George Herbert Walker Bush (1924 – 2018)

Today is George Herbert Walker Bush’s funeral. I don’t normally write notices for just-deceased politicians, so this is a departure for me. But something has aroused my curiosity.

I posted a very brief notice about his death, along with a stock photo, on my Facebook page Saturday morning when I learned of it, and left matters at that. For whatever reason …  I don’t have a “philosophical justification” for it … I am not comfortable speaking ill of the just-deceased.

So I posted Bush’s dates, the photo, and then got off Facebook. I forgot about it, and went and did typical Saturday chores like get groceries, change the cats’ litter boxes, etc.

Around the time my wife and I were finishing lunch, a phone call came from a friend of mine. She told me people were posting vulgarities and obscenities on my Facebook page. I didn’t connect this with the Bush post until she told me that’s where they were. I wasn’t sure what she wanted me to do. My page is basically a free speech “safe space” if you will, although like everyone else I have limits that if someone crosses more than once, that person is gone, blocked.

Curiously, I couldn’t get on the site right away. Other sites worked, so it wasn’t my computer or Internet connection. Perhaps two hours later, whatever the problem was, it cleared up. I scrolled down and saw what my friend had been talking about. One shouted:

GOOD RIDDANCE TO THAT MF’er!!! GOOD RIDDANCE VIOLENT PEDOFILE [sic.] !!!

This had three likes. Someone else wrote, more modestly:

I’m not one to wish evil upon anyone, but he was an Alister [sic.] Crowley fan and practiced the occult. He committed war crimes. He was also a pro NWO puppet. Glad he is gone!

Still another commenter wrote:

War criminal, occultist, and pedophile. Other than that, s [sic.] great guy!!

There were a few others along these lines, a couple of them now removed (not by me).

As I said, I am not comfortable speaking ill of the just-dead-body-still-warm. Others have told me something similar. What is behind this discomfort?

It is not as if Bush himself would have cared. Whatever else one says, he was as power elite as one gets, and the power elites surely don’t give a tinker’s damn what we peons think of him, good or ill.

Is it because the comments might be true, or contain at least some truth, and that the truth is sometimes unpleasant?

One thinks of the Iraq War, which many of us considered a ghastly mistake from the get-go. I certainly did, and nothing that has happened since has convinced me to change my mind. Do revelations like what went on at Abu Ghraib or the air strikes on funerals or the rendering of tens of thousands of Iraqis homeless for no good reason as it turned out rise to the level of war crimes? I leave that judgment to others, or, perhaps now, to the Almighty.

I have no idea one way or the other whether the man was into the occult, or a closet pedophile. I’ve no reason to think the latter. But only because I’ve never gone to the trouble to investigate the matter and find out one way or the other, unlike my having followed Iraq War coverage.

The question of whether I could trust any source (doubtless obtained via the Internet) harping on such things would doubtless come up, assuming I was willing to spare the time (I’m not).

So should we restrain ourselves on behalf of G.W.H. Bush’s surviving family members? We don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings, now, do we?

In Bush’s case, they surely know a certain segment of the public hated the man’s guts. While they probably wouldn’t care to read comments like those above, it isn’t like they wouldn’t get over it in, perhaps, three to five seconds….

Or do we exercise restraint, finally, on behalf of it not being his fault that he was born the son of a man who built what would become the family fortune laundering money for the Nazis….  I refer to Prescott Bush, of course.

Or that he would be involved with the CIA….

We come back to: I have no rational explanation for my sense of the need for restraint.

Maybe there isn’t one.

What we can say: another member of the Anglo-American power elite has gone to his eternal reward … such as it will be … joining David Rockefeller Sr. and Zbigniew Brzezinski, cofounders of the powerful Trilateral Commission….

Perhaps the most interesting comment that appeared on Facebook, or anywhere else, regarding the career trajectory of George Herbert Walker Bush did not initially appear on my page. Edited very lightly, it is quite possibly the most revealing thing I have yet to see about the 41st president of the United States.

It has to do with the long, slow-motion coup by the power elites, which of course went unreported outside leaflets and will never be seen in any Bush obit, but which reports on Bush’s role in the events that fundamentally destroyed whatever hope the U.S. might have had to become a Fifth Stage civilization as I used that term in my post-Comte essay below.

Obviously, I am not at liberty to reveal the name of the author. I can only assure you, I did not write this.

55 Years After the Coup Against U.S. President Kennedy

Prescott Bush and the Rockefellers were part of 40 bankers and industrialists that created the CIA after WWII, from the elite-run OSS (military intelligence).

George H. W. Bush was a manager of the CIA’s Bay of Pigs operation in 1962. He organized the training, arms supply, and ships for 2,000 Cuban exiles from Miami to attack Cuba. He signed the rental agreement for five of the seven ships that were used.

David Ferrie and Lee Harvey Oswald were involved with CIA men Clay Shaw and Guy Bannister in running guns from New Orleans and Dallas to Miami, for the Bay of Pigs invasion.

George Bush of the CIA was in the Dallas Petroleum Club with oil mogul Clint Murchison Sr. and his oil engineer George de Mohrenschildt.

Murchison was the central coordinator of the JFK assassination. De Mohrenschildt was the CIA’s handler for Lee Harvey Oswald, and testified before the Warren Commission about getting approval from the CIA for his close connection to Oswald.

George de Mohrenschildt wrote a letter to CIA Director George Bush in 1977 pleading for relief from CIA harassment for saying that the CIA had killed Kennedy. Bush replied, saying that it was not the CIA that was shadowing him. But, the CIA later admitted to going through de Mohrenschildt’s things in his home. They found that he had many Christmas cards from CIA and former OSS men.

As he was about to testify before the House Select Committee on Assassinations, in 1977, George de Mohrenschildt was found dead from a shotgun blast to the head, which was ruled a suicide.

Clint Murchison was a long-time major donor to LBJ. And, J. Edgar Hoover and LBJ were neighbors in DC, and would travel to Dallas together to visit Murchison and his mobbed-up dog track in Dallas.

Murchison owned the Del Mar horse track in California and would entertain J. Edgar Hoover at the race track and put him up for free at his El Charro hotel. Murchison also entertained Richard Nixon, and mob bosses Sam Giancana of Chicago and Carlos Marcello of New Orleans, at Del Mar and put them up at the El Charro hotel.

The Chicago mob and the New Orleans mob worked together on gambling operations throughout the South and in Las Vegas.

Jack Ruby was a Chicago mobster who worked for Sam Giancana. Ruby is buried in a Chicago suburb. Ruby’s job was to pay off the Dallas police for mob gambling enterprises in Dallas.

On the night before the Kennedy assassination, LBJ went to a party at Murchison’s family home in Dallas, very late in the evening, about 11 PM, after campaigning in Houston. LBJ’s long time mistress, Madeleine Brown, a real estate executive, stated that LBJ went into a meeting at the party with …

– oil mogul Clint Murchison, Sr.

– J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the FBI

– Richard Nixon (who helped plan Bay of Pigs as Vice President and chairman of the National Security Council, with CIA Director Allen Dulles)

– oil mogul Howard L. Hunt, who was also a big LBJ donor and gambled at Ruby’s Carousel Club. Hunt was associated with [Abraham] Zapruder, the JFK assassination film maker’s business partner, who sold the film to LIFE magazine.

– John McCloy, who was Nelson Rockefeller’s personal assistant. Rockefeller was a CIA and FBI controller.

– Mr. Brown, of Kellogg, Brown, and Root, which later became a part of Halliburton, an oil pipeline company

– and other Dallas Petroleum Club oil men

After the meeting, Madeleine Brown said that LBJ was red-faced and told her, on the way to the car, that the Kennedys would not embarrass him anymore “after tomorrow”.

LBJ told her that was a fact, not a promise.

After the assassination, Madeleine Brown asked LBJ if he had killed Kennedy. He got mad and said that it was “those Texas oil boys!”.

How would he have known that?

In 2007, E. Howard Hunt of the CIA admitted to helping to organize the Kennedy assassination, on video. It’s on YouTube.

Hunt lists other CIA men, including Frank Sturgis and David Morales, as being involved in killing Kennedy. Hunt lists LBJ as working with this group of CIA men to kill Kennedy.

Sturgis was reported in court testimony as telling CIA asset Marita Lopez, who worked with Sturgis on attempts to kill Castro, that he had helped kill Kennedy.

Lopez travelled to Dallas with Sturgis and others in two cars the day before the Kennedy assassination, as a decoy. She testified in court that Sturgis received an envelope full of money from E. Howard Hunt in a hotel room in Dallas, and that the Sturgis group had rifles with scopes, in the second car.

Sturgis later tried to get Lopez to retract her testimony, using force. (Lopez had flown back to Miami the day before the JFK assassination. Sturgis later told her the trip was to kill Kennedy.)

David Morales of the CIA told his lawyer that he had helped kill JFK and Bobby Kennedy.

Hunt and Sturgis had previously worked together on CIA attempts to kill Castro. The Chicago mob helped. Johnny Roselli, the Chicago mob’s man in Las Vegas, testified before the House Select Committee on Assassinations, in 1977, that the mob and the CIA had worked together on attempts to kill Castro.

Chicago mobster James Files said that he shot Kennedy in the head from the Grassy Knoll. A cartridge shell was found there. Files says that he put his rifle under his coat and walked away, right through the policemen who were rushing towards the sound of the shot from the Grassy Knoll.

Files says that Oswald showed him around Dealey Plaza, but that it was his boss, Chicago mob hit man Chuck Nicoletti, that shot Kennedy from behind, and not from the 6th floor of the Texas School Book Depository where Oswald worked.

Oswald took his gun to work that day. He left many fingerprints on the cardboard boxes in the 6th floor snipers nest, there. Three cartridge shells were found there. But, also found there was a thumbprint of Mac Wallace, LBJ’s personal hit man.

Kennedy had threatened to get rid of the Rockefeller-Rothschild owned Federal Reserve Bank.

He stopped the Oil Tax Allowance, a big tax break for oil producers, that was supported by Clint Murchison Sr.

Kennedy had threatened to destroy the Bush-Rockefeller created and controlled CIA.

He refused to escalate the war in Vietnam in the big way that LBJ did.

Kennedy refused to back up the CIA’s Bay of Pigs invasion with the U.S. military.

U.S. Attorney General Bobby Kennedy was set to indict LBJ on charges of Senate corruption.

The Bush-Rockefeller CIA assassinated Kennedy, and the FBI covered it up. The Texas oil moguls of the Dallas Petroleum Club that coordinated the coup included CIA man George Bush. They were led by Clint Murchison Sr, who was close to LBJ, J. Edgar Hoover, Richard Nixon, and mob bosses Sam Giancana and Carlos Marcello.

The real answer to who took over the U.S. government that day, in 1963, is:  the U.S. bankers and industrialists who had supported Hitler before and during World War II, and who had once plotted to remove FDR in a coup. This group included Prescott Bush, Averell Harriman, and the Rockefellers. They created and ran the CIA. Allen Dulles, Director of the CIA, was their man.

