This mini-e-booklet is derived from a Blog called Bruce Charlton's Miscellany - http://charltonteaching.blogspot.com/ - which I was writing daily from June to August 2010. It simply consists in a thematic selection and semi-narrative arrangement of very lightly revised (indeed mostly un-revised) blog entries.
Readers are welcome to print-out this booklet for their own use.
Charlton BG. (2010). Decline of the West explained. http://declineofwestexplained.blogspot.com/ [plus access date]
NB: I should emphasize that this booklet offers an essentially naturalistic (i.e. political, sociological, psychological etc) explanation for the increasingly self-destructive nature of modernity; and while probably correct (more or less) I do not find this naturalistic explanation to be wholly sufficient. It feels to me as if something important is missing.
For clues to what is missing, the best parable of modernity seems to be the rise and fall of Numenor as described in the works of JRR Tolkien - especially in the History of Middle Earth volume entitled The Lost Road, supplemented in the volume entitled Sauron Defeated (i.e. the material relating to The Notion Club Papers).
The element missing from the naturalistic description is made clearer in the works of Fr. Seraphim (Eugene) Rose - such as the early work entitled Nihilism and the later Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future - online resources are at: http://startingontheroyalpath.blogspot.com .
The point, in essence, is that living for worldly gratification stimulates the sin of pride and indeed regards it as a virtue. Pride and the search for gratification combine to *invite* evil into one's life and into the world.
The Numenor parallel is that the immediate cause of the downfall is caused by the King summoning Sauron (equivalent to a chief demon, or fallen archangel, in Tolkien's universe) to the Western island which otherwise he could not have entered - he voluntarily welcomed evil into the earthly paradise.
Because Numenor was indeed a kind of earthly paradise for humans, an island safe from invasion and beautiful beyond any in Middle Earth. And compared with normal men the Numenoreans were greatly enhanced: taller and stronger, much longer-lived (treble the modern lifespan), wiser and more intelligent, more magical and skilled, did not suffer illness, and were able to surrender their lives voluntarily when life became weary but before decline set in.
Yet, in search of immortality and wishing to rule even the Gods, the Numenorans invaded the undying lands and were buried in rock and the island of Numenor ('Atlantis') was drowned and the civilization destroyed. The parallel is that (like the West in general, but especially like Germany under National Socialism) the Numenoreans turned to evil and committed societal and personal suicide - led by their rulers.
Numenorean society had been corrupted over several generations by the growing fear of death, clinging to life at any cost (rather than accepting the proper time to die) and lust for greater power in this world. The reason the King brought Sauron to Numenor was his pride but once Sauron had arrived this was supplemented by the promise of greater power from Sauron's knowledge - ultimately the desire for immortality offered by Sauron.
This is what I think must be added to the analysis of modernity - the sense in which the Western secular ruling elites are not merely insane and unrealistic, neglectful and blind, dishonest and arrogant - but actually invite evil into their souls and into the world by embracing moral inversion: the love of lies, ugliness and wickedness.
Note added 18 August 2010
The submissive flaccidity of modern societies
I was always puzzled by the submissive flaccidity of modern Western societies: the way that - although people live to maximize gratification and minimize suffering - they will in practice do little or nothing to protect their future happiness or to defend against future suffering: will indeed act such as to ensure and hasten a future of misery for themselves and their children.
So, the elite ruling class of modern societies will not preserve stability, law and order within their societies; will not try to defend their societies against external threats; will not safeguard future growth or prosperity; will not suppress those who would abolish their most cherished freedoms; will not even allow discussion of ongoing massive demographic change and its implications; will not support or promote the high culture in which they live and about which they are expert…
It is strange that people who live almost-wholly for their lifestyles will not lift a finger to maintain the conditions which support these lifestyles.
(Leaving aside, here, the desirability of these lifestyles. My point is that lifestyle is the focus of modern life; yet lifestyles fail to inspire any resolution or perceptible self-sacrifice in sustaining themselves.).
But the reason is encapsulated by "Charlton's Law": Things must always get worse before they can get better; because otherwise they already would be better."
When a beneficial policy is a win-win option, then it gets done automatically, and we don't need to think about it - probably we don't even notice it.
But most beneficial policies have a down-side. Typically, long-term benefit can be attained only at the cost of short-term disadvantage or suffering of some kind, to some people.
So that the hedonic secular goal of making life *overall* as pleasant as possible in the *long-term* is continually being subverted by the *short-term* and *specific* gratification.
The hedonic ideal has reached such an extremity among the ruling elites that they pursue policies which will in the long term lead to lifestyles that they regard as miserable and abhorrent, because effectively to prevent these outcomes makes them feel bad now.
In other words, secular hedonism cannot take tough decisions.
A tough decision is precisely a decision in which the correct decision leads to short term harm.
I first recognized this dilemma in medicine, when it is often the case that in order to make a person probably feel better overall in the long term, they must suffer immediate and certain short term misery: for example, surgery. Surgeons live with this on a daily basis, and consequently to be a good surgeon requires a 'tough' attitude.
Of course surgery requires many other things too, and most tough decisions are bad - but the point is that someone who was psychologically unable to make tough decisions, but always sought to maximize the immediate comfort and well-being of patients and to take minimum risk, would be a bad surgeon.
Modern society is *soft* in precisely this fashion - its rulers have lost the ability take tough decisions: to seek long term benefits when these come at the price the cost of short term costs to themselves.
The ultimate reason is, I believe, that humans can only make tough decisions when these are supported by *transcendental aims*, in the sense that humans do not want to forgo short term gratification in this world unless life is about something *more* than gratification – and where non-worldly realities (God, heaven, truth, beauty etc.) are seen as more real and more enduring than immediate gratification - and therefore more important.
If human life is (as secular modernity asserts) ultimately about gratification (about maximizing happiness and minimizing suffering) then it will always seem tempting to take the short-term choice leading to immediate and certain happiness and avoid immediate and certain suffering; and to ignore the long-term consequences of these choices on the basis that the future cannot be known with certainty, and we might be dead anyway before the future arrives.
The resulting mentality is characteristic of the modern secular elite, but has spread to encompass much of contemporary life. Charles Murray has encapsulated this modern ‘sophisticated’ attitude very well: “Human beings are a collection of chemicals that activate and, after a period of time, deactivate. The purpose of life is to while away the intervening time as pleasantly as possible.”
My point is that a society which regards the purpose of life as being to while away the time between birth and death as pleasantly as possible is a society which cannot make tough decisions. It is a society which will always take the easy way out, will pursue short-termist and certain benefits, and which will therefore always submit to its enemies - because to resist enemies makes life less pleasant than to appease them.
Even to recognize the reality of threats and enemies is unpleasant, distressing, generative of negative emotions such as fear and anger – better if we can pretend that threats and enemies are harmless or benign, really; and the only truly nasty people are those who make us feel bad about ourselves, here and now…
So a society that values nothing higher than a pleasant life and which will seek the pleasant life whereever and whenever possible will be morally flaccid in face of opposition, will appease rather than resist, will submit rather than fight, and will therefore end-up being ruled by its most relentless and long-termist enemies - and by having an extremely un-pleasant life.
This is why secular modernity cannot survive: because it enshrines the worldly enlightened self-interest of submissive flaccidity as its ultimate form of rational, sensitive moral behaviour.
The dark side of specialization and growth
Could it be that the differentiation of Church and State, the development of universities (secular in their essence, even when staffed by religious), the process of specialization itself – that all these are actually first steps on an _inevitable_ path to where we are now (i.e. on the verge of a self-inflicted - almost self-willed - collapse of 'the West')?
Universities can be seen as by now vastly inflated institutions, not just parasitic but actively destructive in many ways. On the other hand Universities used to perform some functions which were essential to those aspects of modernity which we most admire: philosophy in the medieval university, classics in the next period, science (Wissenschaft) in the 19th century German universities and so on.
But, in retrospect, all these golden ages of scholarship and research were more like brief transitional periods en route to something much worse.
For instance, the flowering of science (as a specialized, largely autonomous, social system) for the couple of centuries up until the mid twentieth century was a period of constant institutional change until science became - as now - *essentially* a branch of the state bureaucracy.
It seems that useful/ efficient specialization (including separation from State and Religion) leads to over specialization (or micro-specialization) which is increasingly less efficient, then less effective - and all this seems to lead back to re-absorption of science into the State (or into Religion, in principle).
For instance the London Royal Society became more and more autonomous in its conduct until maybe the mid-twentieth century, then became progressively reabsorbed back into the State until now the Royal Society gets about ¾ of its funding directly from the UK parliament, and the organization functions like a department of the UK civil administration.
If we go back and back to find the point at which this *apparently* unstoppable yet self-undermining process began in the West - I think it may lead to the difference between (say) medieval Orthodox Byzantium and Catholic Western Europe.
Right back to scholasticism, perhaps? That was when the divergence became first apparent - when an academic, pre-scientific discipline (i.e. philosophy) became increasing autonomous from Religion (in the West the Religious hierarchy already was separate from the State hierarchy - although sometimes the two cooperated closely. In the East, Church and State formed an intermingled, single hierarchy).
