, having sold its collective soul to some subbranch of the corporate-state.

“If it feels good, do it” is a phrase associated with the hippies, but there was a sense in which the prevailing ethos at the center of American culture was closer to this sort of phrase than their elders cared to admit. Convenience reigned. This was true in business, in government, in academia. If it’s convenient, do it. This view that convenience is a reliable guide to decision-making grew through the 1960s and then even more in the 1970s.

Consider abortion, which had become an issue well before Roe v. Wade (1973). Sexual license (also a problem in some communities before the liberation movements of the 1960s) led to unplanned pregnancies; simple as that. Despite the prattling about those cases when “the mother’s life is in danger” or cases of rape or incest, over 99% of abortions have always been abortions of convenience.

Abortion’s legal acceptability has led to the killing of over 63 million unborn babies and counting. I will not torture readers with the bizarre rationalizations feminist philosophy professors have produced (it is hard to call them philosophers with a straight face), except to note that the linguistic sleight of hand used seems intended to deprive the unborn and sometimes even the newly born of moral standing, and hence any claim on life that others are obligated to respect. (Exemplar phrases: women’s reproductive rights, a woman’s right to control her body.)

Nazis and Communists did the same thing, using sleight of hand to remove those to be eliminated from their versions of the moral community.

But then again, if Ruth Benedict, Richard Rorty, and other materialists are correct, then the only moral standing anyone has is what their society, the state, or their pocketbooks and bank accounts, give them. What the state and social approval and the banks give, the state and social approval and the banks can take away, whether its targets are Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals under the Nazis; those who resisted collectivized farming under Stalin; or the unborn in our own culture.

It is surely possible, by this reading, that a hypothetical future Christian civilization might regard what has happened to the more than 63 million unborn babies in our culture as one of the largest and most insidious holocausts of all, as its targets were completely unable to speak for themselves much less defend themselves!

The tendency, as we have seen, has been to evade such unpleasantries, to simply not think about them.

Or to change the subject. If there’s a God, does He really care? After all, during the duration of the various holocausts of the past century, He did nothing!

Many theologians succumbed fully to the “death of God” cult in the 1960s, even as their children were “finding Him” in recreational chemistry. Secularization was a major manifestation of materialism having fully captured Western culture. Harvey Cox (1929 – ) wrote in his The Secular City (1965) that secularization “bypasses and undercuts religion and goes on to other things…. The world looks less and less to religious rules and rituals for its morality or its meanings.”

A couple of years ago I read one of the most comprehensive accounts I’ve seen of the modern, secular attempt “to live after the death of God”: The Age of Atheists: How We Have Sought to Live since the Death of God (2014) by British intellectual historian Peter Watson (1943 – ). Watson’s account ranges across philosophy, art, poetry, literature, and science — or, more exactly, science-promotion, as he includes evangelical New Atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris, which is materialism promotion in my sense of that term. Watson is a reasonably honest thinker, and those who maintain as I do that materialism has no hope of providing Western civilization with a sound moral foundation and direction will find support for their views in his work. So despite the title and themes (and tediousness at times), the book merits study. At the end, Watson does not endorse mere science-promotion but rather seeks to explain why many credible authors, writers, poets and artists have found the “scientific worldview” too narrow. His answer isn’t especially satisfying.

It comes down to the idea that, given God’s absence, the “central sane activity” (title of the book’s meandering closing chapter) is “sheer wondering inquiry,” and grasping for those lonely moments of meaningfulness and life-affirmation that science alone cannot supply. Different authors have given these moments different names. Abraham Maslow called them peak experiences; James Joyce spoke of epiphanies; Malroux, of temporary refuges; Yeats, of brief moments of ecstatic affirmation; Ibsen, of flashes of spiritual value. These moments, Watson insists, can be had in loving relationships, the satisfaction of one’s desires especially if they add value to others’ lives, the private experience of hearing an especially moving piece of music or seeing a work of art or reading poetry, or in any number of other ways and activities including just the mundane satisfaction of a job well done.

If you’re a materialist or secularist and you’ve read this far, are you really satisfied with this?

Study them closely, and you see that these experiences, real though they may be, are private and personal. One comes away sensing the difficulty the writers had in communicating their content. This is more the stuff of poetry than philosophy. Such experiences are pleasant but momentary and entirely private “highs” — and we are inching our way back to the possibility that psychoactive drugs can be used to trigger them artificially and expand them indefinitely if the results are satisfying enough to outweigh the dangers.