Readers … if anyone is reading … you be the judge of whether all this is true or if it’s just Fourth Stage era “fake news” acquired on the Internet.

Does all this deserve to be investigated? Feel free to leave a comment.

Posted in Media, Political Economy, Where is Civilization Going? | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Philosophy in Three & a Half Years”

Seen by accident, “ganked” off Colin McGinn’s blog this morning, this comment caught my eye. Writing back in April 2017 under the title “Philosophy in Five Years” he predicted:

I think the field will be a complete shambles. It’s already imploding from the inside, but in five years most of the distinguished people will be gone. Political schism will continue to tear the profession apart, probably getting even worse. Intellectually things are not going in a good direction. Maybe other countries will assert themselves, leaving American philosophy to deteriorate. I would say that American philosophy is about half as good as it was fifteen years ago and that it will be half as good again in five years.

In terms of general outline, he’s right.

One could accuse McGinn of bitterness, I suppose, if one wanted. He resigned from his position at the University of Miami in the wake of a widely-discussed sexual harassment allegation. One of many to dog academic philosophy.

He and other parties settled the lawsuit. He probably figured, What’s the use?

To dismiss the above view as the product of a bitter man would be fallacious. Do I need to point this out?

Academic philosophy has been disintegrating for a long time. Arguably it never really recovered from the attempted intellectual suicide logical positivism represented.

The past 50 years have presented a whole host of new problems.

As I’ve often observed, most of the “distinguished people” that made the subject worth studying in the past are long gone.

There are no Wittgensteins, Quines, Kuhns, Feyerabends, or Rortys active in professional philosophy today. No one “professing” philosophy on the inside rises to greatness. A few rise to the level of goodness, with works that are worth reading. Harry Frankfurt comes to mind. As does Thomas Nagel. Or John Searle. Or John Kekes (if he is still living).

You can count the important and challenging professional philosophers on your fingers.

If anyone wishes to challenge me on this point, he/she is free to do so. Name names. Cite works.

The backdrop of the die-off of the leaders of the past is the open anti-intellectualism of American popular culture that rose during the 1980s and has arguably worsened over time. Not that the U.S. was ever truly a haven for intellectuals.

If by some change you did not like university teaching, you were screwed….

Looking at a roster of the average degree-granting department today, you see names and sometimes lists of publications … all micro-micro-specialized. Almost none of this material deals with issues crying out for philosophical analysis and constructive commentary. (Do I need to list them?)

Now, a few universities have severely curtailed what philosophy programs they had, or even closed down their departments.

A sweeping essay of the sort I posted below will receive no notice or comment (probably not a single professional philosopher read it).

Identity politics has largely destroyed the field, although academic philosophy isn’t in worse shape from this ongoing disaster than other humanities. If one works on a college or university campus, one simply cannot avoid encountering seeing and hearing evidence of preferential treatment of one sort or another for the officially-designated victims of Western civilization.

We’re seeing the retribalizing of the West. Opponents have left (or been driven from) dying intellectual professions. Unless we — some of us! — can find our way to a higher mindset, if not my Fifth Stage renewed spirituality and recognition of limits than something else able to serve that purpose, the future will not be pretty.

Especially when Trump finally falls and is replaced by …

By what?

Neither party’s mainstream has a single worthwhile, i.e., workable idea.

One would think someone would have noticed that the collapse of both party mainstreams contributed majorly to getting Trump elected. Not that these are all that different, both serving corporate-plutocrat interests … something about which you’d think more philosophers would have something to say in the context of their professional work (as opposed to blog posts, op-eds, and other asides). You’d be wrong….

Posted in Academia, Election 2016 and Aftermath, Higher Education Generally, Philosophy, Where Is Philosophy Going? | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Auguste Comte’s Law of Three Stages: What It Is, Why the Third Stage is Dying, What Comes Next. (A Major Statement.)

[Note: this may be the longest blog post I have ever made on this site. The result of several weeks of effort, it may be read as a progress report on what may turn into my life’s work: if I have anything final and definitive to say to the world, or to that remnant that cuts through the information clutter and pays attention to such things, it will be found in the culmination of the ideas found here, and in related tracts to come.] 

In this post we outline Auguste Comte’s Law of Three Stages, with commentary. I’ve perceived, whether in my own work or in the occasional comments that I find myself wanting to leave on comment-threads, that having a succinct statement of the idea in one place to refer back to might be a good idea. Why? Because even if we disagree about where he ended up, there are reasons to believe Comte was onto something, and that a stages views of civilization might be instructive today. The post is divided into sections to make the discussion easier to follow. The early sections are adapted from a core section of the second chapter of a book I am writing entitled What Should Philosophy Do? A Vision for the Discipline’s Future. The full expression of the ideas near the end will have to wait for The Fifth Stage of Civilization: Beyond Modernity, Postmodernity, and Scarcity.

Auguste Comte and the Law of Three Stages.

Auguste Comte (1798 – 1857) is best known for two things: founding sociology as a special science with its own identity, and establishing a new school of thought about the nature of proper inquiry, in philosophy or otherwise: positivism. The former applied the latter, which advocated applying methods of empirical science to the study of society or parts of society such as specific populations or institutions or problem situations. Data-driven studies soon came out of this, so it’s hard to dismiss the idea as irrelevant.

Comte developed a conceptual framework for understanding Western society’s intellectual development. He called it the Law of Three Stages (Course in Positive Philosophy, 1838). He didn’t invent the idea that we can isolate “states” or “conditions” or “stages” through which a civilization passes — earlier versions can be found in Vico and Condorcet. But Comte gave the idea its most concise expression. It is important to note that Comte’s stages are not historical epochs: they both can and do exist side by side in the same civilization: uneasily at best, sometimes in open conflict. It will not be hard to see why.

The first stage or state — First Stage thinking, we will call it — Comte calls “theological or fictitious.” In his words:

the human mind, seeking the essential nature of beings, the first and final causes (the origin and purpose) of all effects — in short, absolute knowledge — supposes all phenomena to be produced by the immediate action of supernatural beings…. The theological system arrived at the highest perfection of which it is capable when it substituted the providential action of a single Being for the varied operations of the numerous divinities that had been before imagined.

First Stage thinking could be called the state of Primitive Faith. It looks to multiple inscrutable, supernatural agencies as causes of events ranging from diseases to storms to earthquakes. At its most advanced state of development, says Comte, it consolidates these in a single, specific Supreme Being (e.g., the Christian God; or for Muslims, Allah). This Supreme Being remains mostly inscrutable, but may have revealed Himself and His will through texts such as the Old and New Testaments, or the Quran. First Stage political thinking tends to be theocratic and authoritarian. In civilizations advanced enough to support strong central governance, a priestly class dominates, usually within a monarchy. There are enforcers with police powers. These all rule the public mind through fear of hellfire and damnation (or of execution by some spectacularly nasty and painful means).

First Stage thought does not, in the long run, survive the influence of intellectually curious souls who don’t accept the authority of a priesthood on its word that they have a monopoly on what God wants, or exact knowledge of His will. Historically, philosophers tended to throw cold water on such notions as the “divine right of kings,” a prevalent notion in cultures where First Stage thought dominates. Thus the beginnings of the next stage.

Second Stage thinking is “metaphysical and abstract”:

In the metaphysical stage, which is only a modification of the first, the mind supposes, instead of supernatural beings, abstract forces, veritable entities (that is, personified abstractions) inherent in all beings, and capable of producing all phenomena. What is called the explanation of phenomena is, in this stage, a mere reference of each to its proper entity….  In the same way, in the last stage of the metaphysical system, men substitute one great entity (Nature) as the cause of all phenomena, instead of the multitude of entities at first supposed (ibid.)

Simplifying: Second Stage philosophy, beginning with Thales of Miletus (“Water is the first principle of all things”) and seeing its first full expression (or at least the first to survive) in the sweeping, systematic philosophies of Plato and Aristotle, develops systematic and comprehensive accounts of reality, knowledge, morality, etc. These are based on some set of first principles deduced by the philosopher’s reason. St. Thomas Aquinas, with his attempt to merge Aristotelian philosophy into Christianity, also exemplifies Second Stage philosophy which became, in his hands, a “handmaiden to theology.” Modern Second Stage philosophy could be called the stage of Pure Reason, reaching its highest stage of development in the philosophies of Descartes, Locke, Kant, Hegel, and Whitehead.

Second Stage thinkers may conclude on the basis of very detailed reasoning that God exists, or that He doesn’t, or that the problem of His existence lies beyond proof or disproof. Descartes believed the first. Julien de la Mettrie and Baron D’Holbach concluded the second; Immanuel Kant, the third. In its moral and political expression, Second Stage thought, in the Anglo-American and Austrian worlds anyway, saw the individual human being as fundamental, and individual rights as grounded in the relationship human beings bear to Nature and to the conditions for human flourishing independent of legal structures: natural rights (God given or not). In this world Nature is the arbiter of the conditions of life, to which individuals and societies either conform or perish.

As should be clear just from the above, Second Stage thinkers are very different from one another. David Hume’s brand of British empiricism reached far different conclusions about the possibility of justifying our claims to knowledge; and he rooted morality in a combination of social sentiment and utility — in many respects his rejection of metaphysical thinking with his celebrated remark at the end of his Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (orig. 1748) powerfully anticipated the next stage:

If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.

Thus the misty beginnings of Third Stage thinking, we will call it. Comte’s words again:

In the final, the positive state, the mind has given over the vain search after absolute notions, the origin and destination of the universe, and the causes of phenomena, and applies itself to the study of their laws — that is, their invariable relations of succession and resemblance. Reasoning and observation, duly combined, are the means of this knowledge. What is now understood when we speak of an explanation of facts is simply the establishment of a connection between single phenomena and some general facts, the number of which continually diminishes with the progress of science….  In the same way, again, the ultimate perfection of the positive system would be (if such perfection could be hoped for) to represent all phenomena as particular aspects of a single general fact — such as gravitation, for instance.

With this, we are on the way towards a view of philosophy to which Hume would probably have been sympathetic: as, at best, a “handmaiden” to natural science. Third Stage thought could be called the state of Empirical Science and Utility. And with intellectuals looking more and more to science for explanations, in a Third Stage intellectual ordering of disciplines, philosophy’s epistemic authority rapidly declines.

Comte encourages us to think of First Stage thought as possessing a civilization in its childhood, looking to a god for explanations and security, analogous to small children in a nuclear family who see their parents as godlike beings whose powers and motivations they cannot begin to comprehend.

Second Stage thought becomes the product of a civilization’s adolescence: its philosophers’ ambitious exceed their grasp given their a priori methods. Just as adolescents with new drives, sensations, and ambitions, will take chances and break rules whose purposes they don’t understand, vaguely resent, and will circumvent if they can. The immature, adolescent mind impatiently “wants it all, and wants it right now.”