Indeed, my impression is that Thomistic scholasticism may itself be self-undermining – and that this can perhaps be seen in the history of the Roman Catholic Church and even of some specific scholastic scholars – for example Jacques Maritain or Thomas Merton? (They began as traditionalists and ended as modernizers.)
It seems that institutions can grasp the essence of Thomism, and yet the process of understanding does not at all prevent – indeed it perhaps encourages – the continuation of the process until it has destroyed the system itself. As Peter Abelard found, once the process of sceptical analysis has begun, there is not clear point at which it can be seen necessary to stop – and the only point when it is known for sure that things have gone too-far is when the system which supported the process has fallen to pieces and by then it is too late.
Something similar may apply to science. The process of science creates a social system which first really reinvents itself due to real discoveries, then later makes pseudo- discoveries in order really to reinvent itself, then finally makes pseudo-discoveries in order to pseudo-reinvent itself. At which point the full circles has been turned, and all that remains is to drop the pretence.
Of course, differentiation of society led initially to greater strength, based (probably) on frequent breakthroughs in science and technology which drove increased economic productivity and military capability. But as differentiation proceeded to micro- and destructive levels, the real breakthroughs dried up and were replaced with hype and spin, then later pure lies. Real economic growth was replaced with inflation and borrowing. Progress was replaced with propaganda.
We have already observed the whole story in the atheist and supposedly science-worshipping Soviet Union – which in Russia is maybe now returning to the more stable and robust pattern of Eastern Christian (Byzantine) theocracy - and the pattern is merely being repeated in the capitalist and democratic West.
(With the difference that the secular West will probably - in the medium term - return after the collapse of modernity to segmentary, chaotic tribalism, rather than large-scale cohesive theocracy.)
In sum, perhaps the process of social differentiation is unstoppable hence inevitably self-destroying? The increasing rate of science and technological breakthroughs from (say) 1700 to 1900 looked like progress in the conduct of human affairs until it wasn’t. The faster social system growth and differentiation proceeds, the faster it destroys itself.
Rapid growth and differentiation is therefore, in fact, intrinsically parasitic – whether or not we can actually detect the parasitism. At any rate, that's what it looks like to me.
The malignancy of radical doubt
Like nearly all modern scientists, indeed nearly all of the modern intellectual elite, I find it difficult to believe in the reality of the immortal soul - isn't that strange?
It is natural and spontaneous for humans to believe in a soul which in some way persists after death. And apparently everyone in the world believed this until a few hundred years ago (including, for what it is worth, the greatest intellectuals in the history of humankind - Socrates, Plato and Aristotle). Indeed, on a planetary scale, nearly everyone alive still does believe in the immortal soul - but hardly any of the ruling elite of the Western nations.
Why don't they believe in the soul now?
It was, obviously, not due to any kind of *discovery* of science or logic. It was instead due to a change in metaphysics - a change in assumptions. Specifically the systemic application of 'radical doubt' - or what I think of as the 'subtractive method'.
(Apparently this metaphysical novelty came from Descartes, ultimately - but why it came to dominate the West is a mystery.)
The subtractive method works on the basis that you try denying the reality of something, and see whether this elimination causes instant and complete collapse – if it does not then it is concluded that the subtracted thing was not real but merely a subjective delusion.
So, intellectuals deny the reality of the soul and since this denial does not lead to the immediate and complete destruction of the denying individual or group, so this is taken to mean that the soul does not really exist, that it is subjective, that it had been a delusion that gripped the world for millennia but from which we are now blissfully free.
In practice (which we see around us on a daily, hourly, basis) the subtractive method of radical doubt involves doubting one piece of knowledge (e.g. the reality of the soul, of beauty, of an objective morality, or the factuality of any empirical claim) while *not* doubting other pieces of knowledge – such as the validity of human reason, or the validity of various pieces of science, economics, or whatever.
At another time, however, radical doubt may be turned against the pieces of knowledge which have previously been used to doubt _other_ pieces of knowledge – so that logic might be used to deny the reality of the common sense soul, than later the validity of logic might be doubted using historical, multicultural anthropological ‘evidence’ (e.g. assertions that some cultures or individuals do not use logic, or that the use of logic has changed).
So all of knowledge can be, *is being*, systematically ‘doubted’ piecemeal, a bit at a time, in rotation – as it were.
Yet all specific doubts are relative to other knowledge which – for the time being – is exempted from doubt.
(Total skepticism of all things simultaneously is never seen – presumably because it would be mute, inert and self-extinguishing. If it did exist we would not know about it.)
It is blazingly obvious that radical doubt is irrational – but somehow the irrationality makes no difference, and the process has cumulated over the past few centuries.
I am not trying to caricature here. The subtractive method of radical doubt really is an extremely crude doctrine, utterly irrational, and (nonetheless, or because of this?) totally dominant in Western intellectual circles.
Since the spread of radical doubt from a few individuals to encompass whole classes, whole societies, we can see huge social changes, which show no signs of stopping but rather seem to be accelerating. Yet no matter what happens to individuals or societies that employ radical doubt, it is never taken as evidence that the soul-denying metaphysic is mistaken.
Because it is a metaphysical assumption, the subtractive method is taken for granted, such that whatever problems result from radical doubt will necessarily be attributed to other causes.
Radical doubt is an intellectual malignancy, that is clear; but the puzzle is why Western elites are so vulnerable to its spread.
NB: The proper question about the soul is not whether it is real - *of course* it is real – but what happens to the soul after death, in broad terms. Here there has been uncertainty and disagreement. But evidence comes from common sense (natural law), metaphysical and logical argument, and from revelation.
The cancer of epistemology
Much has been written (including a wonderful little book by Jacob Brownowski) on the Common Sense of Science. And there is a case that science is the opposite of common sense - that the most powerful science is counter-intuitive yet un-refutable or exceptionally explanatory.
But I have observed (common-sensically) that reflection on the philosophy of science has been associated with the destruction of science, and an increasing focus on questioning the validity of decision-making in clinical medicine and medical research has been associated with the destruction of these activities.
In other words science and medicine have been consumed by 'epistemology' - discourse which purports to examine the nature and validity of knowledge.
What has actually happened is that the failure to answer philosophical questions has led to the arbitrary manufacture of ‘answers’ which are then imposed by diktat. So that a failure to discover scientific methodology led to the arbitrary universal solution of peer review (science by vote), the failure to understand medical discovery led (ineter alia) to the arbitrary imposition of irrelevant statistical models (p < 0.05 as a truth machine).
Yet, science is not a specific methodology, nor is it a specific set of people, nor is it a special process, nor is it distinctively defined by having an unique aim - so that common sense does lie at the heart of science, as it does of all human endeavor.
By common sense I simply mean the spontaneous evaluations of the generic human mind.
It is striking that so many writers on science are so focused on how it is decided whether science is true, and whether the process of evaluating truth is itself valid. Yet in 'life' we are almost indifferent to these questions - despite that we stake our lives on the outcomes.
Once we start examining each decision to check whether it is certainly correct, life falls apart in our hands - we get the characteristic nihilist metaphysic: there is no reality, truth is relative, all is subjective, nothing matters...
So, starting out with an attempt to attain certainty, modern culture arrives at willful subjectivism.
How do we decide who to marry? How do we decide whether it is safe to walk down the street? How do we decide whether or not something is edible - or perhaps poisonous?
Such questions are - for each of us - more important, much more important, than the truth of any specific scientific paper - yet (if we are functional) we do not obsess on how we know for certain and with no possibility of error that our answers are correct.
It is not that these questions of life and science are unimportant - quite the opposite: my point is that very important decisions are made all the time by each of us; and these decisions have not been assisted by ‘epistemology' – by theories of how we know what we think we know.
Philosophy is fraught with hazard – and is perhaps mostly driven by pride and hidden agendas. This applies to specialist philosophers and also to everyday questioning of the kind engaged in by so many people. The result of detached, isolated, undisciplined philosophical enquiry is usually to undermine without underpinning.
The results can be seen all around, where philosophical questions of the ‘how do you know that?’ type are tossed around (with an air of intellectual sophistication) leading to futile but deeply dispiriting interchanges, to de-motivation, to de-realization – to the detachment from life itself.
Of course matters are made much worse by the fact that these gestures of philosophical enquiry are tossed out under great pressure of time and in situations where attention is fickle and easily distracted. The enquiry is designed to demolish, not to discover.
Philosophy only escapes destructiveness when it is subordinated to a world view, and functions within that context. There is nothing to be gained, and much to be lost, by asking ‘how we know’ when we lack any context of the purpose and meaning of life – because without a sense of the nature of life then no answer could possibly be reached.
(Yet we are deluded into believing that the purpose and meaning of life might, somehow, be built-up from the results of piecemeal philosophical enquiry – Ha!)
We must beware of general philosophical questions posed without any metaphysical (theological) basis.
If asked more than once and in a secular context, questions of the ‘How do you know that, for sure?’ type are typically used as weapons – not as enquiries. Each putative answer can be repeatedly confronted by exactly the same question. Such interchanges (if followed-up to conclusion, rather than – as usual – cut short with some kind of impatient and scornful gesture of triumph) lead back, in just a few steps, to the ultimate nature of life.
