What Does it All Mean? (11.02.10)
In other words, although Mead does a fine job in the first two thirds of the book in explicating the importance of religion to the unprecedented success of the Anglo-Americans, in the end, he attempts to "contain" religion within (small-r) reason, thus violating his own theory that the key to our success has been a balancing of the dynamic trinity of reason-revelation-tradition. If you want to be reasonable about it, in reality, reality is beyond all reason, but hardly unreasonable. Hopefully, this will become more clear to you as I explain it to me.
First of all, let's restate the thesis of the book: "the key to the predominance of the two countries [England and America] has been the individualistic ideology of the prevailing Anglo-American religion," which he lays out in the first three sections. The last two sections of the book "engage with what are known as the 'grand narratives' of world history, the frameworks that give the context and background for particular events."
Mead largely rejects the postmodern view that these grand narratives have "collapsed" and that "no single story line can capture the complexity of contemporary life." Rather, "we are not in an age of collapsing grand narratives. We are in an age of competing grand narratives, and in many ways they are becoming more energetic and compelling as they react against one another in a global culture that brings them side to side."
In my opinion, there are three principal, mutually exclusive grand narratives in competition, 1) European style socialism (which subsumes such hideous developments as identity politics, multiculturalism, moral relativism, deconstruction, victimology, and the cluelessly ironic rejection of all grand narrative except for its own), 2) Islamism, and 3) Anglo-American classical liberalism.
Thus, we should not be altogether surprised at the de facto alliance between the left and the Islamists, as they share the common enemy of American liberalism and its foundation in Judeo-Christian principles. (People will disagree with me on this, but I do not believe these principles are universal because they are Judeo-Christian, but that the latter represents possibly the most adequate or "full" instantiation of the former.)
Regarding the contemporary alliance of Islam and the left, note that it was a mere two decades ago that Islamists and liberals (i.e., conservatives) were united against what was then seen as the common enemy, the Soviet Union. Set in this context, the casual treason of the New York Times or the reflexive anti-Americanism of leftist academia are expectable, if not excusable. They fear and despise America and what it stands for.
Now, a Raccoon has his own "grand narrative," but it is cosmic -- even metacosmic -- as opposed to global. To be perfectly accurate, he places global events in the larger framework of cosmic evolution, of the 14 billion year drama of cosmogenesis-to-cosmotheosis, aka, the arc of salvation. This is the true Meaning of it All, and the only real way to comprehend both the Meaning and the Lessons of History. Otherwise you are within history, a conditioned subject of your own narrative. Once you see the irony of this, then you can't really believe and be committed to your own little manmade narrative.
To put it another way, the meta-cosmic Raccoon narrative is the only one grand enough to comprehend us, rather than vice versa. In other words, if your grand narrative is rooted in mere reason, it will explain everything but the grand narrator, who is the most important part. How grand can one's narrative be if it doesn't really explain oneself? It becomes a kind of intellectual parlor game, in which one engages in auto-deception, or willing the pall over one's own I. It is analogous to thoroughly analyzing a dream and thereby believing that one has comprehended the Dreamer who dreams both you and the dream.
The main problem with the meta-cosmic Raccoon narrative is that it is incompatible with selling many books. But who cares what my agent thinks?
Mead, who doesn't have that problem, writes that "History as we know it began about three or four thousand years ago when, according to the spotty and incomplete records that survive, a wandering herdsman named Abram heard what he believed to be a call from God."
In our view, History began 13 or 14 billion years ago, when an ordered cosmos uniquely suited to the development of life and mind sprang into existence from "nothing." True, Abram took the mysterious call, but it was from the nonlocal Author of this mysterious cosmos, not just some local tribal deity. Of course, he couldn't have known that at the time, but still, this means that there is a thread that connects the origin of the cosmos to the origin of America, the author of history with the author of the cosmos.
Meads suggests that Muslims are really just fellow "Abrahamists," but is this true? If so, then I don't think the idea is particularly useful. It would be like saying that Hitler and Churchill both descended from apes, so they were really just quarreling brothers. (Before you laugh, this is what an evolutionary psychologist or sociobiologist might very well posit, and they would be correct within the constraints of their own myopic vision. After all, both men were shaped by genes that made them aggressive "alpha males" with a gift of rhetoric and an appetite for dominance.)
Mead notes that the essence of Abrahamic religion revolves around the ideas that "history has a shape and a purpose: a beginning, a middle, and an end," and that "truth is universal: there is one truth and it is true everywhere and for everyone." Furthermore, Mead understands that most modern science is rooted in "the idea that a single god created the entire universe and endowed human beings with the ability to understand and a mission to shape the world that we live in." A Raccoon obviously has no problem with this metaphysic.
But is it really accurate to suggest that Muslims and secular leftists share this view? Isn't the whole point that they don't share this universal vision of reality? If they did, then Muslims would have no problem with science, and leftists would have no problem with religion (and by extension, reality, since Mead's central insight is that the successful negotiation of reality involves the dynamic synthesis of reason-revelation-tradition).
Let's pause for a moment and discuss what reality must be like if Mead is correct about this dynamic trinity -- which I believe he is.