Third Stage thinking, in this case, signals that a civilization is outgrowing childish fantasies and adolescent extravagances. Entering adulthood, it embraces adult realities and responsibilities. The intellectual centers of Third Stage civilization relinquish supernaturalism in all forms, be they First Stage Primitive Faith or Second Stage apriorism and “divine watchmaker” reasoning. They repudiate philosophers’ “quest for certainty” as futile because it is unsound methodologically. They accept, based on the history of its rise, that empirical science is more likely to deliver the answers philosophers have sought, because its method of patient, empirical observation and hypothesis-testing is superior to all that has gone before.

Figures from Sir Charles Lyell, Charles Darwin and Ernst Mach, to Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins, stand at the culmination of this trajectory. Among professional philosophers, the first exemplar is probably Bertrand Russell, although one may also look to John Stuart Mill who was instrumental in introducing many of Comte’s ideas to the English-speaking world.

Third Stage Thought: Science and Morality.

Among the “adult realities” science had revealed long before Comte’s time is that Earth appears to occupy no special place in the universe, or even in the solar system. Copernicus had “decentered” our planet from the privileged place Aristotle had assigned it, and which Christianity had assumed, as the literal center of Creation. Galileo had produced empirical evidence that Venus orbited the sun, not Earth, and that the heavens did not disclose Christian-Aristotelean perfection. Newton had showed, contra Aristotle, that physical reality could be understood without a division into terrestrial and celestial realms. Both are governed by universal gravitation, expressed mathematically. Newton placed physics and astronomy on a new foundation with his Principia (1687). Science seemed to advance by subsuming more and more of the world under fewer and fewer basic physical principles.

Thus came the unprecedented revolution that led to modern science, a revolution that proved unstoppable when it began to deliver technological and commercial fruits. Thus also the Western Enlightenment, as philosophers expressed what they saw as their achievement of Third Stage maturity which they sought to spread to the rest of Western civilization.

Darwin, whose ideas were circulating before On the Origin of Species (1859) appeared,  appeared to “decenter” us from our privileged place at the center of biological Creation. The human race, according to the theory of evolution by natural selection, may be the most complex species in existence. But according to Darwinism we are just the most advanced of many species in the complicated tree of life. We emerged over a long period of time as a result of a continuous natural process that had no goals, much less the production of beings like ourselves. One of the culminations of Third Stage thought is that there is no need to posit a god to explain human existence, or the existence of life or of the world generally. We are, at best, a fortuitous accident in a vast cosmos.

Arguably, the removal of morality from the province of the divine followed: morality, according to Third Stage thinking, was neither handed down by a supernatural agency nor originates in a transcendent Platonist realm nor even through Kantian rational agency. Hume, again looking across the bridge toward Third Stage thought, had opened the door to what ensued with his idea that morality was based on the sensitive rather than the cognitive side of our nature, i.e., was grounded in our natural sentiments toward what is useful in society, i.e., social utility, or what improves human lives materially or brings about greater happiness.

For Third Stage thinkers morality is just one of many distinctively human traits that has survival value, first because it benefited social hunter-gatherer groups of various sizes, and later because it brought benefits to developing societies such as stability and predictability through the building of trust among their members. Community is not sustainable if its members cannot trust one another at least most of the time, and if they have no rules for dealing with those who prove themselves untrustworthy. Hence truth-telling and promise-keeping become moral imperatives, and expected automatic behaviors (habits) in most cultures.

Perhaps, for the Third Stage moral philosopher, ethical perspectives rest on little more than such down-to-earth realizations that our actions affect others, that happiness spread to others is more beneficial and productive than unhappiness (or happiness just for oneself), that alleviating suffering is better than allowing it, that the future can be better (more pleasant, more efficient, more prosperous) than the past. This can happen if we work to improve ourselves through education and specific business and cultural activities, guided within a protective sphere of governance which will tend more and more to respond to the will of its people (the origin of liberal democracy as an ideal).

Third Stage thinking thus embraces meliorism, the idea that we can improve ourselves morally — actually becoming better people — through our own concerted efforts. This ran counter to what the West had inherited from Christianity: human nature is inherently sinful, and this will invariably hold us back. Against this, Comte and future positivists were optimistic — in a word, positive — about human potential. They were optimistic and positive about our capacity to discover more and greater truths. Years of careful study in subject domains (physics, biology, psychology, etc.) gave its experts a final say in providing a consensus on what was true in those domains. They were optimistic about our chances of building a better world independent of outworn beliefs about gods and divine commands.

According to positivism empirical science both has, and ought to have, the final say in matters epistemic (dealing with knowledge): Settled Science, one might call it. It was not an issue that Settled Science shifted its opinions from time to time, since its methods were always turning up new findings. These rationally compelled scientists to revive their consensuses, and this was a good thing. Scientific inquiry was not about attaining epistemic perfection, or absolute certainty (First and Second Stage obsessions). It was about improving knowledge and the material conditions of life piecemeal. And it seemed to be succeeding brilliantly!

By the twentieth century, new inventions flooded the market and improved the lives of millions: the electric power grid, the telegraph, automobiles, refrigerators, freezers, washing machines, microwave ovens; the transistor, which led in turn to radio, television, and eventually to telecommunications and early computing machinery.

What Third Stage thinking offers is a world, and worldview, based on science, technology, commerce, public education, and responsible governance. This was not precisely what Comte had in mind. In terms of political economy, he, like his mentor Henri de Saint-Simon, was basically a socialist (of the Utopian variety Marx ridiculed). Neither he nor anyone else properly estimated the resilience capitalism would have, including its capacity to embrace socialistic elements in order to achieve an adaptive balance between what its elites wanted and what its masses would accept (as, more and more, society judged itself as moral to the extent it protected the interests of its weakest members and prevented people from falling through the economy’s cracks).

The question before us: does Third Stage civilization offer prospects for indefinite betterment of the human condition, moral as well as material? Its defenders have said, and still say, that its era of dominance has seen more improvements than in all previous centuries put together.

Gathering Doubts about the Third Stage: A Prelude.

At first glance, this is hard to argue with. The most advanced and accomplished civilization in human history sent men to the moon and returned them safely to Earth! It had come to span the globe with no end in sight, especially with the end of perversions of its basic ideas such as Soviet Communism.

Evaluating Third Stage thinking and civilization obviously goes beyond a single blog post (which is why I am writing a book and planning a follow-up to that).

But we can safely make a few concise and occasionally pithy observations.

Reiterating, just to be clear: Third Stage civilization, especially its power centers and its intellectual centers, privileges science, technology, commerce, public education, and responsible government.

Its worldview is that of materialism, meaning by that both a theory of the universe (that no gods or other supernatural entities have real existence outside our imaginations) and a focus on matters of this world, not some other.

Third Stage thinking sees progress as inevitable, provided we stay the course and recognize that we were bound to fall and skin our knees a few times. There may be no Utopias up ahead in the sense of someone like Plato, or Saint-Simon, or Marx, or any of those guys … but things will continue to get better and better!

The solutions to whatever problems are created by science, technology, and commerce are found in better science, better technology, and better commerce!

All these are open to challenge, and have been challenged. Some of the challenges have been obvious products of history themselves. Others are more subtle.

The two most violent and destructive wars in human history (World Wars I and II) challenged the idea that the Third Stage mindset was somehow serving up better humans in the moral sense.

Add to these the acts of genocide committed by totalitarian dictatorships.

These amount to something more than skinned knees, one might say.

One could argue, of course, that the latter weren’t truly Third Stage in their orientation, if one wanted. Because mature Third Stage societies do not do such things.

Except when they do.

Abortion, anyone?

But that gets us ahead of ourselves.

Third Stage Science and the Fate of the Enlightenment. 

More subtle issues arose in challenge to Third Stage thinking well before we get to our present global era.

Enlightenment philosophers envisioned Universal Human Rights (UHR), whether developed along Kantian lines (suggesting something Second Stage about such notions), or along those of the British utilitarians such as Bentham and Mill. It was the age of secular moral theories, one might call them.

But no single discovery in any science suggests a basis for any UHR. If anything, anthropologists such as Ruth Benedict (cf. her Patterns of Culture, 1936) leave us with the conclusion that morality is, at best, a cultural artifact. In this view, moral agents are one’s own, not the other who looks and acts differently, speaks a different language, and might prove a danger. Within one’s own culture, whatever rights one has, one has because common belief says so. Governing authorities may or may not back up common belief. What the government gives, of course, the government can take away, and sometimes does.

The epistemic problem for ethics in Third Stage thought: science has simply not found a basis for a universal morality the way it has uncovered unifying principles, or prospects for such, in physics. Among academic philosophers, this prompted bizarre theories such as ethical emotivism, the idea that moral judgments are expressions of emotion and that is all. Such theories accepted the handmaiden-to-science view of Third Stage philosophy: never challenge the premises of Settled Science.

One of the goals of What Should Philosophy Do?, however quixotic this might be, is to do just this, when it needs to be done. Materialism is, after all, a worldview and set of premises, not the result of any specific set of scientific findings. According to materialism, reality is exhausted by spatio-temporal reality, and there is no transcendent God to prescribe eternal verities. It is within these premises we can find no basis for a universal morality. This is because there is no universal culture. There can only be (mostly futile) gestures of ungrounded stipulation: commands we may choose to give ourselves, or to approve behaviors we like while condemning those we dislike. The Libertarian injunction against initiating aggression is one of these. The social justice warriors’ demand for equality of all groups is a competing gesture. The majority of the cultures of the world find both of them unintelligible.

The slow and agonizing collapse of UHR in the face of the neo-tribalism of identity politics over the past three decades or so surely supports this thesis.

But are the fundamental metaphysical premises of Third Stage thinking even correct? Sooner or later, we have to ask the question.

In some respects, a number of academic philosophers of science have done us the courtesy of opening the door for us. For the Third Stage account of reifying science has largely collapsed under their close analyses. Much of their work is difficult and technical (to be discussed in part in the book to come). It involves such conclusions as that scientific observation never occurs independently of theory (Norwood Russell Hanson), that mature science is always paradigm-bound (Thomas S. Kuhn), or that major scientific advances do not conform to any philosophical theory of the rationality of scientific progress at all (Paul Feyerabend).

These came on the heels of mental adventures such as the Paradoxes of Confirmation: courtesy of Nelson Goodman, any observation that confirms a scientific generalization (e.g., All emeralds are green) also confirms a potentially infinite number of aberrent predicates, we might call them (e.g., All emeralds are grue, where grue is understood as green before time t and blue after t, for any t we want to postulate). Unless we postulate an a priori principle of uniformity, or simplicity, there is no rational way to rule out such predicates even if they are never formulated, much less tested, much less confirmed, by actual science. As a logical empiricist, Goodman would not go there. But supposing we do, why should the non-designed, godless universe of Stage Three thought be uniform, or simple, or intelligible to the human mind?

The upshot of all this work has been the slow deconstruction of many Third Stage epistemological ideals about science bringing us ever closer to something called “the truth,” if by that we mean something akin to a complete, theory-neutral and culture-neutral account of reality. If indeed our fundamental premises about what exists, or of specific ways in which the world (or the part of it being explored by a particular science) is intelligible to us are wrong, then we are moving progressively deeper into error, whatever our findings seem to be.

To be clear, we do not deny those scientific findings we can validate because they are right under our noses: findings in physics, chemistry, medicine, and so on, that we make use of everyday. This would not make sense.