All this seems like denial to me. Denial of the obvious. By turning away from the larger picture, the one both Nietzsche and Russell in different ways were courageous enough to articulate, and instead focusing on these nice little particulars we experience or arrange for ourselves (whether in our private lives or through recreational chemicals), we evade the important consequence of materialism:

That once you’ve removed God and transcendence from your world, there are no binding moral values, binding in the sense of being definitive and authoritative, suggesting a lasting, inescapable, personal penalty for their violation. There is only state and corporate authority, wealth and its accumulation, popularity, physical pleasure (food, drink, sex), and these ephemeral on-top-of-the-world moments — all of which end in death, which the materialist understands as the permanent extinction of consciousness and personality.

You cease to exist as completely as the nonexistence that preceded your conception.

Presumably after those final anxious moments before you wink out, you won’t be worried about it.

Peter Watson correctly observes that many people in secular society seem to have no problem with this. They have either rejected “religion” without further thought, or simply grew up without it. He writes:

We need to remind ourselves … that many people — and perhaps the quieter souls among us — see no problem in God being dead. For them his death is no source of anxiety or perplexity…. [S]uch individuals are not “metaphysical types” and seek no “deep” meaning in existence. They just get on with their lives, making ends meet, living from day to day and season to season, enjoying themselves where they can, untroubled by matters that so perplex their neighbors. They have no great expectations that the big questions will ever be settled, so devote no time to their elucidation. In some ways, they are the most secular people of all and perhaps the most content” (The Age of Atheists, pp. 532-33).

Such folks blend smoothly into the majority, the masses of humanity in advanced civilization, meeting its demands on them, doing what they are told, and no more independent thought than the third or so who were content with British rule in the 1770s and another third who didn’t care so long as they had food in their stomachs. If asked, these contented secularists might say they have no time for such matters as these. They are too busy solving real world problems.

They may start asking questions if they suddenly find themselves with a life-threatening and perhaps bankrupting illness, wondering what it was all for. Or, if the “leaders” they trusted with their votes send their kids off to die in foreign wars as cannon fodder. By this time it is too late, of course. So while most are nice people and doubtless good at what they do, should we trust their collective judgment with matters as far from everyday experience as whether or not one should accept the removal of God from our picture of the world?

These forms of escapism are not, of course, the only responses to the situation we were left with at the conclusion of Part 4, in which materialism is fully embodied in strong institutions, corporate and governmental.

There is the possibility of learning all one can about the uses of money and structures of power, exposing them, and rebelling against them in whatever ways are available, can be found, or created.

There is indeed that something in many of us — felt by the sociologists, Beat poets and novelists, many rock musicians, and many others, an inner spirit or sense of right or justice — that rebels instinctively against that sense of being trapped in an invisible “iron cage,” and much more so against exercises of power it sees as immoral, unjust, or merely stifling what they are as human beings.

Something in many of us demands to be free, in some sense of that term. Isn’t this interesting?

Sometimes this rebellion is more important than life itself. “Give me liberty or give me death,” Patrick Henry is supposed to have said back in 1775, on the eve of the Revolutionary War, a war for independence against what was then the globe’s most powerful empire.

Which is why protestors as well as soldiers have given their lives in defense of a cause they believed was worth fighting for. The cause was more important than their lives.

No one is launching rebellions against materialism, of course. It isn’t that sort of thing. Worldviews are too abstract to inspire such actions. Most people tend to rebel against forces that harm their cultures as with policies of open borders and immigration, hit them in their pocketbooks like massive tax increases, or otherwise outrage their “gut” sense of right versus wrong. Think of the Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests) in France. Elsewhere in Europe there is unrest directed at an EU increasingly seen as run by corrupt banking elites who are hopelessly out of touch with the lives, needs, and concerns of common peoples and their cultures. Seeing no alternatives, they are returning to nationalism.

Could something along those lines happen in the U.S., perhaps after the next major financial meltdown? Given the growing sense that America’s elites are equally corrupt if not worse, could we see parallel developments on U.S. soil? Secessionism of various sorts has existed in a sort of underground in many U.S. states and regions. At least since the 1990s there have been organized groups promoting the idea in Texas, Montana, Vermont, the Southeast, California, Alaska, Hawaii, and elsewhere.

Nothing of the sort will happen immediately, of course. Homeland Security has militarized police forces with an eye to putting down any and all civil unrest in the Land of the Free. Everybody with a brain knows this. The odds, moreover, that these groups could organize and coordinate enough of America’s divided masses to stand up to that kind of power seem to me slim to none. Many (especially those in the South) have already been demonized in mainstream media and governance. Unless something truly earthshattering happens within (or is done to) the U.S. federal government, that is not going to change any time soon.