In a secular context, and this includes science and medicine, epistemological questions cannot be answered and answers should not be attempted. These questions are valuable only on the basis of a possessed and shared metaphysic including shared specific as well as general aims.
The rise of epistemology to prominence in the media and daily discourse has been inverse to, and a consequence of, the decline of theology. But the growth of epistemology has been cancerous: once a question of epistemology has seeded a discourse, that discourse is eaten and consumed by it.
Epistemology has grown not because epistemological enquiries were useful (in fact they are parasitic), but because a lack of shared theology means its growth cannot be prevented.
Epistemology currently functions as a weapon which favours the powerful - because only the strong can impose (unanswerable) questions on the weak; and ungrounded and impatient epistemological dicourse is terminated not by reaching an answer - but by enforcing an answer.
The death of Civil Society in the West
After the end of the Cold War there was a period when pundits and commentators were talking about 'Civil Society', and how this was what distinguished free societies from totalitarian societies.
I came across this idea in Ernest Gellner - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernest_Gellner.
Civil Society refers to the forms of social organization between the state and the individual: the church and individual churches; the professions, guilds and trades unions; schools; and also voluntary clubs and societies.
This level of society was inevitably either eliminated or infiltrated and enlisted by totalitarian governments.
Yet - in spite of such self-awareness of the importance of Civil Society - in the past twenty years the institutions of Civil Society in Britain have either dwindled into insignificance or else been corrupted and enlisted into the state.
In my personal experience, this has happened to the medical profession (which was one of the most powerful and independent professions) and to the universities. Both are now branches of the civil administration. A private library of which I am a member, the Literary and Philosophical Society, has also fallen: and it now pursues government driven ideologies in pursuit of state subsidies.
The societies emerging from the Soviet Union were aware that the suppression of Civil Society had been one of the ways in which the citizens were made helpless, and were enslaved; and that the vacuum created by the destruction of civil society would make it difficult for the post-totalitarian societies to become viable.
There is a functional aspect to this - a society which lacks organization at a small scale will be very difficult to order at a national scale - which is why early societies were segmentary (like feudalism), built of many autonomous and self-sufficient units.
But there is a spiritual aspect as well. In traditional society, a person feels membership of a variety of groups: perhaps a church, a job, a club. When stable and autonomous, such institutions evoke loyalty and love. Participation in these institutions creates a lot of the 'meaning of life'.
So why have they dwindled, or been hollowed out into shells of dishonest propaganda?
Two factors at least.
One is that distraction has become the major coping mechanism of secular life.
Instead of losing oneself in participation in civil society, one loses oneself in relentless distraction via the mass media, mass communications systems, portable music, images, narratives, news and other stimuli.
The other is that Civil Society has been systematically subverted by the state: by bureaucratic regulation, by taxation, by subsidy and coercively.
In a nutshell, this is because the ruling elite are mostly secular socialists (or communist atheists, to put it bluntly!). The West was too stable for revolution to succeed, but the policy of Fabian gradualism - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fabian_Society - which aimed to introduce communism graduallly, incrementally, by means of the normal system of 'democratic' government, has succeeded almost completely.
Fabian socialism is the dominant form, and the validity of Fabian socialism is inculcated and enforced by education, media, government propaganda (via the civil administration) and by the remaining shells of Civil Society.
The implication seems to be that the elite is self-corrupted to the point of being hermetically-sealed from reality, hence un-reformable.
Presumably this means that when the Western system implodes from incoherence and self-hatred (or is sufficiently weakened such as to be taken over by outside or alien powers), and radical change comes, such change will involve wholesale replacment of the current secular intellectual elite - despite the massive loss of expertise that this will entail.
Misrule by the intellectual elite on a massive and unprecedented scale - the consequences of which are systematically invisible to the intellectual elite, but apparent to those outside the elite or immune to their propaganda - will tend to lead to the biggest anti-intellectual backlash in history; simply as a matter of social survival. A chilling prospect, for all readers of this blog...
So, assuming the theorists of Civil Society were correct - we in the West are now living in what, by definition, amounts to a totalitarian society.
But hardly anybody has noticed.
Because we swim in an ideology which apparently renders our situation inescapable, because the ideology represents weakness, chaos and self-loathing as moral progress.
The fact that intellectuals have barely noticed such a rapid, albeit incremental, imposition of a totalitarian system is a damning indictment of... something-or-another.
“Did you ever fly a kite in bed?
Did you ever walk with ten cats on your head?
Did you ever milk this kind of cow?
Well, we can do it. We know how.
“If you never did, you should.
These things are fun, and fun is good.”
From Dr Seuss – One Fish, Two fish, Red Fish Blue Fish
"[Modern life has become] a constant search for "fun" which, by the way, is a word totally unheard of in any other vocabulary; in 19th century Russia they wouldn't have understood what this word meant, or any serious civilization.
"Life is a constant search for "fun" which is so empty of any serious meaning that a visitor from any 19th-century country, looking at our popular television programs, amusement parks, advertisements, movies, music—at almost any aspect of our popular culture—would think he had stumbled across a land of imbeciles who have lost all contact with normal reality.
"It is important for us to realize, as we try ourselves to lead a Christian life today, that the world which has been formed by our pampered times makes demands on the soul, whether in religion or in secular life, which are what one has to call totalitarian.
"The message of this universal temptation that attacks men today—quite openly in its secular forms, but usually more hidden in its religious forms—is: Live for the present, enjoy yourself, relax, be comfortable.
"Behind this message is another, more sinister undertone which is openly expressed only in the officially atheist countries which are one step ahead of the free world in this respect. In fact, we should realize that what is happening in the world today is very similar whether it occurs behind the Iron Curtain or in the free world. There are different varieties of it, but there is a very similar attack to get our soul.
"In the communist countries which have an official doctrine of atheism, they tell quite openly that you are to: Forget about God and any other life but the present; remove from your life the fear of God and reverence for holy things; regard those who still believe in God in the "old-fashioned' way as enemies who must be exterminated.
"One might take, as a symbol of our carefree, fun-loving, self-worshipping times, our American "Disneyland"; if so, we should not neglect to see behind it the more sinister symbol that shows where the "me generation" is really heading: the Soviet Gulag, the chain of concentration camps that already governs the life of nearly half the world's population."
The Orthodox World-View - by Father Seraphim Rose of Platina
I was watching a kids movie called Sharkboy and Lavagirl the other day, and the plot revolved around the right of kids to have fun and the evil of grown-ups who thwarted this.
This was a rather naive, pop-culture expression of a fundamental modern reality: good equals fun and evil equals those who would prevent us having fun.
What makes Seraphim Rose use the word 'totalitarian' is the insight that to impose fun on society would be a totalitarian project - in outcome for sure, and quite possibly in aim as well...
The late Gordon Brown, New Labour UK government was playing with the idea of replacing Gross Domestic Product (and economic measures of governmental success) with some version of Gross National Happiness (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gross_national_happiness) - based on surveys.
That government would be regarded as best which would lead to the best 'happiness' ratings on poll...
Aside from the incoherence and vacuousness of the idea, its utter lack of validity, its openness to corruption and its invitation to dishonesty - it would be a short and decisive step into totalitarianism for governments to deploy their power to 'make people happy'.
What a nightmare! - and easy enough to imagine since most Sci Fi readers have already experienced it vicariously.
Fun as the focus of life makes perfect sense in a secular society - if life is about nothing more than self-gratification, if 'heroism' is delusion, if God is dead; then anyone who interferes with self-gratification is evil.
(Except that even this does not make sense, since evil people are merely having fun themselves in preventing the fun of others. A philosophy of fun cannot coherently argue that one kind of fun is better than another. Why should the fun of many count for more than the fun of one? - is fun something to be weighed and measured like coal? - that sound like a pretty un-fun perspective...)
We sympathize, we admire the clear-sightedness of these characters, their lack of 'hypocrisy', their quick wits, their simplicity...
But when it exists in isolation this is a grown-up-kids morality, a pampered-pets morality - a pre-enlightened, non-self-aware, young animal perspective on life.
Not the kind of morality which could sustain a civilization or a reflective adult life. Not the kind of morality which can, in fact, sustain a *human* life.
And indeed as soon as one becomes *aware* that fun is indeed the underlying morality - as soon as a counter-culture philosophy becomes explicit; when fun is 'officially' placed at the centre of things: it is the most dreadful, despairing, dull, desolate concept of life.
The evils of voting
Where did people get the idea that voting was an acceptable - let alone the best and only, way to make decisions?
One person one vote is supposed to be the gold standard of decision making, and intrinsically the fairest - but why?
Naturally, in stable and human-sized groups decisions are made by leaders, taking into account power. A numerical majority is irrelevant - a powerful minority is more important, the consent of those ruled is more important - indeed just about anything is more important than a numerical majority.
And when sheer numbers is an important factor in the balance of power, a 51 percent majority is neither significant nor crucial - the crucial number would be more like 66 percent versus 33 percent - in which one party outnumbers the other two to one. But numbers are not the essence.