But can anyone truly say the idea of life coming from nonlife has been validated? This is not something anyone has observed, even the laboratory creation of something that could interact with its surroundings in such a way as to replicate itself, which would not show that it had happened under uncontrolled conditions that we cannot know ever have existed, e.g., a “primordial soup” of lifeless chemicals experiencing electrical discharges. The credibility of extrapolations about such states of affairs depend entirely on the credibility of the materialist premise, unsupported without circular reasoning.

Yet Third Stage Settled Science has no other options! If life was not the creation of a deity, it had to come about through some form of abiogenesis, the technical term for the chemical evolution of life. There is no third option!

The bottom-line: once we look at the fine details about what must happen for abiogenesis to occur, scientists are pretty much clueless about the origins of life! Anyone who says otherwise is lying to you! (Cf. The Mystery of Life’s Origins: Reassessing Current Theories, by Charles B. Thaxton, Walter L. Bradley, and Roger L. Olsen, 1984.)

So is materialism true? Is it believable? What we know is that one of its most important necessary conditions simply disintegrates when we look at it up close, and in detail.

What of other Third Stage preoccupations, e.g., in political economy (it has been a long while since I have been comfortable with the artificial academic separation between political science and economics)? Do they fare any better?

The Unsustainability of Third Stage Political Economy.

No one can deny that we have creature comforts our ancestors could never have dreamt of in their wildest imaginings. To that extent, the principles behind technology are at least reliable in the here and now. But then again, not all technological changes have worked to our advantage. Some have come with a price tag. Consider the changes in food technology under the assumption that artificial is superior to natural (the former can be patented!), and in pharmaceuticals.

Consider factory farming, in which animals are forced-fed grain with hormones to stimulate artificial growth and fattening. More meat means higher profits for food corporations, of course. But the growth hormones used have made their way into our food, and from there into our body systems, one of the milder results being children entering puberty at progressively younger ages, long before they are ready.

Are such practices damaging our health, not to mention what they are doing to the water table and the food chain?

A good resource to begin exploring these issues is Randall Fitzgerald’s The Hundred Year Lie: How Food and Medicine Are Destroying Your Health (2006).

Much of the direction food technology and pharmaceuticals have taken over the past century or so have occurred because of the market-driven or profit-based system. One of the reasons we have crises in public health is that we now have modestly unhealthy populations beset with chronic conditions that need not be cured but rather are managed for profit. A healthy population does not, after all, need doctors, hospitals, prescription drugs, managed care, health insurance, etc. We find ourselves with a state of affairs in which “health care” is not really about public health but about how (increasingly expensive!) care is to be paid for.

Think Obamacare!

Many pharmaceuticals, moreover, leave those taking them worse off!

Such observations bring us to commerce within Third Stage civilization, and to a mares nest, as I don’t plan to get into a lengthy discussion of “capitalism” versus “socialism.”

Here is a Cliff Notes version: Third Stage political economy, which in practice aimed to address specific problems rather than build the holistic Utopians of philosophers and some economists, has become a mixture of the two abstractions, but with the capitalist side of the mix the dominant one because of who has the money (corporations).

The mixed economy, responding to a variety of pressures, appears to evolve naturally into a culture based around mass consumption and convenience, the latter a lure corporations use to entice desirable forms of behavior on the part of the masses. The state tries to regulate corporate behavior, but rarely succeeds as more than a blunt instrument.

So what? (some might ask). Is it not true that the masses’ standard of living has been greatly increased? Even the poor are better off, poverty always having been a relative concept.

Again, Stage Three thought never promised holistic solutions. It is pragmatic, always balancing improvements against costs.

Unfortunately, matters are not as simple as that. It is true enough that Stage Three political economy satisfies needs through advancing technology and improved access, leaving most of us better off than were royalty just a few short centuries ago.

But once the majority of basic needs are satisfied for the bulk of the population, what occurs next?

Third Stage political economy (whether we call it capitalism or a mixed economy) cannot stand still. Companies must continue to produce and sell, otherwise they fail and must lay people off. That means the masses must buy what the companies produce, or the marketplace is glutted, prices fall, again profits cannot be made, and the system falls into crisis. Thus the obsession with economic growth as a sign of economic health, despite finite space and finite resources, even if everyone must take on debt to make it work. The masses need jobs, after all. Entrepreneurs need buyers. Economic growth supplies both, within a system that is constantly changing and churning. Joseph Schumpeter referred to this last as creative destruction (see his Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, 1947). Economists tend to approve. So do advertisers! Advertising schemes are devised to create artificial needs in advanced political-economies so that people will buy! (Individuals are often better off, of course, if they keep their money!)

The alienating features of Third Stage life — the literature of which fills bookshelves! — suggested reasons to Schumpeter, all those decades ago, why the system could not survive in the long run. When it falls into crisis, some kind of government intervention is inevitable as a pragmatic solution to get things moving again. The Keynesians figured out how to do this, even if their solutions were short-term (their downfall). Financialization eventually arose during the final third of the last century. Financial institutions had known all along that they could inject capital into the system to keep it growing and changing and moving. The creation of money through fractional banking has systematically devalued it, while redistributing wealth upward, one might say. A few reaped windfalls from this, and continue to do so. That would be those often called the cosmopolitan or globalist (or bicoastal) elites in the largest investment banks (think: Goldman Sachs).

That subpopulation within the masses known as the middle class began to fall behind long ago as wages failed to keep up with inflation. Working class people have not had true representation in government in a long time now, at least not since corporatism took control of the Democratic Party (it had long controlled Republicans).

This is all well known, and I need not use more bandwidth space to recount it here.

Suffice it to say: at present the entire global economy rides atop an ocean of red ink, the product of several decades of borrowing against the future to stave off, as long as possible, the inevitable crash that is the fate of all unsustainable systems. In the meantime, the world has experienced lesser crashes of increasing severity, the worst to date having happened in 2008. Many financial writers believe a far worse crash is right around the corner.

Third Stage Civilization and Covert Authoritarianism.

The real zinger, however, is that contrary to all the bluster about “liberal democracy,” Third Stage civilization is fundamentally authoritarian. Perhaps Sheldon Wolin’s concept of inverted totalitarianism applies, in which systemic demands replace dictatorial decrees. Third Stage authoritarianism manifests itself in carefully directed incentives (e.g., tax breaks for corporations, discounts for consumers) and economically-grounded pressures of various sorts instead of overt police powers of the sort seen in full-fledged dictatorships. Third Stage civilization began to centralize around heavy industry in the late 1800s, backed by financial institutions, eventually our central bank, the Federal Reserve, able to control the money supply and further centralize the economy. Centralized systems cannot work without introducing authoritarianism at some level, because there is no visibility of the bottom from the top; the systems are too large and expansive. Hence the necessity of command-and-control, however structured and implemented.

The ideal, therefore, became socially engineering masses that would accept increasing encirclements without question or complaint, and this is precisely what public education set out to produce, replacing real education (which emphasizes liberal arts learning) with socialization to encourage conformity and vocationalism to produce compliant workers (and taxpayers). Subjects like critical thinking were ratcheted down. What was left was watered down. (Philosophy students were taught formal logic, but not told that the systems encircling them discouraged rational thinking.)

Again, that story is a long one, but abundant documentation exists. Start with John Taylor Gatto’s The Underground History of American Education (2001).

Or consider this, the opening paragraph of Edward Louis Bernays’s 1928 tract on Propaganda (recently republished):

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.

We are governed, our minds molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this matter if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society….

…. Whatever attitude one chooses toward this condition, it remains a fact that in almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons — a trifling fraction of our hundred and twenty million — who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind, who harness old social forces and contrive new ways to bind and guide the world.

Bernays, nephew of Sigmund Freud, was the founding father of public relations and advertising. He became a multimillionaire developing advertising campaigns for major corporations who sought him out. It was Bernays who hit on the idea of using celebrities in advertisements. The odds are very good that he knew exactly what he was talking about, and that as the technology of advertising systems improved, their capacity to exert subtle pressures on individual consumers increased proportionally.

I trust no one who has read this far thinks all this is a “conspiracy theory” of recent history and society!

It was against the latent systemic authoritarianism of evolving Third Stage systems that significant fractions of a generation rebelled (late 1960s), even if what that generation served up in response was sometimes worse.

The point is, in our time, democracy appears to have been unmasked as the sham it has been for well over a century now. The reality is that the U.S. is and always has been a plutocratic oligarchy (Gilens & Page 2014), as is the case with all the other Western powers.

Eastern powers are different. China is openly oligarchic, the product of its having embraced many trappings of Western capitalism — for China’s Communist Party remains solidly in control of Chinese corporations (with the likely exception of the country’s central bank). Singapore has proven that one can have flourishing and wealth-generating (for its elites) capitalism without any trappings of democracy.

Arguably, the Eastern mindset is more honest!

Interlude: Crisis Yesterday Versus Crisis Today.

A sense of crisis is stirring throughout the advanced world. That admittedly sounds like a cliché. We’ve been in crises before, of course, many of them more painful than anything occurring at present (if we could ask those who lived through the Great Depression, I am sure we would find out). The U.S. was severely divided in the late 1960s and early 1970s, especially by a war favored by the Establishment but opposed by that significant fraction of a generation of youth who had learned how to use the platforms of their time to become mouthpieces of dissent.

Their dissent was the dissent of idealism, however. What is different now is that the idealism that prevailed in those years is largely gone, or at least greatly muted by the information explosion. There are exceptions (cf. Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist), but these appear to be exceptions to a general rule, that more and more people have turned inward and are tending their own gardens as it were. Their focus is not on high ideals. It is frequently on earning enough devalued money to survive. This is the plight of the millennials, graduating from universities often with worthless degrees but with five and sometimes six figures of student loan debt.

More recent writers speak openly of the slow collapse of American society and how you as a person can prepare to survive it, even if you live in the U.S. (see, e.g., Dmitry Orlov, The Five Stages of Collapse). The arguments of such authors are compelling and not to be casually dismissed.

Upshot: Third Stage civilization, and its worldview, are dying. We see the reasons every day.

We find ourselves in what we might call a Comtean Fourth Stage, something Comte could not have envisioned.

Postmodernity: Our Present Fourth Stage Condition (with an Aside on Abortion).

Extending the metaphor used earlier, the Fourth Stage of a civilization is evidenced not by the supposed maturity of adult responsibility but rather advancing age and infirmity, perhaps even cognitive deterioration. In the West, Fourth Stage thought is filled with alienation, cultural pessimism, disillusionment. Think of the existentialists, especially their fiction (but sometimes nonfiction works such as Albert Camus’s The Myth of Sisyphus). The most advanced Fourth Stage thinking could be identified with postmodernity in a broad sense: once aware of itself, it questions all the narratives and metanarratives that have gone before, including its own first principles. Its writers include French philosophers such as Michel Foucault (“knowledge / power”) and the Austrian-born iconoclastic philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend (Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge, orig. 1975).

Postmodern epistemology is clearly not an intellectual fad (although its spirit has been incorporated into numerous academic fads).

