It's Getting Better All the Time (or Less Worser, Anyway)
Although parts of my book may appear speculative, they are not intended to be. True, the book contains a number shocking! ideas and theories, but I just happen to believe that these theories do the best job of explaining the facts as we know them, especially when placed in a totalistic cosmic context. In other words, my interest wasn't just in trying to integrate each discipline "horizontally" with itself, but vertically with all the others, so that everything makes sense in light of everything else rather than just in isolation. For example, materialism makes perfect sense on its own level. But there is no way to vertically integrate it with human consciousness, much less spiritual reality, so we need a model that embraces them all.
Speaking of shocking theories, when I finished the book, I came up with an over-the-top ad that was supposed to look like a placard for an 19th century circus or freak show. I was afraid to show it to the publisher after their downright chilly reaction to the whimsical autobobography I wanted to put on the back of the book. The ad had all different types of fonts that I cannot reproduce here, but went something like this:
One Cosmos Under God:
The Unification of Matter, Life, Mind & Spirit
KEY TO THE WORLD ENIGMA
The Cosmic Origins and Spiritual Destiny of EVERYTHING!
A Fourfold, Circular Cosmic Suite, Huge Mythunderstanding, and
Magnum Opiate for the Masses
A LOGICAL AND COHERENT ABSURDITY,
FULLY LOADED WITH ALL THE OPTIONAL EQUIPMENT
shaky suppositions, blind speculation, peculiar inferences, disembodied sources, 20/20 hindsight, hand-selected evidence, sneaking suspicions, and revealed hunches
Turning the World
Inside Out and Upside Down
Starring (in order of appearance)
Matter, Life, Mind, and Spirit
Parallel Universes (one to a customer, please)!
Eternal Life (while you wait)!
Eradication of MIND PARASITES!
Fully Bipedal, Hands-Free APE-WOMEN!
Death-Defying Meditation Tricks!
and for the little buckaroos
A Psychotic Fairy Tale Creation Myth!
Order your copy and discover your place in the cosmic scheme! Today!
Anyway, one of the more controversial aspects of the book is my belief that humans have actually continued evolving over the centuries, and that most people and cultures were impossibly cruel, barbaric, and frankly crazy by today's standards. This is an unpopular notion because it doesn't appeal to either traditionalists on the right or contemporary liberals on the left. Traditionalists don't like it because it seems contrary to the idea that human beings were created by God with an unchanging nature: a man is a man is a man, whether 2500 years ago or today. And liberals don't like it for reasons of multiculturalism and moral relativism. As I wrote in the book, the humanities have become "highly politicized, vulnerable as they are to crass politicization and to the noxious practice of 'deconstruction' by various interest groups interested in normalizing abnormality." Ya think?
In other words, for the same reason feminists are silent about the horrors of female treatment in the Islamic world (and hypocritically despise the world's greatest liberator of Muslim women, George Bush), liberals in general do not judge people of the past. They pass over in silence the systematic homosexual abuse of boys in Ancient Greece, or the horrific adolescent initiation rituals of primitive cultures, or the ceaseless and sadistic warfare of so many native American tribes. Of course, the only exception they make is for barbarism perpetrated by Christians, such as the witch trials. That they judge, even though it was a relatively time-limited and proscribed aberration. Or they judge the West's involvement in the slave trade, ignoring the much wider involvement of Arabs and Africans themselves, who had no regard for human life and no opposition to slavery at all. Frankly, it wouldn't have occurred to Africans that it was problematic. That requires Christianity or Judaism.
Although I present the theory that human attachment is the missing link between the macro and micro levels of history, I was careful not to reduce the human psyche to that which is explained by modern psychoanalysis. Rather, what I was specifically attempting to do was build an explanatory bridge between our divine and human natures, and try to account for why human beings are such persistent underachievers, to put it mildly. We need an explanation for just why human beings were (and are) so persistently irrational, self-defeating, narrow-minded, violent, and cruel. To say that we are "fallen" is half-correct, but I feel something is required to help explain why we fall so far. Since virtually no secular academics even believe in the idea that mankind is fallen, they don't consider it a problem. As usual, they are much more naive than the religiously informed.
As I note in the book, traditionally we have been given only three explanations for the apparent variability of human nature, 1) the modern sociobiological belief in a genetically determined, universal human nature that reveals itself in "superficially" different ways in various cultures, 2) the religious idea that we have "fallen" from a prior perfection, and 3) the Freudian/romantic view that we have evolved up from our barbaric roots only by repressing our primitive selves and covering them over with a veneer of civilization.