Voting maybe comes from the false ideology of intrinsic equality among humans (i.e. equality of human beings in actuality - asserted equality of wisdom and legitimate authority) - a perversion of the true ideal of intrinsic equality among humans (i.e. equality of human souls in potentiality).
Maybe it comes from the insane perspective of bureaucracy - which requires an abstract system, any system will do, for de facto decision-making - this decision-making being valided by diktat, by propaganda, by coercion.
Maybe voting comes from the jury trial aspect of the legal system - although where the ridiculous idea of determining guilt by a vote of random individuals itself originally came from, I have no idea. But like majority voting in general - trial by jury is sacred: don't ask why.
Dissent is defused by getting agreement on process (voting) rather than outcome (a specific decision) - and such is the feebleness of human's apprehension of abstraction that they will buy this pig in a poke.
We hoodwink human psychology by forcing pre-commitment to the unknown outcome of majority voting as intrinsically correct, and this is assented to because the future result of a present system is sufficiently remote and unreal that humans do not spontaneously organize against it, and imagine they can indirectly control it to give the outcomes they want.
There is no magic about majority voting, no 'wisdom of crowds', no place for the operation of divine or individual inspiration - neither the safety-first gut-feeling veto of requiring unanimous and full community assent to change, nor for the inspirational decisiveness of the gifted individual to lead the consenting (or acquiescing) group on the basis of superior wisdom, insight, foresight.
An artificial hiatus, a mathematical gap is inserted between the human interaction and the human action: the deadening vote, to which all defer...
The status of majority voting has even survived its manipulation. At a small scale, majority voting is rigged by small organized groups who manipulate meetings by well known and simple methods; and at a large scale by politicians in democracies who buy votes, take bribes, deliberately create voter dependency, change electoral boundaries, and now import millions of supporters.
People know this, know exactly what is being done to them and how it works - yet somehow this does not invalidate the outcome of majority voting!
Yet people still state, still believe that democracy is the best, the only safe, the only *good* system of government.
Brainwashed, or what?
I believe that majority vote decision making is one of the most damaging aspects of modernity. As a system, it is quite simply insane - knowing what we know, knowing from experience its unpredictability, randomness, un-wisdom, distorting effects on human psychology...
Like its specific application in democracy by majority vote, the visceral rationale of majority voting seems to be egalitarian in the sense of trying to prevent individual power, rather than in trying to ensure good decisions.
It is abstract in the sense of being procedural rather than outcome oriented. It is to elevate simple mathematical neatness above direct contact with the world.
To rely on majority voting is fundamentally unserious; it is to regard life as essentially soft and sustaining, to regard life as unreal and something not requiring of us correct decisions and right behaviour.
It is to regard decisions in a detached, playful, abstract fashion; to subordinate our souls to sums.
Voting is a gamble, worse than a gamble - it is to have faith in gambling as the best mode of life.
Indeed it even worse than this - it is is to have faith in a corrupt casino where you know for sure that the fruit machines are rigged - to put money in the slot anyway, to pull the lever and just hope for a win; rather than to try and do the right thing.
The piracy test for moral inversion
A few quick questions on attitudes to modern piracy and what should be done about it can be used to detect moral inversion (moral inversion being the endemic disease of modern elite ideology which reverses traditional evaluations).
The facts are that:
1. Piracy is a 'natural' state of affairs, which will recur unless suppressed - because gangs of reckless and aggressive young men will be able to prey upon the productive population.
The reason why so many old Mediterranean towns are built on hills away from the coast is not for convenience or fine views, but because coastal and non-fortified towns would regularly be attacked by pirates, and their population robbed, killed, raped and enslaved (on galleys where they would be worked to death, or marched across the Sahara desert where the survivors would be worked to death).
2. Piracy is a very great evil - gangs of aggressive young men will do utterly appalling things, and will enjoy doing them; and if unchecked pirates will act as parasites on decent and productive society, until decent and productive society is destroyed utterly, when they will move on to their next victims. In other words, piracy is not necessarily self-limiting or self-correcting: it could be fatal, like cancer.
3. It is relatively recently that piracy worldwide was suppressed - just the past couple of hundred years. The main agents were the British Navy and also the navies of the other great European powers. However, piracy was long enough in the past for wishful-thinking pacifists to imagine (like Shire hobbits) that peace and plenty are the natural state of affairs, and need not be defended, need not be fought-for.
Therefore, the fact that piracy has been allowed to re-emerge over recent years as a highly profitable business - unchecked and essentially unpunished and despite technical developments which make the suppression of piracy easier than ever in the past - is the most conclusive evidence that could be imagined to demonstrate Western decadence: the reckless, complacent, futile, hand-wringing, self-absorbed, morally-paralyzed blindness of Western political leaders and their ruling elites.
The poster test for "I am afraid and therefore unquestioningly obedient"
"The manager of a fruit-and-vegetable shop places in his window, among the onions and carrots, the slogan: “Workers of the world, unite!”
"Why does he do it? What is he trying to communicate to the world? Is he genuinely enthusiastic about the idea of unity among the workers of the world? Is his enthusiasm so great that he feels an irrepressible impulse to acquaint the public with his ideals? Has he really given more than a moment’s thought to how such a unification might occur and what it would mean?
"I think I can safely assume that the overwhelming majority of shopkeepers never think about the slogans they put in their windows, nor do they use them to express their real opinions. That poster was delivered to our greengrocer from the enterprise headquarters along with the onions and the carrots. He put them all into the window simply because it has been done that way for years, because everyone does it, and because that is the way it has to be.
"If he were to refuse, there could be trouble. He could be reproached for not having the proper decoration in his window; someone might even accuse him of disloyalty. He does it because these things must be done if one is to get along in life. It is one of the thousands of details that guarantee him a relatively tranquil life “in harmony with society,” as they say.
"Obviously the greengrocer is indifferent to the semantic content of the slogan on exhibit; he does not put the slogan in his window from any personal desire to acquaint the public with the ideal it expresses. This, of course, does not mean that his action has no motive or significance at all, or that the slogan communicates nothing to anyone.
"The slogan is really a sign, and as such it contains a subliminal but very definite message. Verbally, it might be expressed this way: “I, the greengrocer XY, live here and I know what I must do. I behave in the manner expected of me. I can be depended upon and am beyond reproach. I am obedient and therefore I have the right to be left in peace.”
"This message, of course, has an addressee: it is directed above, to the greengrocer’s superior, and at the same time is a shield that protects the greengrocer from potential informers. The slogan’s real meaning, therefore, is rooted firmly in the greengrocer’s existence. It reflects his vital interests. But what are those vital interests?
"Let us take note: if the greengrocer had been instructed to display the slogan ‘I am afraid and therefore unquestioningly obedient,' he would not be nearly as indifferent to its semantics, even though the statement would reflect the truth.
"The greengrocer would be embarrassed and ashamed to put such an unequivocal statement of his own degradation in the shop window, and quite naturally so, for he is a human being and thus has a sense of his own dignity. To overcome this complication, his expression of loyalty must take the form of a sign which, at least on its textual surface, indicates a level of disinterested conviction. It must allow the greengrocer to say, “What’s wrong with the workers of the world uniting?”
"Thus the sign helps the greengrocer to conceal from himself the low foundations of his obedience, at the same time concealing the low foundations of power. It hides them behind the façade of something high. And that something is ideology."
From Vaclav Havel's essay - The Power of the Powerless, 1978
Comment: The Poster Test
If you go into an institutional environment - a government office, a school or college, a hospital or doctor's surgery, a museum, public transportation - and you observe posters adorning the walls on politically-correct topics such as diversity, fair trade, global warming, approved victim groups, third world aid - remember Havel's essay, and that the correct translation of such posters is as follows:
"I am afraid and therefore unquestioningly obedient"
Such posters are a coded admission of submission to ideology - except in the rare instance where they advertise genuine corruption by ideology.
The frequency of such posters nowadays, compared with a generation ago, is a quantitative measure of the progress of totalitarian government.
Hypocrisy regarded as the worst moral transgression
For secular modern societies hypocrisy is the worst sin.
Traditional Christian morality is that to sin is bad, but everyone sins since we are naturally worldly and self-loving (prideful) - what is important is to repent the sin.
And, traditionally, denying sin or defending sin or advocating sin in others are all very bad sins indeed.
In other words, although we cannot ever wholly stop ourselves from 'transgressing', we should never encourage others to transgress; people should aim at the highest standards; should publicly defend the highest standards - although they will not be able themselves to attain the highest standards.
Therefore, in the modern loose usage of the word, 'hypocrisy' is inevitable.
In secular modern societies, morality is regarded as being something invented and chosen; and Christianity in particular is vehemently rejected.
Yet there is a natural morality, natural law - or what C.S Lewis called the Tao in perhaps his greatest lecture series The Abolition of Man - http://www.columbia.edu/cu/augustine/arch/lewis/abolition3.htm
Natural morality is spontaneous in all humans at all points in history (quite possibly it is an evolutionary legacy, related to humans being social animals), and everyone (who is not a conscienceless psychopath) knows when he is transgressing it.