Fourth Stage thinkers, who invented “sociology of science” with flourishes of irony, wonder how much of actual science is able to find truths in the old, Third Stage sense, independent of a money economy. Actual science after all is just human communities dependent on university and peer support (including the same desire for job security as nonscientists), corporate sponsorship, grantsmanship, etc., and therefore no less embedded within the market-based system and no less vulnerable to its vagaries. In this case, in the Fourth Stage world, is supposed truth more than what has been bought and paid for by those who can command the necessary resources, the same as any other commodity?

How did we get here? Although there were strong hints of a Fourth Stage in writers such as Kierkegaard and Dostoevsky, arguably it was Nietzsche who did the most to kick open the door to Fourth Stage thought. When he called for a revaluation of all values and warned against a future “advent of nihilism,” he was telling us that when God was erased from our philosophical and cultural map of reality, the conceptual support for everything God’s existence gave meaning to and empowered was also removed.

The ideas behind Enlightenment ideals of UHR were rooted in the Christian sensibility, after all, along with all the moral gestures that came in its wake. Belief that all persons were created in the image of God was UHR’s original basis for support. Once that support was gone, like a ladder kicked out from under a worker atop a high wall leaving him hanging by his fingernails, UHR’s days were numbered.

Eventually the Enlightenment itself would be eclipsed. Today we read anguished articles by elite authors about how “democracy is dying” at the hands of so-called populists like Hungary’s Viktor Orbán and America’s Donald Trump.

This didn’t just happen.

The twentieth century, bit by bit, art school by art school (think: Dadaism), literary figure by literary figure (think: Hemingway and Camus), worked out the consequences of life in a godless cosmos, especially if we faced our predicament honestly instead of evading it. What predicament are we talking about?

That our lives have been shorn of meaningful value other than exchange value, that they are reduced to an empty and absurd nothingness against the vastness of a dead cosmos: that our choices lie between suicide (pondered by Camus in Sisyphus: Hemingway did commit suicide), or an authentic existence (as the existentialist uses this phrase) which stares the absurdity of life in the face but elects to enjoy whatever momentary experiences and memories life can bring us.

Except that if you are not a flamboyant artist or celebrity existentialist writer, and if your life is one of cubicle-job drudgery or worse, as has proven to be the case for the majority even in advanced, Third Stage conditions, then if you remain solely within the realm of reality, you might not have much to enjoy. Camus did not do much to articulate the choices of this majority, which are to bury themselves in private activities (including sexual fetishes), fly into some fantasy world of which there are plenty, or devote one’s entire existence to some political cause, often a futile one.

The ephemeral and contingent value of human life can be seen in the abortion epidemic, in which over 60 million unborn babies have been killed in their mothers’ wombs, and sometimes on the abortionist’s table if by some chance they survive the procedure, since 1973. These, on any accurate scientific reading of the situation, are the most vulnerable human beings on the planet!

But is a fetus human?

When I once asked students this in a contemporary moral issues class, one student quipped sarcastically, “Well, they aren’t goldfish.”

But are they persons and therefore members of the moral community? And don’t women have a right to control their bodies (the standard response)?

How does one product nonarbitrary criteria for admission into the moral community in the Third Stage intellectual environment? We have only biology to go by: if X has a complete set of human DNA, then X is human; and if X is human then X is a person and a member of the moral community.

There. I’ve done it. The roof hasn’t yet caved in, so we can drop the real bombshell.

If a fetus is human, then we can tell the feminist: it isn’t your body alone, but also the body of your unborn child, a human being whose vulnerability is as close to being absolute as you are ever going to find in this world.

What we can say is that if the morality of a society is indeed measured by its willingness to institute protections of its most vulnerable members, then ours fails as badly as any form of overt genocidal totalitarianism!

Materialism as a worldview provides no final social protections, much less intellectual arguments, against simply writing entire populations with human DNA out of the moral community! The Nazis did it with the Jews; the Soviets did it with even larger populations that resisted collective farming; American left-liberals do it with the unborn!

Forward to a Fifth Stage of Civilization? The Case for a Technology of Abundance.

Although limits of space and time preclude a full development of the ideas here (many of which are not finished, anyway), I would close by asking whether the Fourth Stage thinking in which we have found ourselves is any more sustainable than Third Stage thinking.

I do not think it is. I will not state my full reasons here, as they are even longer than this has been (this is not a topic for short attention spans, obviously). They will be found in the book-length manuscripts on which I am at work, and I can only hope and pray that my present and future resources will enable them to be finished, published, and that find their audience.

I will only state that Third Stage thinking, if it takes itself seriously and faces its consequences for human life honestly, generated Fourth Stage thinking. Among the remnant of thinking people, it cannot do otherwise.

The telos of Fourth Stage thinking is suicide: if not personal, then cultural and cognitive. We probably have an explanation here for why fantasy of various sorts (not always labeled as such!) is so popular on today’s world, especially among the young. Not to mention why suicide is a leading cause of preventable death in the advanced world.

What I would argue: we cannot simply go back to an earlier stage, although we can identify features of those earlier stages which were fundamentally sound, and from which we can still learn.

We can only go forward. We refers here to that forward-thinking remnant.

I would therefore urge you to think about the possibilities of a Fifth Stage of civilization, one which recognizes, as did all its predecessors, the weaknesses of what came before, and resolves not to make those mistakes again. I hope to characterize this Fifth Stage more fully in future work. I will only say here what it will not do: it will reaffirm God, restoring him to our philosophical and cultural map of what is real, but not evince the “blind” faith in Him characteristic of First Stage thought which empowers theocrats. It will recover God through the realization of human folly (Biblical sin) and through realizing that purging Him from our world has not worked.

Fifth Stage thought will not be abstract and dichotomous as was Second Stage thought, but will preserve the commitment to systematic thought through ideas made available though systems theory and by recognition of the importance of process. It will note the organic nature of communities and the beliefs that animate them and give them meaning, including belief in a God. It will not be positivist and scientistic, and ultimately elitist, as was Third Stage thought. It will recognize where science and technology have given us genuine advances and insights and under the right circumstances could continue to do so. What it will deny is that science and technology neither are nor should be thought capable of solving every human problem.

What technology might be capable of doing, given the right liberating circumstances, is creating abundance, rather than maintaining systems based on scarcity. The keys here are energy and its production, alongside the rise of robotics and artificial intelligence (understood by this expert systems we have now that are capable of replacing human workers en masse). I do not wish to spell out the totality of what I am thinking at this moment regarding the former. But I invite any readers who have followed me this far to investigate for themselves what Nikola Tesla might have been working on that caused J.P. Morgan to pull his funding, and the U.S. federal government to classify all his research papers following his death. The bulk of Tesla’s later work remains classified to this day. The question: are there forms of energy a few technologists already know about that would not just end our dependence on oil but put all existing energy corporations out of business, even as they generated sufficient abundance to make the basic necessities of life readily available to all?

This, of course, would end the threat of technological unemployment, which is really just the threat of homelessness and starvation, by ending the need of those whose jobs are replaced by robots to find new lines of whatever remains of work in exchange for money to pay for basic necessities.

Would this not be potentially the end of involuntary poverty, period?

And given that most wars and more limited conflicts are waged over presumably scarce resources, would not a world in which technology has created abundance have a better hope of eliminating war, and building the kinds of bridges a realistic conception of UHR requires, than anything we are doing at present?

And finally, would not an end to our dependence on oil and its products do more than a thousand treaties and UN-sponsored agendas to alleviate our fears about what Third Stage industrial civilization might have done to the climate?

Utopia? Or Oblivion?

Such thinking may seem Utopian in the present environment, of course. I don’t believe it is, but given the prevailing cynicism, or just the prevalence of those locked into a favored ideology, whether of the so-called left or the so-called right, what is being proposed here probably looks Utopian. But Fifth Stage thinking, if it comes to be, will not be negativist, cynical, and neo-tribalist as Fourth Stage thought has turned out to be. Nor will it cling to “moral principles” that amount to no more than abstract stipulations, as do Libertarians whose ideals owe more to Second than Third Stage thought.

My view, for whatever it is worth, is that we have no choice. This is for reasons stated above: our present course, and the assumptions behind it, is/are unsustainable. If you think I am wrong, then go back and read those sections, and consult the works I reference. Then feel free to leave your critical observations in a comment below.

Nor am I alone in thinking these goals might be achievable, if we adopt and engage the proper mindset. R. Buckminster Fuller, genius inventor and systems thinker, made the observation a half-century ago that we have the technological ability to feed everyone on Spaceship Earth.

That was 1970 or thereabouts. The question I asked, all those years ago, was Why aren’t we doing it?

Today, with new technologies like 3D Printing, we are close to having the means to offer the world decent shelter, and at a negligible cost! (Every economist will tell you that as you increase the supply of anything, you lower its cost; abundance will bring that cost to nothing or almost nothing. What, then, of the need to make money? The answer is, this must happen in a political economy in which people do not need to earn profits or money in order to live! I do not think of this as socialism, since socialists still operate within a conceptual framework based on a presumption of eternal scarcity. They just want scarce resources distributed equitably. I want to eliminate the presumption of scarcity, conceptually and technologically, thus taking us beyond capitalism-socialism disputes!)

Having said all this, I want to be clear: at present there is more than one possible outcome here. The actual outcome, obviously, will be based on decisions made now. As a people we will either decide to pursue some variant on the kinds of goals discussed here, or at the appointed time, once our present debt-fueled economic bubble runs its course and collapses, when the dirt settles we will have returned to a fundamentally feudal type of society, advanced technology notwithstanding, in which a chronic lack of good-paying work will render the majority impoverished, struggling, and dependent in large measure on the good graces of their elders or on a shrinking population of fortunate haves.

Those who flocked to cities believing them to be havens of opportunity might find themselves in serious trouble. For our urbanized masses long ago forgot how to grow food; they believe it comes from grocery stores. Most cannot make simple home or car repairs. Without a car in a typical American urban or suburban environment, you are effectively stranded. In the case of an extended power outage as the result of a major emergency, most would have no idea how to heat their homes in cold weather without risking starting dangerous fires and taking their apartment-bound neighbors out with them.

In such a world, philosophy as a professional activity would probably have no future.

Conclusion.

We have surveyed Auguste Comte’s Law of Three Stages, which converged on Third Stage philosophy and civilization as its ideal. With a 20-20 hindsight Comte could never have mustered, we found this ideal wanting on numerous grounds.

A civilization with its eyes exclusively on this world, based around science, technology, commerce, public education, governance of whatever sort, and presuming the givenness of progress and meliorism (the idea that we can make ourselves morally better by our own efforts) has turned out to be unsustainable in practice.

The wars, genocides … declines in public health, with an abundance of evidence that the central priorities of both government and corporations are solely with how managed care is paid for  … worsening educational systems that turn out functional illiterates … the epidemics of suicide, especially in helping professions … the sense that in the face of rapid technological change driven by a handful of leviathan corporations we have lost control over information and over our lives … all further the sense of unsustainability.

