Pimp-Slapping Obama and Conserving Our Metaphysical Dream of Progress
No new post. Thanks to the Board of Psychology, I'm now several days behind in my work, so you can thank them for setting back the progress of cosmotheology for 72 hours.
But I'm reposting something from several years back, which may have immediate relevance to the news of the day, as the nation prepares to awaken from Obama's metaphysical nightmare and begin properly dreaming the American dream again.
I'm going to condense a series of posts that reflected upon Walter Russell Mead's excellent God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World. The review ranged over a number of posts, so I'll try to eliminate the inessential. If the transitions are too abrupt, I'll just throw in some asterisks.
Supposing you knew every "historical fact" in existence, and then fed them all into a supercomputer. What do you suppose the computer would come up with? Would it be able to synthesize all the facts into a suitable dream? Of course not. Only a dreamer can historicize, even as history discloses the Dreamer Who Dreams It.
Of particular interest to me is the religious dream that has allowed the Anglo-American world to succeed where all other dreams have failed, to such an extent that it is by far the most powerful dream the world has ever known.
In fact, at present there are three primary dreams in competition for who will Dream history 1) American classical liberalism (i.e., conservatism), 2) European statist secular leftism (including its American variety), and 3) Islamism. The world isn't big enough for all of these dreams, and yet, only one of these dreams is big enough for the world. (And I suppose one might have to add a fourth, Chinese style authoritarian capitalism, or whatever one would call it.)
Mead's book is divided into five main sections, each of which is fascinating in its own right. But of particular interest to me is the third section, Anglo-Saxon Attitudes, which gets into the religious metaphysics -- our metaphysical dream -- which allowed the Anglo-Saxons to come to dominate the world over the past several centuries.
Seen in the light of Mead's explanations, the Marxist counter-dream just looks silly -- i.e., that our success is based only upon oppression, or violence, or exploitation, or class warfare. Rather, our success is because our dream is much closer to reality -- or our reality is much closer to the Cosmic Dream and its Author.
For example, Mead gets into a subject I discussed in the Coonifesto, which is that only open systems can evolve, both individually and collectively. In a closed society, adventure is exchanged for security. Everyone knows their place or role. The tyranny of custom and tradition is complete, as in the contemporary Islamic world, or, to a lesser extent, among the ironically named "progressives." Because of their dominance, there is no place less intellectually -- let alone spiritually -- free in America than on a leftist university campus.
Likewise, the left represents the main organized opposition to that which, more than any other factor, has created so much progress in the world, the free market, compared to which the progressive movement has contributed essentially nil to the betterment of mankind.
As Mead writes, "the journey from East to West is a journey from relatively closed to relatively open society," both historically and geographically. For example, even in contemporary America, the culture of the New York Times is the quintessence of a closed, parochial, backward-looking world view, especially as compared to the view here from Raccoon Lookout in Upper Tonga. But further east from New York to Paris, the view gets even more closed and cramped.
Later Mead notes that "History is in large part the record of efforts, more often successful than not, of the advocates of closed society to shut down open societies."
For example, what is the contemporary culture war but the effort by leftist elites to strangle debate with political correctness and to enforce their idiosyncratic views on the rest of us, through the news media, through Hollywood, through acedemia, by packing the Supreme Court with anti-Constitutional activists, etc.? Mead writes that "History may be understood as a series of efforts to tame the disruptive intellectual and political forces of an open society and restore the closed society with its stability and reassuringly eternal and absolute qualities."
Now obviously, it isn't just secular leftists who want to shut down progress and create a closed society. In the past, traditional religion has most often been the main adversary of the open society, and therefore progress. A large section of Mead's book is devoted to explaining how we in the Anglo-American world got it just right in terms of religious metaphysics, in such a way that progress not only became possible, but inevitable.
But it is always a very tricky balance, and it's not something we should take for granted. Rather, as we shall see, it involves a "trinity," a three part dynamism that Mead calls tradition-revelation-reason. Societies that move too far in one of these directions become dysfunctional, and either cannot endure or cannot evolve.
Since the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the Anglo-Americans have been on the winning side in every international conflict. And we didn't just win these conflicts, but proceeded to reorganize the world in our image. Much of the resentment toward us has to do with the fact that in order to survive and flourish in this world, you must adapt your dopey culture to the world we both discovered and made, which is to say, "reality" -- and nothing is the source of more resentment than the demands of reality.