But secular modernity does not recognize the validity of natural morality, and the morality of secular modernity contradicts natural morality in many respects (usually with a utilitarian rationale) - this is what can be termed 'moral inversion' - where bad (according to natural morality) is re-labelled good and vice versa; bad people and good people are reversed in public esteem.
This is a normal aspect of political correctness, where monogamous heterosexual marriage among family orientated, law-abiding and hard-working people is loathed on the grounds of its hypocrisy and judgmental-ness; while open advocacy and practice of transgressive behaviours (i.e. transgressive according to natural morality) is morally aggrandized as being 'honest' and tolerant.
The moral inversion of PC seems to spring from its generally 'rebellious adolescent' mind set. Adolescents are (naturally) the worst behaved group in society - in terms of the psychology of personality across lifespan, it is during adolescence that a person will (on average) reach their highest levels of neuroticism, impulsiveness and extraversion, their lowest levels of empathizing/ agreeableness; and aggression levels peak around the mid teens.
The youth culture - driven by pride - has therefore evolved a new morality which makes adolescents the best people instead of the worst: the teenager as moral exemplar - the sensitive adolescent - impatient, full of angst, with multiple sensitivities, with easily bruised ego, lonely yet yearning for love - as the moral hero and compass for the rest of society...
Secular modernity (with its psychological neoteny - its essential adolescence, its suspended immaturity) therefore performs a moral inversion which relabels its own faultsas virtues, and reframes morality as primarily a matter of 'honesty'. Honesty means living by chosen standards. The square adult world is accused of hypocrisy - of failing to live up to the high standards it advocates - and this sin is seen as invalidating all else.
Adolescent 'honesty' is not, therefore, about telling the truth - but about advocating very low standards of behaviour, then exceeding them!
Only adolescents, so the story goes, are really moral - because only they adopt an 'honestly' low standard of behaviour which they - and everyone else - can truly live-up-to, can even exceed (and exceed gratuitously! - as a pure act of surplus goodness - not underpinned by religious or otherworldly rewards or sanctions).
This is perhaps the essence of moral inversion in modernity.
For example; for secular modernity; the open, explicit advocacy of impulsive sexual promiscuity is regarded as in itself morally admirable - since it is a standard that anyone can live up to (and gratifies at least the person doing it - the main problem being to convince the victims of assembly-line seduction that they too are being made happy and morally-enhanced by their exploitation).
Indeed, anyone who exceeds the very low moral standard, and behaves somewhat in the direction of natural morality, may be regarded as a genuine moral exemplar - e.g. a ruthless, manipulative, serially promiscuous individual who nonetheless maintains a long-term and affectionate relationship.
In sum, the morality of secular modernity 'solves' the ancient problem of the inevitability of human sin by denying the sinfulness of most attitude or acts - the inevitable gap in behaviour between spontaneous morality and actual human behaviour is dealt with by down-grading the definition of moral behaviour until it is low enough that anyone can attain it.
But because humans cannot stop making moral evaluations, sin is not actually eliminated, rather the location of sin is displaced.
Evaluative neutrality is impossible for humans (we cannot be 'non-judgmental'; we are judging or evaluating animals), and because societal manipulations of natural morality are pushing against human nature, the displacement of sin is only possible with a high level of social coercion. The freedom to live a hedonic, gratification-oriented life becomes *moral advocacy* of a life of self-gratification.
The displaced sin then becomes the advocacy of high standards. High standards are regarded as aggressive because high standards will not be met, which will make people feel guilty, which makes them intractably miserable (because in secular modernity there is no forgiveness for guilt - only an attempted denial of the basis for guilt).
In a utilitarian society, to behave in a way that makes other people intractably miserable is regarded as the worst of sins...
In secular modern societies, people that advocate a high level of morality, especially natural morality, are seen as aggressors against the happiness of the majority - even or especially when such people actually achieve significantly higher standards of behaviour than the rest of society. The point is that their behaviour is not perfect, therefore they are hypocrites; which is the worst thing to be.
And of course such people really are 'hypocrites' in the sense that with high standards some level of degree of failure is inevitable.
So we get the profound moral inversions of secular modernity, in which exemplary citizens who advocate high moral standards - like Mormons and devout Evangelicals - are the primary hate figures.
While people who both advocate and practice lives of aggressive, exploitative, manipulative self-gratification are regarded as moral heroes.
Because so long as their explicitly advocated standards of behaviour are set even-lower than their actual behaviours; arrogant, selfish pleasure-seekers are immune against being regarded as that worst of modern villains: the hypocrite.
Tender-minded versus tough-minded
Among the atheist elites, the main cognitive styles are the tender-minded socialist (or 'liberal' in US parlance) and the tough-minded libertarian.
Socialism corresponds to a psychotic, delusional cognitive mode; while libertarianism corresponds to a psychopathic, selfish cognitive mode.
The socialist is tender-minded because he tries to care about others more than himself; and has a kind of empathizing altruism as the highest goal, and pursues this through an objectively-dishonest, subjectively fantasizing (i.e. delusional) world view. Operationally, secular altruism is defined in term of submission to those groups regarded as 'suffering' - the individual has no real function except to serve the group.
Socialism is paradoxical, nonsensical, therefore intrinsically dishonest (in order to make sense of itself to itself).
This is why socialism unwinds into moral inversion.
The libertarian is tough-minded because tries *not* to care about others except in so far as they influence his own happiness; and has autonomous individualism as the highest goal, and pursues this through a systematic gratification. Operationally, libertarian is defined in terms of maximizing choice of hedonic lifestyle options (those offering the most pleasure or least suffering) - the community has no real function except to serve the individual.
Libertarianism is extrinsically dishonest, perhaps honest with itself (because selfishly coherent) but necessarily dishonest to others (because selfish individualism must disguise its true nature in society; lest it be detected, punished and suppressed by the majority).
This is why libertarianism unwinds into animality (an ideal of unselfconscious, spontaneous, self-justifying hedonism).
Of course, many people alternate between these modes. And very few live up to their ideals - since corruption is endemic in man. So hedonic socialists and communitarian libertarians are common.
Also, natural morality is hard to repress altogether - and atheists usually, irrationally, behave much better than their ideals - although they have no reason to do so.
Indeed, behaving better than one's ideals is a common value among atheists of both stripes: and both regard the opposite - hypocrisy - as the 'ultimate' sin.
[For secular modernity there is no rational compromize between two incoherent alternatives: the libertarian perspective of "only the individual matters, therefore only I matter" and the socialist perspective of "only the group matters, therefore individuals do not matter and I do not matter". There is a veering between the infinite valuation of each individual's freedom, such that any slight or offense of any magnitude, any damage to self-esteem inflates un-opposed up to catastrophic dimensions, and justifies any response up to and including mass murder; and utter contempt of the individual and ruthless imposition of some definition of group benefit up to and including open-ended imprisonment, psychological reprogramming and death. Note added 22 Aug 2010]
The satisfactions in life
"First, the problem with the European model, namely: It drains too much of the life from life. (...)
"I start from this premise: A human life can have transcendent meaning, with transcendence defined either by one of the world’s great religions or one of the world’s great secular philosophies. If transcendence is too big a word, let me put it another way: I suspect that almost all of you agree that the phrase “a life well-lived” has meaning. That’s the phrase I’ll use from now on.
"And since happiness is a word that gets thrown around too casually, the phrase I’ll use from now on is “deep satisfactions.” I’m talking about the kinds of things that we look back upon when we reach old age and let us decide that we can be proud of who we have been and what we have done. Or not.
"To become a source of deep satisfaction, a human activity has to meet some stringent requirements. It has to have been important (we don’t get deep satisfaction from trivial things). You have to have put a lot of effort into it (hence the cliché “nothing worth having comes easily”). And you have to have been responsible for the consequences.
"There aren’t many activities in life that can satisfy those three requirements. Having been a good parent? That qualifies. A good marriage? That qualifies. Having been a good neighbor and good friend to those whose lives intersected with yours? That qualifies. And having been really good at something—good at something that drew the most from your abilities? That qualifies.
"Let me put it formally: If we ask what are the institutions through which human beings achieve deep satisfactions in life, the answer is that there are just four: family, community, vocation, and faith. Two clarifications: “Community” can embrace people who are scattered geographically. “Vocation” can include avocations or causes.
"It is not necessary for any individual to make use of all four institutions, nor do I array them in a hierarchy. I merely assert that these four are all there are. The stuff of life—the elemental events surrounding birth, death, raising children, fulfilling one’s personal potential, dealing with adversity, intimate relationships—coping with life as it exists around us in all its richness—occurs within those four institutions.
"Seen in this light, the goal of social policy is to ensure that those institutions are robust and vital. And that’s what’s wrong with the European model. It doesn’t do that. It enfeebles every single one of them."
Charles Murray. The Europe Syndrome and the Challenge to American Exceptionalism
Comment: Murray is, as usual, very insightful here.
His basic argument about modernity subverting the deep satisfactions of life is surely correct. People nowadays have difficulty in ‘doing good’ since the state has taken over all good-doing, and made ‘good’ into procedural bureaucracy, empty of meaning.