We have this sense of impending crisis. While crises are nothing new, the cultural optimism that resolved them in the past is gone. We have a strong sense that with our personal, corporate, and national debt climbing, we are living on borrowed time no less than on borrowed money.

In that past, we used technology to send men to the moon and return them safely. Today we use it to follow celebrities, take selfies, and chat mindlessly. We are all wired into technology, but as persons we have never been lonelier. We kid ourselves into thinking our “Facebook friends” are really friends.

Are we wired into online “communities” because real communities, in which people who care deeply about one another and interact face-to-face, are dying if not already dead?

Postmodernism is a kind of Fourth Stage … in art, philosophy, literature, commerce, technology, and in numerous other arenas.

Unlike Third Stage thought, it questions whether truth is obtainable at all, while not denying that an abundance of (often conflicting) truth claims can be bought and sold like any other mass commodity.

The challenge for the future is to conceptualize, and move towards, a Fifth Stage of thought and civilization, and do it amidst the present information glut, in which the first challenge any thinker and writer faces is to have his/her work actually seen.

The Fifth Stage of civilization — if it can be made to happen — will have turned to first premises and foundations where we find them, and where we find ourselves.

Where we find ourselves is lost without God. Perhaps we should consider (I am speaking figuratively, of course) restoring Him to His rightful place in the world, as the Creator and therefore the Center of all value, with all that this requires of us.

A Fifth Stage of civilization will then be the scene of positive boots-on-the-ground work to recover our health and rebuild our lives and communities. All lives will matter, because all lives were made in the image of God.

Science and technology will be our servants, not our masters.

Perhaps at the end of whatever path a Fifth Stage mind goes down, it will find genuine freedom within communities whose members have not been thrown into ruthless and divisive competition with one another for an increasingly limited number of jobs amidst an artifically-maintained scarcity.

This may create conditions for a spreading peace of mind that will come from knowing what one knows (while recognizing and deeply appreciating mystery), doing what one can do (recognizing limitations), and simply being what one is (recognizing that, in the end, we are not God nor gods).

 

 

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A New American Philosophical Association Organization?

This past week, philosophy’s top blogger Brian Leiter posted a poll on a quite interesting topic: Would you leave the [American Philosophical Association] and join a new dues-charging professional philosophy association that does much of what the APA does, but without the current political agendas/projects? 

Results: just 13% said Definitely Not. Another 10% said Probably Not. Ten percent were Undecided. And 25% said Probably and a telling 42% said Definitely.

That is to say, a solid majority of Leiter’s readers, 67%, either would leave or would probably leave the APA and join a new professional organization were one to be formed. They would effectively abandon the APA to the machinations of the identity-politics activists who have, to a large degree, hijacked the humanities over the past two to three decades.

As a subscriber to the APA’s blog, I can confirm that the majority of posts on it are like this one, playing off current events to further their collective grievance cottage industries.

Purveyors of the politics of collective grievance, or identity politics, are nowhere near a majority in the discipline, of course. I do not know what percentage of those who are either professional philosophers working in academia, philosophers working in other occupations, or just observers who find philosophy interesting, actually support this kind of thing.

You can be left-leaning or center-left in your overall outlook, and still realize that identity politics is completely out of control. Leiter is an example of such a person. I do not always agree with him by any means, but he doesn’t go into attack-dog mode against those whose views he disagrees with or even disdains. He doesn’t try to censor them, or sabotage their careers.

The majority of college and university professors are center-left, after all. Most are not crazy. An aging demographic grew up during the civil rights era, after all. Others of us came of age in its aftermath. Today the majority of professors of philosophy probably prefer just to teach their classes, conduct whatever research they are conducting, and be left alone. If they once had visions of changing the world, they relinquished them years ago.

They certainly don’t want to be called out for one inadvertent slip of the tongue that, e.g., “triggers” some sexual minority they barely knew existed, and suddenly find their careers in jeopardy.

The idea of a new philosophical organization has been supported here (by blogger Daniel Kaufman, who reviews some of the history on which I commented in an older post.  I’ll concede: I went a little overboard with that title. But I was not wrong (and there is an additional object lesson there about how social media can bring out the worst in all of us, unfortunately).

I left the American Philosophical Association almost two decades ago over this sort of thing. I was weary of its Newsletters and other activities that used my dues money to promote this or that political agenda of an extreme minority in the profession as if that were (or should be) the profession’s overriding concern …

… while doing nothing to support a far larger group. This group, which cuts across genders and ethnicities, consists of those who are untenured, not on a tenure-track line, and as we weren’t getting any younger, were less and less likely to find tenure-track jobs every year.

To paraphrase how I put it on one occasion back in those days when I was far more Libertarian than I am now: how many Newsletters about Philosophy and Individual Liberty have you seen lately? (I’ve since realized that Libertarianism is no less Utopian than Marxism in how it misreads human nature and motivations, but that’s a post for another day.)

I later left the profession itself, of course. It had become clear that my words, the words of an adjunct instructor at an isolated branch campus in a Southern state well away from the centers of philosophical gravity, weren’t going to change anything … and I had little interest in sticking around to see what was likely to come eventually.

This would be administrators, and possibly students, complaining that my Introduction to Philosophy and Contemporary Moral Issues courses assigned too many readings by philosophers and others who were straight white males (and gasp! I even had a Christian or two in there!).

I didn’t know whether or not such a thing would ever happen in South Carolina (to my knowledge it hasn’t), but identity politics does not appear likely to run its course any time soon, and stranger things have happened. I had other reasons for not sticking around.

Getting back to my main subject here….

Were a new dues-paying organization of professional philosophers to form, and if its leadership was open to nonacademic philosophers, I would join in a heartbeat.

There are, after all, things about the APA I’ve always missed.

Membership in such an organization is one of the best ways to keep a pulse on any new developments or trends in the field that are worth watching. I haven’t seen much of anything since the late 1990s, but I am open to the possibly that by dropping my APA membership and then exiting the academic stage voluntarily, I’ve simply missed them.

 

 

Posted in Academia, Philosophy, Where Is Philosophy Going? | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Open Letter to Professor C. Christine Fair, Georgetown University

Re:

“Look at this chorus of entitled white men justifying a serial rapist’s arrogated entitlement. 
All of them deserve miserable deaths while feminists laugh as they take their last gasps. Bonus: we castrate their corpses and feed them to swine? Yes.”

— (((Christine Fair))) (@CChristineFair) September 29, 2018

Professor C. Christine Fair,

Saludos from Santiago, Chile.

I’ve not written anything quite like this, and I am not quite sure how to begin it.

I’ve been around the block a few times and seen some vile stuff, but nothing quite like that remark from your Twitter feed.

Yeah, I’m a white guy, and on top of that, I’m straight as an arrow. Sue me.

I’m not going to go into attack mode, though. Others have probably done that far better than I.

I just wonder, though: what do you really think you accomplished with that tweet? Do you think such remarks do anything to heal the divisions that are tearing American society apart, much less further the mission of your institution (whatever it is these days)?

Or maybe something as breathtakingly constructive as trying to heal divisions is not your aim.

Maybe your aim in writing that was just to piss people off, so you’d get a predictable reaction.

And from the top comment on your Facebook page, it looks like you got one.

Not here. You see, Christine, I’ve been following the decomposition of academia for over 25 years now.  And you know something? A lot of us, out here in the boonies, have written folks like you off.

But I just have to say what is clear: you can’t possibly be interested in what is true and factual, much less what is right, or fair, or just. If you were interested in truth, you wouldn’t have called Brett Kavanaugh a “serial rapist” when there isn’t the slightest scrap of evidence the accusation is true.

Just chalk it up to my perspective as a white guy who doesn’t live in your academic corner of the universe where all straight white Christian men with conservative ideas are history’s criminals, where we are guilty if accused, and deserve to die miserable deaths and be castrated afterwards and our nuts fed to swine while your ilk laughs.

So sorry about that.

Make the best of it.

The only thing you could accuse me of is being a masochist, and you would be right. You see, Christine, I left academia several years ago, having gotten the message that my small voice wasn’t going to change anything, and I saw stuff like this coming.

I moved overseas, married a chilena (women here really are women, not … whatever you’ve become, up there in the former Land of the Free).

I’ve noted that free speech seems to apply to you. This:

The views of faculty members expressed in their private capacities are their own and not the views of the University. Our policy does not prohibit speech based on the person presenting ideas or the content of those ideas, even when those ideas may be difficult, controversial or objectionable. While faculty members may exercise freedom of speech, we expect that their classrooms and interaction with students be free of bias and geared toward thoughtful, respectful dialogue.

How nice that your wise administration has your back. Not so much for this person:

“[Kavanaugh accuser Julie] Swetnick is 55 y/o,” [Dean William] Rainford wrote. “Kavanaugh is 52 y/o. Since when do senior girls hang with freshmen boys? If it happened when Kavanaugh was a senior, Swetnick was an adult drinking with&by her admission, having sex with underage boys. In another universe, he would be victim & she the perp!”

From your university president, John Garvey (obviously going boldly where no administrators have gone before):

Rainford’s tweets of the past week are unacceptable. We should expect any opinion he expresses about sexual assault to be thoughtful, constructive, and reflective of the values of Catholic University, particularly in communications from the account handle @NCSSSDean. While it was appropriate for him to apologize and to delete his Twitter and Facebook accounts, this does not excuse the serious lack of judgment and insensitivity of his comments.

Rainford has led the National Catholic Social of Social Service since 2013. It is my desire that he continue to lead the school. But in light of these recent actions I have suspended him as dean for the remainder of this semester. Rainford understands and accepts this decision. Associate Dean Marie Raber has agreed to serve as Acting Dean during that time.

Double-standard at Georgetown? Who’da thunk it?

Well, Christine, I’d like to think I’ve made my point. Not holding my breath for confirmation of that, of course.

I presume you’ve heard, Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this afternoon (it’s 7:15 pm in my time zone as I write this).

Do have a very nice rest of the weekend, Christine.

But stay away from books like Heather MacDonald’s new one The Diversity Delusion (St. Martin’s Press). Your head will explode on contact. Friendly advice from your friendly neighborhood straight white Christian male. (Oh, I will also add you to my prayer list, that somehow your worldview might become a little less violent, bitter. and hateful.)

And don’t worry that I’ve started trolling you or something because I accessed your Facebook page to link to it. I assure you, I have better things to do with my time.

Sincerely yours,

Steven Yates, Ph.D., Philosophy

Writing from Santiago, Chile.

Posted in Academia, Media, Where is Civilization Going? | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Fate of Civilizations

Should a philosopher be interested in the trajectory of civilizations, from their rise to dominance in a region, and then the reasons why a civilization seems to lose its collective capacity and go into decline?

Most professional philosophers are not, of course, mostly because of the micro-specialization of academia generally. But suppose we can identify philosophically significant premises believed within populations as well as by leaders … premises that might empower the rise of a civilization. If these premises then start to disappear, or are removed, the civilization starts to falter.