Never confuse "Anglo-American" with "European," much less "white," let alone "French." "It is France that has most often attempted to defeat or at least most often contain" the Anglo-Americans. "Whatever we call it, the hatred and fear of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants and all of their doings is one of the motors driving the world" (Mead). It is "one of the key organizing principles that many observers use to make sense of mysterious events," i.e., it is an unconscious paranoid process that animates resentful and envious people who don't really have any ideas, only rebellious anti-ideas. Anti-Anglo-Americanism is a constant in world history. It just takes different forms. Thus, the hatred of President Bush, both here and abroad, is nothing new.
Very early on, the Anglo-Americans discovered the dynamics of complex systems, i.e., the "invisible hand." They understood that order emerges from chaos, not just in economics, but in virtually every realm -- politics, the marketplace of ideas, science, relationships, etc. Most cultures -- including half of our own -- still struggle with the idea that most things will improve if only you leave them alone.
For at least a couple hundred years, sensible Anglo-Americans have been predicting the End of History -- the end of poverty, war, stupidity, and all the other follies of fallen mankind. We are tempted to imagine that world peace is just around the corner, under the assumption that the rest of the world will naturally come to its senses and adopt our liberal values, since they are obviously so successful. George Bush may be the latest victim of this sanguine view of mankind, i.e., giving Muslims the gift of freedom and expecting them to appreciate or make use of it
A brief asnide -- Heidegger is an even bigger assoul than I thought: first he proclaims Hitler and Nazism to be "Europe's best and even noblest protection from the twin threats" of Marxism and "Americanism"; then he concludes that the latter "is the hideous final destination on humanity's road away from a meaningful way of life"; and then he finally decides that "the Marxist machine, for all its evil, was less dangerous than the American." And Heidegger's vision "remains central to much European and Latin-American anti-Americanism today...." (ibid).
All Raccoons know this, but it's worth repeating: in (economic) reality, only the free market respects the masses, as it efficiently responds to their genuine needs, even if elites have comtempt for them. In traditional or elitist societies it is "the rulers and well-born whose tastes must be studied, prejudices indulged, and caprices made much of." "The power of mass consumption, harnessed by flexible markets to the economic interest of the talented, may be the most revolutionary human discovery since the taming of fire. The changes that have come and will come from this union of the ambitions of the elites with the aspirations of the masses are incalculable" (ibid).
By the time Marx was dead and writing all his books, middle and lower-income families were already enjoying "a higher standard of living in some ways than even the most aristocratic households had enjoyed only a half century before" (ibid). Thus, his ideas were born obsolete, one more reason why leftist academia is such a soul-killing environment.
It is because Anglo-American governments have been so relatively weak that they have been so strong. Like the free market, they must respect the wishes of the people and lean on voluntary cooperation instead of coercion. Thus, big government will necessarily become unpopular, because it no longer need respond to the citizenry and instead must coerce or use force. [Say it again! Tomorrow.] This is why everyone hates the IRS or recognizes the failures of the education establishment or the problems with social security, but no one can change them. Imagine the permanent nightmare of nationalized healthcare, which constitutes some 17% of our economy.
Again, all Raccoons know this, but societies that overvalue reason and devalue tradition and revelation become dysfunctional and cannot evolve. "Dynamic religion" is the philosopher Bergson's term for "the angel that calls people forward to ever more open societies." Those who have read the Coonifesto will be familiar with my idea that only open religion specifically engages the eschaton, O, luring the open system toward it, both individually and collectively. Mead notes that open religion can take many forms, such as "a feeling of restlessness and unease, a yearning for new experiences, a voice in the head shouting warnings or commands, visions, dreams, or ideas." It is living religion, or O → (n).
Dead or "static religion" is the historical norm, certainly outside the Judeo-Christian world, but often within it as well. And radical secularism can be as much a static religion as any other. In this regard it is the form -- the deep structure -- not the substance, that counts. Put it this way: whoever you are, you either practice a dead religion or a living one:
"The tragic choice that many self-consciously 'modern' observers see between the black-and-white realism of open modernity and the visionary colors and imagery of closed tradition and myth disappears if Bergson's dynamic religion is taken into account" (ibid). We cannot do without our great visions that "light up the western sky" and "stir human souls to the depths," driving us to "to pull up our stakes and move on," which is to say evolve, both within and toward O.
Which is why Raccoon philosophy is simply the operating system of reality in both its vertical and horizontal dimensions; it is what we might call "dynamic" or "evolutionary neo-traditionalism."
To be continued...