His argument about the need for transcendence for life to have meaning is also right. As Kurt Vonnegut memorably demonstrated in Breakfast of Champions, if you really try to live by the belief that humans are a collection of chemicals, you will be driven crazy by contradictions to which there is no solution but only distraction.
Yet Murray is trying to make a *secular* argument for the need for transcendental meaning; and the points made, even when true, tend to subvert belief in transcendence by making it expedient rather than true.
I have done the same myself, on numerous occasions. In trying to build bridges between the secular and religious, we (inadvertently) frame belief in transcendence as a means to achieving secular ends.
Perhaps this is an unavoidable hazard – but it is necessary to keep remembering the hazard, and counteracting it.
Authoritarianism versus totalitarianism
"Together with virtues of stability, continuity, immunity from political ague, there are, needless to say, great dangers and defects in authoritarian systems of government: the danger of dishonest authorities, upheld by violence, the danger of arbitrary decisions and the difficulty of correcting them, the danger of sliding into tyranny.
But authoritarian regimes as such are not frightening - only those which are answerable to no one and nothing.
The autocrats of earlier, religious ages, though their power was ostensibly unlimited, felt themselves responsible before God and their own consciences.
The autocrats of our own time are dangerous precisely because it is difficult to find higher values which would bind them.
It would be more correct to say that in relation to the true ends of human beings here on earth (and these cannot be equated with the aims of the animal world, which amount to no more than unhindered existence) the state structure is of secondary significance. That this is so, Christ himself teaches us. 'Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's - not because every Caesar deserves it, but because Caesar's concern is not with the most important thing in our lives.
The state system which exists in our country [i.e. USSR, 1973] is terrible not because it is undemocratic, authoritarian, based on physical constraint - a man can live under such conditions without harm to his spiritual essence.
Our present system is unique in world history, because over and above its physical and economic constraints, it demands of us total surrender of our souls, continuous and active participation in the general, conscious *lie*. To this putrefaction of the soul, this spiritual enslavement, human beings who wish to be human cannot consent.
When Caesar, having extracted what is Caesar's, demands still more insistently that we render unto him what is God's - that is a sacrifice we dare not make!"
Alexander Solzhenitsyn. As breathing and consciousness returns (essay). 1973.
It is hard for a decadent Westerner to understand what is being said here, having been brought-up in an atheist society dedicated to the pursuit of happiness via freedom of lifestyle.
Although Solzhenitsyn personally experienced some of the worst and most sustained 'physical and economic constraints' imposed by an 'authoritarian' government, Solzhenitsyn's fundamental criticism was that the Soviet regime demanded total surrender of the *soul*.
He (I believe) was saying that a condition of surrender of the soul to 'the general conscious lie' was in itself worse than (for example) his experience of the Gulag.
He was pointing out the ultimate danger of rule by those who have no higher values to bind them - not God, not their conscience, not even patriotism.
He is saying that freedom is a means to an end, and that the end or aim of life is more important - but that 'happiness' is merely an aim of 'the animal world'.
He is saying that to have a Christian society with Christian rulers is more important than the organization of the political system.
"The state system which exists in our country [i.e. USSR, 1973] is terrible not because it is undemocratic, authoritarian, based on physical constraint - a man can live under such conditions without harm to his spiritual essence.
Our present system is unique in world history, because over and above its physical and economic constraints, it demands of us total surrender of our souls, continuous and active participation in the general, conscious *lie*. To this putrefaction of the soul, this spiritual enslavement, human beings who wish to be human cannot consent.
When Caesar, having extracted what is Caesar's, demands still more insistently that we render unto him what is God's - that is a sacrifice we dare not make!"
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, "As Breathing and Consciousness Returns" (1973)
Solzhenitsyn here makes a distinction between living under a hostile traditional authoritarianism and living under modern totalitarianism - especially living under the recently devised systems of communism and its socialist and liberal cousins.
The distinction is one between that of living under physical constraint or persecution, and that of living under a system dedicated to annihilating the soul and replacing it with political propaganda.
As an example of authoritarianism, Christians have, by now, had extensive experience of living under the hostile religious system of Islam. As its name implies, Islam ultimately requires submission of everyone - but in the case of Christians and Jews this necessary submission has in practice been behavioural, rather than a submission of soul.
So that there has been an official Orthodox Christian presence in Constantinople for many hundreds of years, despite the city's utter defeat by Islamic forces in 1453. The Christians were certainly second-class citizens, repressed and subjected to a large range of controls, taxes, persecutions and humiliations - yet they were allowed to remain Christian, and many did so.
(But when the Turkish Christians ('Greeks') became assertive rather than submissive, after the 1914-18 world war, they were killed in large numbers.)
Contrast this with the situation in the USSR where, post 1917 and throughout, Christians were not just defeated, killed, imprisoned, and by many other means crushed and humiliated; they were not just required to submit to the new regime - but in addition to all this Christians were required to abandon Christianity, to embrace Communism, and (in effect) to 'love Big Brother'.
Hence the apparatus of public confessions, show trials, proclamations of loyalty and all the rest of it.
In a much less physically-coercive fashion, the same kind of thing is happening now in the secular West as happened in the USSR , where left-wing politics (socialism, liberalism etc) is increasingly being used to harass and compel Christians into abandoning their religion in deed, and word, and thought; and to embrace left-wing ideas such as political correctness, multiculturalism/ diversity, the cult of anthropogenic global warming, and so on.
Communism/ socialism/ leftism (unlike Islam) is therefore an atheist spirituality that entails not just submission, but in addition mandates forced-conversion (or at least it does among the ruling elites; ‘the masses' or 'prole’s' opinions are usually ignored by the leftist elite; so long as they do what they submit).
This is an early stage of precisely what Solzhenitsyn was talking about. Currently the punishment for failure to abandon Christianity and convert to leftism includes sanctions such as failure to get jobs, loss of jobs, failure to get promotion, sacking, public humiliation and media vilification. There is mandatory 'education' in these left-wing principles in schools, colleges, workplaces etc. - driven by laws and regulations from leftist ruling elites in international bodies such as the UN and the UE, national governments and the civil administration and public sector. Where leftist ideology conflicts with Christianity, Christianity must first submit to leftist ideology and then explicitly embrace and promote leftist ideology.
Failure to promote leftist causes is increasingly a legal offense – for example it may be prosecuted as ‘hate speech’; where ‘hate speech’ = anti-leftist opinions.
Thus at present in the West one is – by and large - allowed to retain one’s soul at the cost of this kind of punishment; and as yet the sanctions against refusal to recant and convert have apparently not escalated to the Soviet levels of prison, torture, concentration camps and execution. However, hate speech is subject to imprisonment, and by now there have been many people in the EU nations who were imprisoned for expressing anti-leftist opinions.
Solzhenitsyn’s point is that the 'freedom of the soul' distinction serves as a clear demarcation between traditional and modern forms of oppression. And in this context, it is interesting and important to note that secular moderns (of both left and right) deny the reality of the soul – so that Solzhenitsyn’s argument is rendered meaningless.
Secular moderns thereby elide the real difference between traditional authoritarian societies (i.e. pretty much all agriculture based societies until the past few hundred years) and the new situation of modern totalitarianism - seeing both kinds of society in terms of their restrictions on personal, lifestyle freedom.
Therefore secular moderns (both left and right) can be seen to have conveniently blinded themselves to the special soul-crushing horror of Communism as described by Solzhenitsyn - and they are able covertly to continue to espouse Communism in a variety of degenerate, self-aggrandizing, wishful-thinking, lifestyle libertarian and pacifistic forms.
Hence the increasing convergence-with and resemblance-between the Brezhnev-era USSR and the modern EU and USA. As in so many things, the West is following the same path as did Russia from 1917 to 1989 – but more gradually, and a few decades later.
Government by the Grace of God *or* by the will of the people - but not both
"In the Christian order politics too was founded upon absolute truth. We have already seen, in the preceding chapter, that the principal providential form government took in union with Christian Truth was the Orthodox Christian Empire, wherein sovereignty was vested in a Monarch, and authority proceeded from him downwards through a hierarchical social structure.
"We shall see in the next chapter, on the other hand, how a politics that rejects Christian Truth must acknowledge "the people" as sovereign and understand authority as proceeding from below upwards, in a formally "egalitarian" society. It is clear that one is the perfect inversion of the other; for they are opposed in their conceptions both of the source and of the end of government. Orthodox Christian Monarchy is government divinely established, and directed, ultimately, to the other world, government with the teaching of Christian Truth and the salvation of souls as its profoundest purpose; Nihilist rule--whose most fitting name, as we shall see, is Anarchy---is government established by men, and directed solely to this world, government which has no higher aim than earthly happiness.
"The Liberal view of government, as one might suspect, is an attempt at compromise between these two irreconcilable ideas. In the 19th century this compromise took the form of "constitutional monarchies," an attempt--again--to wed an old form to a new content; today the chief representatives of the Liberal idea are the "republics" and "democracies" of Western Europe and America, most of which preserve a rather precarious balance between the forces of authority and Revolution, while professing to believe in both.