That said, I expect that the materialism-caused death spiral of the overlapping eras of modernity and postmodernity will continue.

The “experts” have already lost a lot of their credibility, much of this courtesy of the Internet. Their blatantly propagandistic efforts to get it back would be laughable had they not done so much damage to free speech and expression in the process.

None of this will not solve the long-term problems brought about by institutions and practices that will prove unsustainable in the long run — in the context of the ongoing collapse of all vestiges of “conventional” morality.

I am not talking about homosexuality or transgenders, although academic debates over who has the right to use which bathroom, and newly invented pronouns, may cause future generations to wonder why the interlocutors weren’t told to have their heads examined.

I am talking about retirees (if there are any) having less and less to look forward to as social security is increasingly strained, and are forced to work until they drop dead — if they can find work. The reason: fewer people are paying into the social security system because of falling birthrates, and those who are paying in, are paying less because of stagnant wages.

One of the curious things about advanced, prosperous civilization: population growth declines. This is true however we explain it, although the slow fracturing of families seems most credible. What this means is that systems depending for their sustainability on population growth will eventually strain and break.

I am also talking about many university graduates who can look forward to years of debt slavery due to ridiculously high tuition rates. Sometimes this is due to their foolishness in getting degrees in silly pseudo-subjects like gender studies. But not always. It is a given that technology is replacing human labor. Some will argue that this has always been the case. But the rate of replacement of human beings by technology (robots, artificial intelligence) has increased geometrically during the information age.

Driverless vehicles threaten to dump millions of workers in affected industries into the streets. Realistically, most will be too old to “reinvent themselves” as, say, IT professionals, although some will fall for multi-level marketing con games which may multiply.

Corporate profits will, of course, be up, because robots and driverless vehicles don’t demand paychecks.

Those making such policies will be mostly indifferent to those who need income to live.

The long and the short of it: modernity has yielded no answer to Nietzsche. It has not even approached Russell’s ideals.

It will be interesting to see what happens in the near future as the U.S. gets increasingly nihilist on its way into the history books. Anglo-European civilization as a whole is already a civilization of haves and have-nots, where the former ignore the latter as much as possible. Most of the haves will have protected their interests when the next crash hits (including moving inside gated communities with well-paid security). The have-nots either will not organize at all, or will organize only token protests that will be quickly put down or simply ignored, as was Occupy.

So assuming no major change of worldview, the once-Christian West will end slowly and painfully with a dramatic contrast between billionaire CEOs and IT hotshots on the one hand, and tent-cities people on the other. The former will go right past the latter and not even see them.

The U.S. federal government will grow increasingly dysfunctional, as only Twitterverse and Instagram-era celebrity candidates will have a chance at visibility and electability. Corruption will be endemic, and people will gradually cease to look to government for help — having been told too many times about “the need to cut costs.”

Programs like social security and Medicare may not survive. Obamacare almost surely will not.

Adopting policies based on the concept of primary prevention is the only feasible solution to the health care cost crisis — a different essay! All I will say here is that health education for primary prevention presupposes a nonmaterialist ethic where “all lives matter” intrinsically.

If policies based on such ideas are not developed, promulgated and adopted, not even at the grassroots, hundreds of thousands and maybe millions will eventually die in their homes, many from treatable conditions.

Many of the best minds, or just those with the money to do so, will have fled to overseas havens. Sadly, they will take many of their problems with them. How many indigenous cultures, worldwide, have been destroyed by having been pulled against their will into that money-focused, political-economic “iron cage”?

We end this section where we began: with a look at drugs.

For those the expats left behind, who had already been left behind by the economic system and saw no hope for the future, increasingly turned to drugs. This is already happening, as the opioid epidemic illustrates. The drugs done are not psychedelics. You see, among the loose categories of recreational drugs there are mind drugs, and then there are body drugs. Mind drugs tended to be done by the historical optimists of the 1960s-1970s who saw a future of peace, love, and rock ‘n’ roll. Those who have given up on the world and on themselves turn to body drugs such as opioids: welcome to the 2010s and 2020s. What is happening in rural communities now may just be a prelude to what is to come, especially as the real economy outside the big cities continues its ongoing collapse and there is no real recovery outside the ideology-addled imaginations of mainstream “economists” who cite doctored unemployment and inflation figures and recite fabulous productivity stats due to robots and artificial intelligence having replaced expendable human labor.

And whatever else happens, perfectly groomed (and well paid) shills in the financial centers and on CNN will assure anyone who still cares that all is well in the ship of state. Didn’t you know, they will ask through glassy smiles, the stock market just hit a new high?

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