But in my view, I believe there is a transcendent realm of universal human nature -- a blueprint of our spiritual wholeness, as it were -- and that we do deviate ("fall") from it. Nevertheless, our march through history shows an obvious (if sometimes widely vacillating) tendency of progressive evolution, providing more people with the opportunity in this life to come closer to the divine ideal. There's no reason to review the whole argument here, but beginning on page 142, the section entitled Viral History 101 breezes through various phases of history, showing just how awful it was for the average person.
So it's very gratifying to see that some other would-be Raccoons are beginning to view history in the Gagdaddian way. On TCS Daily, there is an article by Arnold Kling, entitled Appreciating Our Moral and Mental Development that pretty much confirms the view laid out in my book. The article starts with a quote that animal lovers may want to skip, and which I won't repeat here. But neurologist Steven Pinker goes on to say that, "As horrific as present-day events are, such sadism would be unthinkable today in most of the world. This is just one example of the most important and underappreciated trends in the history of our species: the decline of violence." Furthermore, "as far as I know, every systematic attempt to document the prevalence of violence over centuries and millennia (and, for that matter, the past fifty years), particularly in the West, has shown that the overall trend is downward (though of course with many zigzags)."
Kling notes that the emergence in the West of the open system of free markets didn't just create wealth, but actually changed us: "As we get wealthier, we also become enhanced physically, cognitively, and morally, leading to a virtuous cycle of improvements to the standard of living. As the economy improves, human cognitive ability and moral reasoning improves, which helps markets to work better and makes the process of innovation more productive, leading to greater wealth, more mental and moral development, and so on."
Kling points out that "our intuition tells us that the human race is static. We think of ourselves as being like our ancestors." But in reality, "the human race is changing," and not just physically -- i.e., becoming larger and healthier. Rather, he argues "that the increases in human longevity, size, and health have been paralleled by increases in cognitive and moral reasoning. One of the most dramatic illustrations [is] that average IQ has been rising steadily in many countries for most of this century. Average IQ's in Britain may be more than two standard deviations higher than they were a hundred years ago, which says that the average citizen today would have been in the top 5 percent of intelligence early in the 20th century."
That is an absolutely shocking statement, but again consistent with the theory laid out I my book. To put it bluntly -- and with all due respect to our shambling furbers -- I indicated that the majority of people in the past were more or less stupid and crazy -- with obvious exceptions. But we cannot take the exception as the rule -- as if everyone were Plato or Shakespeare instead of Keith Olbermann or Barbara Boxer. If you look at the characteristics of people in the Middle Ages, for example, they very much resemble what we would call a Borderline (or some other) Personality Disorder -- impulsive, violent, childish, credulous, paranoid, etc. Despite the horrors of the 20th century, the death rate due to violence was exponentially higher among primitive peoples.
Kling does not whitewash the present, for there is "plenty of evidence that is inconsistent with moral improvement," for example, "vulgarity and violence portrayed in movies and video games. Clearly, the abuse of civilians by terrorists is not a sign of moral improvement." Nevertheless, "if one could examine every human interaction and attach a measure of the moral reasoning involved in that interaction, the average moral 'score' would be rising." He concludes by noting that "In the study of history, the importance of mankind's mental and moral development has often been overlooked. My guess is that the rate of mental and moral development will accelerate sharply over the next few decades, and the phenomenon will be more widely noticed and its significance better appreciated."
The one thing that does puzzle me, however -- and this is a point brought up by reader Joseph -- is the aesthetic ugliness that accompanies modernity. Why is our aesthetic sense not evolving too? Indeed, we seem to be regressing aesthetically. How to explain the appalling regression of, say, Vanity Fair magazine, from the heights of P.G. Wodehouse and T.S. Eliot to the post-literate depths of a James Wolcott? Why are we producing better humans, but at the same time, making a world that is aesthetically unfit for them? This is a very important concern, for beauty is one of the portals to the Divine. A beautiful world is the occasion for constant remembrance of the Divine, whereas an ugly environs can cause us to forget our divinity and regress to barbarism (is this perhaps why leftism is primarily a phenomenon of big cities?). Perhaps contemporary art is simply the Evil One's strategy for undoing and canceling out the progress made in other human domains. It keeps his hand in the game. The other strategy would be the secular detachment of the mind from the divine intellect, so that our IQs increase even as we become metaphysically more and more blind and stupid.