"It is of course impossible to believe in both with equal sincerity and fervor, and in fact no one has ever done so. Constitutional monarchs like Louis Philippe thought to do so by professing to rule "by the Grace of God and the will of the people"--a formula whose two terms annul each other, a fact as equally evident to the Anarchist as to the Monarchist.
"Now a government is secure insofar as it has God for its foundation and His Will for its guide; but this, surely, is not a description of Liberal government. It is, in the Liberal view, the people who rule, and not God; God Himself is a "constitutional monarch" Whose authority has been totally delegated to the people, and Whose function is entirely ceremonial. The Liberal believes in God with the same rhetorical fervor with which he believes in Heaven. The government erected upon such a faith is very little different, in principle, from a government erected upon total disbelief, and whatever its present residue of stability, it is clearly pointed in the direction of Anarchy.
"A government must rule by the Grace of God or by the will of the people, it must believe in authority or in the Revolution; on these issues compromise is possible only in semblance, and only for a time. The Revolution, like the disbelief which has always accompanied it, cannot be stopped halfway; it is a force that, once awakened, will not rest until it ends in a totalitarian Kingdom of this world. The history of the last two centuries has proved nothing if not this."
From Nihilism by Eugene (Fr Seraphim) Rose (from http://www.columbia.edu/cu/augustine/arch/nihilism.html):
Comment: This analysis points to the fundamental weakness of all existing Western Societies.
It seems to imply that over the long term some kind of unified single-hierarchy theocratic monarchy is the only coherent form of a religious society, and will (in the long term) prevail over societies divided between Church and State.
Another point made by Rose elsewhere in this book is that – whether desirable or not - impartiality is impossible. We can only be for or against something (and our actions will tell us which – even if our minds are confused or self-deceptive on the matter).
The impossibility of impartiality entails - inter alia - that a person, a society, a state, will either support or suppress Christianity; and therefore that once a society has ceased explicitly to embody, to support and promote Christainity it will de facto begin suppressing it.
Putting together the first and second points: suppression of Christianity is an inevitable long-term consequence of democracy, an intrinsic property of democracy.
The impossibility of neutrality
Supposing that it really is impossible that a society can be neutral with respect to anything important - that it must either tend to support or suppress it - then this explains why things can move so swiftly from being forbidden to being compulsory.
If neutrality really is impossible, then to argue that something should not be subject to stigma is - in the long run - precisely equivalent to saying that it is desirable.
If neutrality really is impossible, to argue that 'x' is not evil, is the same as arguing that 'x' is good.
If neutrality really is impossible, then to argue that people should no longer be punished or suffer for doing 'y' is de facto to argue that they should be rewarded and feel good about doing 'y'.
If neutrality really is impossible, then when society ceases to persecute a group, it will always begin to privilege that group.
Of course, one might argue that it is not necessarily true that neutrality is impossible; one might argue that theoretically it is possible and desirable that society might maintain an attitude of impartiality with respect to important matters.
But looking back over the past fifty years, what does it look like to you?
To me it seems blazingly obvious that when society ceases to sanction a thing it always, always, always starts to honour that thing.
The ideal of neutrality serves a radical agenda
Neutrality is a lynch pin of elite political thought. Much of modern quasi-scientific social research is dedicated to demonstrating that some modern social system (law, education, the military) is not behaving neutrally. All that is required of such research is to show that people of different sex, ethnicity or whatever are treated differently, and points are scored, the system is discredited and demonstrated as being ripe for radical reform.
(Actually, it is worse than this, because any research which fails to find differences between sexes or whatever is suppressed or ignored - while even clearly erroneous or made-up research showing differences – e.g. radically-motivated research which is actually based on pre-selected anecdotes or fails to control for major confounders like age may be given tremendous publicity.)
However, if it is impossible for an individual, an organization or a culture to be neutral - then this debate takes on a different complexion altogether; because if impartiality is unattainable, then the debate would not *really* be about failure to attain the ideal of neutrality, but *actually* a debate over *who* should be favoured.
The ideal of impartiality in social systems probably derived from the ideal of Roman law, in which (as I understand it) the same system is applied to everyone - everyone goes through the same basic process.
The same idea applies to bureaucracies, as described by Max Weber, in which administrators are required to devise and apply procedures impartially, treating sufficiently-similar cases as operationally-identical.
But in the real world there are major differences in the application of the law and the application of bureaucratic procedures - differences such as: who gets investigated, who gets prosecuted, the type of sentence they receive, who has regulations enforced on them - and so on.
One classic political scenario nowadays involves someone (a radical) attacking a procedural system (such as the legal process, employment practice or educational evaluations) as being biased, while another person (a libertarian or conservative) defends the system as being impartial-enough for the purposes.
The radical pretends to argue that impartiality is attainable but requires change, while actually seeking privileges for a particular group. The libertarian/ conservative always gives ground in the direction the radical is pushing, because any actually existing system is indeed partial – if you look hard enough.
Hence the evaluation system is overturned. That group which used to be privileged is now suppressed, and vice versa. This can most clearly be seen in employment policy relating to gender.
A reactionary perspective, by contrast, would accept the radical’s assertion that one group or another must in reality be privileged, and would challenge the radical on the grounds of which group ought to be privileged. The focus of debate changes.
For example, if it is accepted that neutrality is impossible, then employment policy must favour either men or women – the proper question then becomes which is it best for employment policy to favour?
For example, the organization of the military or care for young children will inevitably favour either men or women – the proper question to ask is: which is the most functionally-appropriate favoured group in each specific case? (Clue: the answer is different for each of these two examples…)
One big advantage of acknowledging the inevitability of partiality is that this is what most people believe anyway and always have believed – in fact it is only a minority of the intellectual elite (libertarians and conservatives) who really believe in impartiality as a desirable and attainable goal of social systems.
But radicals, socialists, liberals and corrupt politicians are simply exploiting the failure to attain impartiality as a justification for imposing a revolutionary inversion of values.
Hence a belief in the ideal of neutrality unwittingly serves a radical and nihilistically-destructive agenda, since it actually leads to partiality in the opposite direction from that which is socially functional.
The most striking aspect of modern secular society, which would have amazed and horrified our ancestors, is the moral inversion by which have redefined bad as good, sin as virtue.
This has happened as part of the modern rejection of Christianity, and as a solution to the fundamental paradox of the human condition – the conflict between spontaneous human desire and spontaneous human morality.
It is, at root, this moral inversion which is causing secular modern societies to commit suicide by a combination of denial of danger and by deliberate policy.
It seems that our literate ancestors (such as the ancient Jews) all spontaneously recognized that for a person to live according to their spontaneous desires - living primarily for seeking gratification and avoiding (or minimizing) suffering - was morally wrong.
This was so obvious that it needed (and indeed needs) no argument - it is the natural moral law for humans that a life aiming at selfish hedonism is intrinsically wicked: that is wicked as a basic stance, not merely in terms of its consequences (which vary according to specific circumstances).
Yet it was also recognized that at some level, for humans as they are now, it is also natural and spontaneous to be selfish and hedonic.
So there was a conflict between the way that humans were 'set-up' to be self-gratifying and the moral sense by which we knew that this way wrong.
This was the basic situation, the human condition, as perceived by pretty much all humans throughout history - that of conflict.
And therefore the situation was bleak in the extreme, since there seemed to be no solution.
Of course, all humans also believed (in some sense) in the soul, and its potential persistence after death (in some form, perhaps as a ghost, perhaps in Hades - not the same as hell, perhaps returning to be recycled or reincarnated)
The ancient Jews attempted solution was The Law, which prescribed morality in terms (essentially) of behaviour. If a man could live according to the law, his life (in this world) would be good - although the end was the same for all - good and bad - the ghostly and depersonalized realms of Sheol/ Hades.
However, actually men could *not* live by the law. It was impossible, because of their nature. They could never achieve that to which they aspired. The human condition was tragic.
This was the basic human situation, about which humans could do nothing, and from which humanity needed to be rescued.
The Christian solution, the Good News, was that God's Grace had provided a solution, since the incarnation meant that God had taken-up humanity; and if a person proclaimed in their heart Jesus as Lord, and repented of his (inevitable) sinly nature, then there would be forgiveness and the soul would (instead of losing humanity in Hades) be granted eternal life with God.
Man's soul after death would become God-like instead of a gibbering, depersonalized ghostly form of persistence.
So, the Christian message is that belief and repentance in this life can lead to a solution of the fundamental paradox, but only in the next world, after death (however this life is temporary, while life after death is eternal).
For whatever reason, the Western elite ruling class became increasingly atheist from the advent of modernity (?c 1700). Since the elite ruling class disbelieved in the soul, they were this-worldly; and since they were this-worldly they wanted as much satisfaction from life as possible (there being nothing else).
But spontaneous natural morality gets in the way of worldly self-gratification – so spontaneous natural morality must (somehow or another) be rejected.
Yet since morality really is spontaneous, it cannot be rejected.
So emerged moral inversion: the morality that (contrary to the instinct of spontaneous morality) this-worldly self-gratification is the proper primary aim in life.
From this derives the many specific new ‘Laws’ of modernity; which state that what we used to think was necessary is actually un-necessary, that what we thought was bad was actually good, and what we used to think was good was actually bad.
