Handbook: Implicated: Problematic
The golden thread running through Western civilization is rationalism. As Aristotle said, “Man by nature strives to know.” The striving for knowledge results in science, which is but the application of reason. Intellectual inquisitiveness is one of the hallmarks of Western civilization.
— Ibn Warraq
An Emergent Cosmopolis
Civilization rise and fall; cultures come and go; and often it is only long after that historians are able to piece together what happened. We have no assurance that our Western culture will survive for very long. Other narratives generated by non-Western civilizations may dominate the logosphere as we pass into the dustbin of history.
This would be a great loss, for the desirability of universality vs. tribal, of intellectual rigor vs. myth-making, of civil law rather than the law of power—even of being presumed innocent until proven guilty—are all gifts our fore-bearers gifted to us.
During times of institutional change, doors are closed but opportunities opened. But it takes people who have the means of controlling meaning that can recognize such changes, avoid blind alleys and take advantage of new possibilities. Without such a means of control, the communal creation of a world mediated by meaning will not correspond with reality, insights are neglected for oversights, and a relentless drive toward decline seemingly takes hold.
Vickers writes about the lack of a common appreciative system for managing communal affairs. Mannheim is concerned about the lack of any common set of values that can be used to set policies and carry out plans. Sacks writes about the loss of a common communal life in multicultural times. Dunne highlights the reality of a divided soul unable to reconcile secular with religious life, constrained to livie in two irreconcible worlds serving two masters. Bloom studies the decline of university-trained minds, a point reinforced by Hanson’s own observations in teaching classical Greek. Lonergan’s focus on the subject reveals not only various distortions of the human psyche but a number of epistemological errors responsible for creating worlds more imaginary and wish-fulfilling than connected with reality. History and geography have been replaced by sociology and a multitude of special interest activist courses on feminism and race relations.
For examples of how far this has gone one need only read the works of Flaherty to reveal the hoax of black victimization, Paulos on the “settled science” of global warming, “Spengler” on the loss of Western culture, Kissinger on the breakup of the Westphalian global order, Crews on the follies of the wise, Ibrahim on the reality of Muslim life, Voegelin on the loss of the transcendental in understanding of politics, Hanson on the critical importance of warfare in human history. And then there is Jacobs who argues that we are entering into a dark age where our institutions can no longer cope with internal or external problems, thus becoming irrelevant to practical life.
Whether you agree with their respective positions is to some extent irrelevant. The fact that they not only exist but are widely read points to a multiplicity of fundamentally important dialectical issues that need to be resolved—questions that have a major impact on our future. How are we to resolve them? Or perhaps a better question is, Can we resolve them? Perhaps might makes right through mob rule, elite power games, and narratives have greater reality than that which can be affirmed through experience, understanding and judging.
One fundamental change is that the kinds of reflective understanding that used to guide societies has been taken over by the institutional needs and demands of the moment. People of great common sense intelligence, who know what to do in any situation, tend not to reflect on the deeper meaning of what they do. The trouble is that short term expedient action taken century after century fragments the tested knowledge base we inherent from our forefathers. This results in a loss of order in social and political affairs as the only way to cope with such fragmentation is to reduce one’s mind to the here and now. Such fragmentation of the good of order involves the way we bind time, so that even a few years into the future becomes impossible to envision much less plan for in any reasonable and responsible manner, the past is considered irrelevant and outdated, and more and more people lives their lives in the moment—a protean existence with no roots and no standards.
Compare this in scale with Jaspers axial period that saw the rise of common moral codes as a solution to the problem of moral contrel over ever larger groups. If we are entering a second axial period, it would be characterized by the breakdown of communal order due to the influence of common sense bias. Social and political life has fragmented to the point that even those with a strong religious moral foundation find themselves a minority among many cultural traditions where each ethnic group is given equal weight.
Then there is Stapledon’s speculative history of the entire human race covering two thousand million years involving eighteen fundamental redesigns of the human species. Or Lessing’s Canopus series that spans millions of years in the context of the broad evolution of a multitude of species in a universe populated by emerging life in many forms and at many stages of development.
The latter authors have spent a considerable amount of time reflecting on what it means to be human in the greater scheme of things. This provides a perspective on current affairs that helps to balance the intensity and weight of the moment. Theology once held the position of “queen of the sciences” but in a fragmented culture no such position can be claimed by any one person or group. A world gone small brings different cultures and traditions together in a ways that no longer can be ignored. And weapons of mass destruction bring power to biased minds that threaten any future.
The earth will survive, humanity may survive in some form, but we may not.
Russell C. Baker