Historically important philosophers such as Condorcet, Comte, Marx, all had theories of stages civilizations went through. Each believed that progress would lead to a final state of affairs, that which Hegel called the Absolute. For Comte, the ideal society was a society based on the applications of science to every aspect of human life. Bertrand Russell agreed. Since subsequent history has shown abundantly that science and technology are just as prone to abuse as any other human products, there is now grave doubt that a society based on science (and technology) would be the ideal.

Other writers saw civilizations as moving in cycles: as having life spans not unlike that of a person, with all the stages of life a person goes through. Edmund Gibbon wrote his classic Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire. Spengler penned The Decline of the West. Carroll Quigley, in The Evolution of Civilizations, wanted to answer Spengler as he believed civilizations in trouble could turn themselves around and continue making progress. Writing in the 1950s and 1960s, Quigley believed we were in trouble even then.

A lesser known writer we ought to investigate is Sir John Bagot Glubb (1897 – 1986). His major works began to appear around the same time as Quigley’s, and for some time after. Glubb was British, the son of a Royal Engineers officer, whose own military education and service (Royal Military Academy, followed by his own stint in Royal Engineers), followed by service in the first World War, eventually took him to the Arab world where he settled in. In 1930 he signed a contract to serve the Transjordan Government (later: Jordan). He came to command the Jordan Arab League. By this time he had assimilated into Arab culture, a culture he appreciated and even loved. He became a leading authority on the history of the Arabs, eventually writing some 20 books on the Middle East.

By the 1950s, however, Glubb noted with some dismay that his native Great Britain was in full retreat around the world. He’d learned that the Arabs had a vast empire a thousand years ago. He found himself studying other empires. He soon came to the conclusion that vast civilizations follow a pattern that transforms them into empires and then sees them destroyed. This led to his best known essay, “The Fate of Empires” (1978).

What pattern did he see?

He saw civilizations going through six stages, or phases. Here they are:

(1) The Outburst and Age of Pioneers.

(2) An Age of Conquest.

(3) An Age of Commerce.

(4) An Age of Affluence.

(5) An Age of Intellect.

(6) An Age of Decadence.

Glubb would agree, that is, with the idea that civilizations are usually not conquered but fall from within. Let’s consider each stage in a bit more detail.

(1) An Outburst may follow the appearance of some new ideal that captures the imaginations of a population, or a founding document such as the U.S. Constitution that expresses this ideal. The U.S. Declaration of Independence and its Constitution surely count as such documents. This, Glubb notes, has happened elsewhere. It happened with the emergence and rise of Islam. What follows is the start of a rapid expansion.

(2) This expansion is called the civilizations Age of Conquest. Those leading the Conquest become national heroes. Heaven help any other cultures unfortunate enough to be in the way. Ask the indigenous cultures that populated North America as the U.S. expanded westward during the very early to mid 1800s. For that matter, ask those who got in the way of Roman expansion, or in Napoleon’s way.

(3) With territory claimed, an Age of Commerce ensues. Farms and factories are built, trade routes are laid down, a single language is spoken, and a single administrative system falls into place across the region. It is during this period that the seeds of trouble get planted, however. For as the first native fortunes are accrued, those building them start to notice the power money gives them. Power otherwise unavailable within the political and administrative system. This they find fascinating!

(4) An Age of Affluence begins (there will be considerable overlap between this and its predecessor). To all appearances, the High Noon of a civilization is its Age of Affluence. Because new technologies are appearing and the builders of fortunes create millions of jobs, the standard of living rises exponentially. With sufficient surplus wealth floating around, large universities can be created and endowed, research institutes formed, etc. The generations that follow experience the results of this overall rise in prosperity but not the effort that went into them, and this, too, presages trouble. Moreover, making money starts to become an end in itself and not a means to advancing the common good of communities.

(5) An Age of Intellect begins, also overlapping with its predecessors. Almost every major community will soon have its college or university. Some of these will be very good at this stage; others will be mediocre. With the basic necessities of life now assured for a sufficient fraction of the population, acquisitions of academic honors start to replace honors achieved through military conquest and even by commercial achievement. At the same time, the Age of Intellect is marked by the appearance of disputations that more and more, seem to lack seriousness in the sense that they don’t address real problems. They may well be steeped in false premises, not recognized as such because they are not really tested against the world but protected within academia’s safe groves. Inevitably, such disputations turn to the foundations of the civilization itself, be they religious or otherwise. A civilization begins to drift as its first premises are called into question by its ostensibly best minds. Intellectual and eventually political leadership is thus beset by quandaries and doubt that did not exist before. Questionable decisions will be made, some involving which intellectual groups to support with lavish funding. Some will have bad consequences, as bad books are written and absorbed within a growing media culture. A result is that the moral “fiber” that holds communities together starts to unravel. This is accompanied by rapid “creative-destructive” advances in technology, achievements of convenience, and so on, that often lead to massive differences between parents and children, adding to uncertainty.

(6) Ages of Decadence call for lengthier attention. An Age of Decadence is marked by all or most of the following.

(a) Monetary policy is less and less responsible; as when, for us, financialization replaced production as a means of wealth-generation, allowing production to be outsourced to third world nations for cheap labor, all in the name of enhanced profitability. Civilization is by now highly centralized, so that monetary policy affects everyone within its borders in one way or another, and for that matter, will affect other societies that are trading partners.

(b) Rapid cultural changes are urged; these are eagerly embraced by some populations but not others, leading to rising division and dissension.

(c) There is rising alienation, as institutions of all sorts cease to serve persons and become expansive, impersonal bureaucracies serving only themselves. (Incidentally, think of the replacement of personnel departments with human resources departments, the implication being that human persons are resources not different in kind from other resources.)

(d) Increased frivolity sets in, as celebrities and sports stars replace achievers of the past who made genuine contributions to the civilization.

(e) Women begin to move into professions previously dominated by men, sometimes for economic reasons as the currency is devalued, wages flatline, and families need two breadwinners instead of just one.

(f) Immigrants begin to flow into population centers, the difference being that immigrants of the past learned to speak the dominant language and assimilated into the dominant culture while those of this new period do not. The result is that subcommunities form, and the capacities of schools, hospitals, and other institutions are overwhelmed by a babble of foreign languages. Some of these subcommunities are actively hostile to the dominant culture, furthering already existing divisions. (We see this happening in Europe, a civilization clearly in its Age of Decadence.)

(g) There is rising dependency on the instruments of the state sometimes for basic necessities. This may be because families have split up and communities have become divided, leaving elderly couples stranded and without other help; it may be because profit-driven outsourcing has resulted in a lack of jobs that match the skills of the population. It may be because of growing chronic health conditions resulting from imbibing unhealthy food, products of other questionable (but profitable) decisions.

(h) Schools fail to educate. Documentation of this is ignored. Educators begin to leave the profession out of frustration. The sources of their frustration may range from the growing indifference and unruliness of students, from bureaucratic interference with their teaching methods and content, or from pay so low that it fails to meet their basic expenses. Schools fill up with mediocrities and become less and less functional.

(i) Religious belief, healthy patriotism, a sense of duty to the common good, respect for matters of learning, and other commitments aggregated under the label tradition are replaced by materialist consumerism, a love of money, frivolity, and cynicism. These encircle the individual, who is increasingly isolated if he refuses to commit to them. A kind of pessimism suffuses the body politic however papered over with “eat, drink, and be merry.” Pessimism and anxiety will be reflected in literary, artistic, cinematic, musical, and other cultural products.

(j) An irrational fascination with sex of every variety comes to suffuse all cultural and commercial activity. We see its results all around us: distrust and hostility between the sexes, extramarital affairs, marriages breaking down or not happening at all as people choose to stay single (much easier to have multiple affairs that way), the appearance and mainstreaming of practices previously rejected sometimes as immoral but sometimes just on public health grounds. A general sense of the cheapness of human life manifests itself in the widespread acceptance of such practices as abortion. An added sense of the postmodern fluidity of truth is employed in their defense, which speaks euphemistically (e.g.) of a “woman’s reproductive rights” without the added observation that the “right” under discussion is a right to kill another human being without impunity.

(k) Finally, and most dangerously, civilizations, having entered their Ages of Decadence, take on the full characteristics of empire: over-expansion whether politically, economically, militarily, or in some combination of all three. They become aggressive toward other nations, often seeing themselves entitled to those nations’ resources or to be able to profit from having gotten them hopelessly entangled in debt (see John Perkins, The New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, 2016). These same governments and corporations become increasingly aggressive towards their own citizens. Decisions are made on the basis of expedience, not principle. Those who criticize this system are driven to the margins, though they can appeal to increasingly alienated populations and sometimes gain an audience for their ideas. Among those ideas, if they are to retain a following, is hope. Satisfying that hope, however, is predicated on a fundamental change in the collective consciousness. Such change may go against the will (and the profit margins) of the corporate-state, and therefore be resisted violently by those in power if it catches on.

Is it not clear that the U.S. (and indeed, much of the rest of Western civilization) is deeply mired in its Age of Decadence?

I shouldn’t have to argue the point!

Those who keep up with current events saw the pathetic spectacle of the hearings over Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh over Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations of sexual misconduct during a party when he was 17 and she was 15. There were abundant reasons to believe the Democrats were holding onto the allegation, just in case they could not take Kavanaugh down on his legal qualifications and experience. The sense that Dianne Feinstein had little intrinsic interest in Dr. Ford’s complaint illustrates the cynicism of our times. As matters ensured, we were treated by Senate Judiciary Committee members to a recounting of the exact words used by teenagers in Kavanaugh’s high school yearbook as if they constituted evidence, something that did not occur even 25 years ago when Anita Hill accused Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. What is clear, however, and this speaks to the sense of fluidity of truth mentioned above: if you’re a liberal or progressive, you believed her. If you’re a conservative, you believed him. Moreover, if you’re a liberal or progressive, you saw his visible anger as the arrogant outburst of an entitled white male of privilege. If you’re a conservative, you see it as the moral outrage of someone falsely and very publicly accused. This all exemplifies a divided nation. There is no clear way of ascertaining the truth, as what little evidence there is, is testimonial, and doesn’t support either story unequivocally (how could it?).

We get into messes like this because, first of all, in a culture saturated with sexuality and sexual innuendo, sexual misconduct is bound to occur. To that extent, her story becomes somewhat believable. In a culture of distrust between the sexes, moreover, in which allegations become weaponized for whatever reason, false accusations are bound to be thrown around. To that extent, his story becomes believable. Consider, moreover, social media technology which research shows allows people to group themselves voluntarily into silos, echo chambers, where their premises and conclusions won’t be challenged. This is human nature, if you think about it. Result: divides grow until they are all but unbridgeable, views on the other side of the aisle are seen as illegitimate, and public differences of opinion threaten to turn violent.

An Age of Decadence will be characterized by distrust. This distrust will manifest itself in countless ways, some very visible and others little more than nuisances. An example of the first is the highly intrusive vetting for positions such as a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court, a process bound to be very public in our age of total media saturation. Given that men are now guilty if accused in this environment, this may eventually ensure that no one, no matter how well qualified, will want such a position. We aren’t to that point yet, but why would anyone in his right mind want to endure what either family, Kavanaugh’s or that of Dr. Ford, have had to endure? (As an example of the second above, the nuisance factor, the other day I was temporarily locked out of my PayPal account because I had a typo in my password when I tried to log in. The system threw me several security hoops I was compelled to jump through to prove “I’m me.” The sad fact is, in this age of hackers, most such measures are justified.)