For secular moderns the only *real* sin is to believe in the reality of sin.
This is the current situation, this the secular modern ‘solution’ to the fundamental paradox of the human condition – that life in this-world can be, should be, harmonious - *if only* we recognize that our spontaneous self-gratification is actually morally necessary and should be the primary explicit goal of human endeavor.
And because this solution actually solves nothing, and is merely a statement, a wish-that-this-was-so; it has necessarily been embodied in the *coercive* beliefs, practices and laws of atheist totalitarian states (notably the USSR, National Socialism and Communist China) and this process is now advanced in all Western societies (by enforcement of what is termed ‘Political Correctness’).
So the citizens in modern secular societies are not merely *encouraged* to flout the natural morality which they cannot help but feel, they are increasingly *forced* to flout natural morality. They are compelled to live (and to think and to believe) as if hedonic gratification was the primary value in a life which ends with death and extinction.
And there is no hope of resolution in this world, nor the next world (the existence of which is denied).
Since there is no hope of resolution, the only alternative is distraction – to lose oneself in hedonic gratification: such that intense, continuous self-gratification *obliterates* our awareness of the fundamental paradox.
Despair, distraction, denial, self-indulgence… and if these do not work, then some kind of suicide of awareness.
By this analysis, the Decline of the West is a willed societal suicide driven by the mass psychological consequences of top-down, enforced moral inversion.
Don’t trust professors!
It seems likely that nowadays it is almost impossible to be both honest and also a professor – whether in science or in any other branch of academia.
And the dishonesty required is pretty much all-pervading.
Not just professors, but civil servants abd those directly or indirectly on Govt payroll (NGOs), managers – look at the intellectuals system which supports them
In general terms, a professor must subscribe to the incoherent, vicious nonsense of political correctness - or at the very least tacitly abet it at an institutional level.
Dishonesty is mandatory in education. For example, a professor is expected to collude in implementing racial, sexual and religious preferences at the cost of academic and educational goals; to make-easier and then ignore academic cheating (from school children, students and faculty); and to collude in the inflation of educational qualifications at every level.
And of course in the practice of ‘research’ dishonesty is necessary – root and branch. The professor must pretend to be seeking the truth when actually doing whatever is necessary to get grant funding. He must be merciless toward the errors of the junior researcher and the non-PC researcher – while apologizing for and fawning over the dominant researchers – the peer review cartel whose opinions determine appointments, promotions, grants, publications and prizes.
His academic standards therefore vary between happy acceptance of unsubstantiated opinion – when it comes from the peer cartel; and adopting a virtually Descartian, Humean or Nietzchian radical ultra-scepticism with anything asserted outwith this domain.
He must follow fashion in his research, wherever this may lead – otherwise he will be perceived as not merely marginal, but actively selfish – selfish in wasting his time and resources on pointless activity and thereby damaging his colleagues’ interests and endangering the viability of his department or unit.
He must selectively publish only that which is acceptable to the peer review cartel and also to the pervasive leftist norm – and must bias interpretation of data to be acceptable to this ethos (this can involve explicit delay or suppression of results until a suitably PC spin can be found).
In sum, a professor cannot be honest – honesty is forbidden, and sanctions against transgression are imposed most rigorously at the most elite institutions.
Of course no system is perfect, and sometimes an honest person does happen to slip through the net and become a professor. But this is so rare that it can be overlooked as a statistical outlier – and anyway these exceptions are mostly old or marginal.
So, in reading the academic literature, the rule of ignoring everything expounded by a professor or associated with prestigious institutions is a necessary basic heuristic.
Non-professors may lack knowledge and experience, but at least some of them are trying to be honest.
But if you are not even trying to be honest, then you will only be true by accident and unpredictably – like the stopped clock that just happens to show the right time twice a day.
More precisely, in dealing with modern academics we need to drop any pretence at avoiding ad hominem arguments – and we need (explicitly and fully) to take account of the honesty of the person making a statement.
The academic convention used to be that we should always try to ignore the person and focus on their arguments and evidence. But in a world of endemic professorial dishonesty the avoidance of ad hominem evaluations will simply concede the argument to the successfully dishonest.
Impartiality is an impossibility, and when it is not even being attempted the only answer is to be openly partial and simply ignore every statement made by people whom you judge to be dishonest – and, in dealing with modern academia, you will need to assume that everybody is dishonest unless or until proven otherwise.
Mandarins make lousy leaders
It was nearly a decade ago, during the summer vacation, that I read a book which permanently changed one of my cherished beliefs.
The book was The Decline of the German Mandarins: the German Academic Community 1890-1933, by Fritz K Ringer.
The cherished belief was that it would be best if countries were led by their intellectual elite, i.e. by 'Mandarins' - by the likes of Professors, senior administrators and professionals - by those whose jobs require high level formal educational certification.
In other words, I had assumed, up to that point, that if only things were run by people 'like me', then things would inevitably be run better.
Before reading the book I had not been aware that I believed this, but although unarticulated, a belief in leadership by intellectals had been a basic assumption.
It is, indeed, an assumption of the modern political elite, and has been the assumption of Dichter und Denker (poets and thinkers) for a couple of hundred years (since the Romantic era) - but it was *not* an assumption of traditional societies before this.
Indeed, as I read in Ernest Gellner at about the same time, in traditional societies the intellectual class (priests and clerks) was subordinated to the leadership - which was essentially military.
Intellectuals were - Gellner said - essentially 'eunuchs' - in the sense that they were not allowed to build dynastic, hereditary power - this was reserved for the military leadership.
So priests and other intellectuals with power were sometimes actual eunuchs, or servants and slaves, or celibate (legally, not sexually, celibate - i.e. they could not have legitimate heirs), or members of a legally circumscribed minority (such as Jewish merchants and money lenders), or - like the Chinese mandarins - they were prohibited from handing on their status to their children (entry to the mandarinate being controlled by competitive examinations).
The 'natural' leaders of human society throughout most of history are the military leaders - the 'generals'. The aristocracy were essentially the military leaders.
But in modern societies, the Mandarins have progressively taken over the leadership.
People 'like me' run things; the military leadership (unless they are themselves mandarins - as increasingly is the case - and servile to political correctness) are officially feared, hated and despised; indeed any aspirant for power who is not 'an intellectual' is officially feared, hated and despised.
Fritz Ringer's books was a revelation because he described a familiar and recent society that had indeed been a mandarinate - and this was Germany in the nineteenth century and leading up to the first and second world wars. Germany was at that time the academic intellectual centre of the West.
And 'yet' the mandarinate had been a disaster - leading to two world wars and National Socialism and also (ironically) to the eclipse of the German mandarins - who were purged virtually overnight in 1933 (only a few obedient Nazi mandarins were allowed to stay - like Martin Heidegger).
The German mandarins were nationalist, that was the focus of their ideology (the distinctive superiority of German culture) and that is one variety - very rare nowadays except in small nations and would-be nations like Scotland or Catalonia.
Of course the most widespread mandarinate was the Soviet Union whose ideology was (mostly) anti-nationalistic/ international communism. And international left-mandarinism is now the dominant form of government in the West.
Since reading Ringer, when my eyes were opened, my experience has hardened into conviction that - as a generalization - mandarins make very useful servants but very bad leaders. Good professors make bad kings.
The main problem is, I think, that mandarins are expert at ignoring common sense reality and focusing on abstraction.
Mandarins live 'in culture' - they are 'Kultur' experts. Culture is the source of their expertise and prestige - culture comes between mandarins and common sense.
When, as is normal, mandarin abstractions are substantially incomplete and significantly biased, then there is no limit to how bad mandarin leadership can be; because any feedback provided by 'reality' can be ignored by mandarins in ways which are impossible to normal people.
Mandarins can wreck an organization, a nation, with a completely clear conscience; and will then write history to show that they were correct all along.
Conversely, there is no achievement of their enemies that is so large or blatantly obvious that mandarins will not ignore, sideline, or subvert it.
(In pursuit of discrediting their enemies, mandarins are utterly unscrupulous, dishonest and coercive - they perceive this as nothing less than their duty, indeed heroic.)
Nothing that could conceivably happen would conceivably affect mandarin ideology - which explains everything in advance.
Mandarins are therefore unique among humans both in their perspective on life - in their evaluations of what is important; and in being immune to learning from experience.
And mandarins really are, on average, the most knowledgeable and cleverest people, and they know it and they value smartness very highly; so they will not listen to any critics who they think of as dumb.
Undeniably smart critics are labelled crazy or evil (they *must* be, obviously), so they are ignored too.
When mandarins have closed the loop between education, media and power; they are hermetically sealed from alternative perspectives - change can only arise from within the loop, and this change will tend to bolster the power of the mandarinate, and be directed against their enemies in the natural military leadership.
So, once they have taken-over, the mandarinate is uniquely un-reformable by argument and experience.
Since it cannot be reformed, the mandarinate can only be replaced.
And that is the present situation in the West.
Declaration of interest: I am a professor; therefore this whole booklet is self-refuting and an exemplification of the ‘Cretan liar paradox’. The solution to the paradox is that metaphysics is itself, ultimately, a matter of trust. Trust comes first.