Returning to Sir John Bagot Glubb. He documents, from excursions into the histories of Greece, Rome, Persia, the Ottomans, and others, that we’ve never seen a civilization turn around from an Age of Decadence and regain its original foundation. The sexuality genie in particular is unlikely to go back into the bottle. Our monetary foibles are reaching a critical stage as debt of all sort continues to mount. The U.S. national debt is unpayable and continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Many of the U.S. federal government’s larger legal obligations will eventually be unpayable. A lot of student loan debt will not be paid, even as those struggling to pay it sacrifice major expenditures (e.g., housing) that would contribute to the economy. Add to this the fact that other nations, recognizing the dollar’s loss of value and increasing fragility, are starting to “de-dollarize” (do business in their own currencies).

All of this, of course, leaves the future of the U.S. very uncertain, no matter who is president, no matter which party controls Congress, no matter which technologies promise to emerge tomorrow to increase our convenience and save us from ourselves.

What often happens as an Age of Decadence runs its course is that the old older simply collapses, whether slowly or rapidly. There is a vast loss of influence and sometimes territory. This happened with the British Empire. It happened with the Soviet Union. It is likely to happen to the U.S., after it happens to the European Union. At the culmination of an Age of Decadence, institutions lose their capacity to enforce the rules because those in them lose their will. The system itself loses legitimacy. Citizens will already have turned inward, either to “tending their own gardens” as it were, or acting with their follows to actively separate, which is the start of the building of replacement institutions in a new culture. There are innumerable persons and communities, some within the borders of the U.S., some elsewhere, who have to all intents and purposes seceded from a political economy they see as dying.

What should a philosopher have to say about all of this? Er, plenty, it looks like, although very few philosophers are saying anything (most are, er, “tending their own gardens” in their safe comfort zones of academia).

As I stated at the outset, a philosopher should look to the first premises guiding any civilization, explicitly or tacitly, and get positioned to evaluate them. This will be the topic of my next few posts.

 

Posted in Culture, Media, Philosophy, Where is Civilization Going?, Where Is Philosophy Going? | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Why Is Philosophy Important? An Expanded Comment

Daily Nous, the philosophy blog, posted a recent query raising this question in response to an undergraduate who had fallen in love with the subject. Presumably she’d gotten some flak from friends or maybe family. The blog’s editor, Justin Weinberg (South Carolina), solicited and received a number of responses. Most were interesting and worthwhile. One was from yours truly. Reviewing it, I decided to expand on it here because I think more can be said on, Why Is Philosophy Important? Some of it I’ve said before, but it bears repeating.

First, and as my comment noted (perhaps a bit too brusquely for the delicate tastes of most career academics), very little academic philosophy is important. It provides a paycheck for those fortunate enough to have found jobs in the field, or who didn’t eventually abandon them out of frustration.

Let me envision two roles for philosophy that could secure its importance in civilization. I will call them philosophy as service and philosophy as thought-leadership.

Philosophy as service will center on critical thinking and the analysis of language, offering a kind of mental housecleaning. This is appropriate for the academic setting if the instructor approaches it in the right way, warning in advance that some people might believe their toes are being stepped on. A good course in the subject should provide a student with a sense of what it means to support a conclusion with reasons (premises) and why this might matter. The student should learn what makes reasoning cogent or fallacious. Ideally, students will not be as prone to fallacious reasoning either in themselves or in others. A student should also come away from a philosophy course alert to the fact that not everything in our reasoning is stated openly. One’s beliefs might (usually?) contain hidden premises. How we identify these, and what we do then, will be crucial.

Philosophy might also draw attention to what seem to be the limits of our reasoning. Reason alone cannot answer every possible question or settle every dispute. First premises are notoriously difficult to prove or disprove, after all. Otherwise they would not be first premises!

A more practical focus on language in philosophy ought to alert us all to the fact that there are plenty of people in this world who use language as a means of control or even domination, sometimes as the equivalent of a weapon. Words or phrases, carefully selected, will encourage some lines of thought while inhibiting others. The political and commentary spheres provide an abundance of examples. Any reasonably intelligent person should be able to go to any popular newsfeed and find a dozen examples in less than a half hour.

If anything will hobble this approach to philosophy as service, as mental housecleaning, it is because as an academic subject, philosophy has been self-limiting and self-deprecating for well over a century now. Much of this was due to its deference to science in matters epistemic. From Auguste Comte on, positivists and their descendants saw themselves as, at best, handmaidens to science in the sense that Aquinas saw philosophy as a handmaiden to theology. For a long time, this was understandable. Unfortunately, philosophy as handmaiden to science tells us little about how to evaluate all manner of recent scientific developments ranging from nuclear weapons to genetic engineering to artificial intelligence and beyond. As Dr. Ian Malcolm (played by Jeff Goldblum) quipped to other characters in the film Jurassic Park, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they forgot to stop and ask if they should!”

Positivism is therefore dead and buried, one of our worst modern wrong turns. But self-limitations on philosophy have remained. As I’ve noted previously, the analytic tradition whether in its formal or natural language varieties developed powerful techniques but never used them to their full potential. Used to their full potential, philosophical analyses of how words and phrases have crept into our the general lexicon and what they are used to do might shed great light on how those seeking controls over others’ thought accomplish this. Did Wittgenstein not say near the end of the Tractatus that asking, What do we actually use this word or proposition for? repeatedly leads to valuable insights? It also matters who the speaker is, how he or she self-identifies, where he or she is, i.e., at what level of which hierarchy, etc.

If one needs examples, consider the phrase conspiracy theory. A simple search would turn up dozens of usages. What are these usages attempting to do? This example illustrates how any good analysis of a term or phrase should include its origin and history, as the origin of this phrase with the Central Intelligence Agency back in 1967 is known. The CIA’s aim, in introducing the usage, was to circumvent, a priori, all serious discussions of ideas or theories those in power did not want around.

Or consider the term homophobia, which for over 20 years now has come to be used reflexively in response to conservatives who criticize the homosexual lifestyle and its political and legal protections. What is a phobia? The term has a recognized use, as an irrational fear of something (think of a legitimate usage, e.g., agoraphobia). Use of the term therefore automatically suggests that critics of homosexual conduct and its promoters are by definition irrational. That which is irrational is not to be answered with logic but with cured with therapy. Hence the power of the term to misdirect and confuse. Good philosophical analysis should unearth this, but typically does not for obvious reasons: it quickly runs up against powerful prevailing political / cultural currents. (Use of the phrases transphobia and Islamophobia indicates that the phobia suffix is spreading. Why not play a successful meme for all the mileage one can get from it?)

At present, if one is interested in this kinds of usages of language as instruments of control, one will glean far more from the writings of Aldous Huxley and George Orwell than from Wittgenstein or Quine or any of the other heroes of mainstream twentieth century Anglophone philosophy. The former, of course, did not have to worry about offending those signing their paychecks, or being blacklisted within the profession for having offended the wrong people with words or supposed conduct.

There is another, more ambitious role for philosophy, however, which rejects roles as handmaiden to something else, some other enterprise. This is the role of philosophy as thought-leadership.

The best role philosophy could play in present-day civilization as a repository of thought-leaders is in identifying, clarifying, and critically evaluating worldviews.

By worldviews we do not mean personal opinions. We mean usually tacit but still fairly comprehensive systems of thought that direct civilizations through their institutions (governing, mediating, etc.), manifesting themselves in culture.

These are not theories that philosophers simply spun out of their imaginations, although past philosophical theories influenced them. Those in other leadership positions, or simply in dominant ones, in society state or imply worldviews with their choices of words and phrases, or influential choices of what they see as important. Afterwards worldviews may operate as unstated premises in discussions of public issues.

Supporters of these premises may hold them so deeply that they do not see the need to state them openly. They may think anyone who rejects them (also implicitly) is pernicious, or evil. This may be one of the reasons why those on opposite sides of, e.g., the conservative vs. progressive divide increasingly tend to fly at each other’s throats instead of sitting down across a table and finding out what the other is thinking.

What they should do is explore their worldviews. Even if they still did not agree, they would have more clarity on what they were disagreeing about. They would surely not be any worse off. They might even find common ground and recognize a common foe.

Is there a dominant worldview in the West right now? Is there more than one, perhaps vying with each other for dominance? I have identified materialism as dominant even if it takes more than one form, and Christianity, once dominant, as still its chief competitor. It, too, takes more than one form. These qualify as worldviews whatever their other features, because they fully suffuse all significant aspects of the lives of those immersed in them. They define reality for that group.

A worldview will usually be expressed in some core text such as the Holy Scriptures or in key statements such as Darwin’s theory or Russell’s “A Free Man’s Worship.” It will find expression in a culture’s art, its music, what its leading voices see as of value or important, and sometimes in political ambitions. Why have some civilizations’ leaders taken it upon themselves to try to dominate the world, or as much of it as possible? Because their worldview defines not just empirical reality for them but all that is good and superior. They see universal allegiance to their worldview as the path to Utopia. Communists saw revolution against the bourgeoisie this way, in accordance with the historical laws of dialectical materialism (Marx’s phrase). Global corporate capitalists since the fall of the Soviet Union have seen the superiority of a consumption-oriented marketplace as key to general material prosperity, not just for Westerners but for everybody in the world. This, to them, is superior to all else.

This brings us to: is a prevailing worldview helping us or harming us … or, perhaps, helping some (perhaps empowering them) at the expense of others? Does identifying and examining worldviews help philosophers engage systems of power and propaganda, doing what Noam Chomsky once described as the responsibility of intellectuals: “to speak the truth and to expose lies” (see his essay “The Responsibility of Intellectuals”)?

The academic system doesn’t encourage any of this, of course. It doesn’t encourage my service role for philosophy in this form — not really. Which is why most critical thinking courses are just logic courses that leave out their most important potential applications. As that great comedian and social commentator George Carlin once wryly observed, the last thing the truly powerful, owners of the leviathan corporations, want is a population of critical thinkers. Much less do those in dominant institutions want publicly accessible critiques of their worldview.

But philosophy still has a job to do, if it is to be a force to be reckoned with, and otherwise, why consider it important? The two roles for philosophy I outlined above are fundamentally flipsides of the same coin, for doctrinaire and controlling language is bound to be worldview-embedded. How to carry forth this kind of project is the question those who see philosophy as important should be asking themselves and each other, and also nonphilosophers concerned about where Western civilization is going (if it is going anywhere).

If the self-identified professionals ever get out of their office cubicles, or break free of various ideologically-induced blinders, whether to look at their language or consider the role of worldviews in modern advanced civilization — if at least some can courageously rise above their present stations and engage these kinds of questions and see where they lead, then Yes, philosophy as a discipline will clearly be important. Some, I firmly believe, are up to this task. They will be the thought-leaders of tomorrow if the West is to survive.

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