Thursday, December 18, 2014

Advanced Viral History

In the coon classic Science and the Modern World, Whitehead says that when considering "the philosophy of an epoch, do not chiefly direct your attention to those intellectual positions which its exponents feel it necessary to explicitly defend."

Rather, "there will be some fundamental assumptions which adherents of all the variant systems within each epoch unconsciously presuppose."

Thus, just as there is an unconscious "emotional" mind, there is an unconscious intellectual, or philosophical, or metaphysical, or moral, or even political mind. The problem is, people no longer know what they are assuming, "because the assumptions appear so obvious" and because "no other way of putting things has ever occurred to them."

And in my experience, the people most susceptible to this are the tenured (and by extension, journalists), especially those who have spent their entire lives in academia, and therefore have no idea how the world actually works. As such, their unconscious assumptions are not subject to any critique, neither from other minds nor from reality.

Another factor in their conformity is the narcissistic need for confirmation, prestige, and acceptance; between university administrators and Hollywood executives, it is difficult to say which population is the most craven.

One thing that is so provocative about Inventing the Individual is that it goes directly to a number of those "fundamental assumptions" alluded to by Whitehead, and shows how flimsy they are, for the contemporary secularist who calls himself "liberal" is unwittingly "paying tribute" to the Christian "origins of [his] moral intuitions."

It is just that these intuitions have become detached from their proper object, with the result that we see this dangerous combination of religious zeal in the absence of the channels provided by religious tradition. We may discern the same pattern in every revolutionary movement from French Revolution to the recent mob violence around the country: moral righteousness without morality, or "immoral morality"; in a word... or two, moral insanity.

It would be difficult to find the committed liberal who doesn't imagine that "historical progress" involves the struggle to found a secular society out of an illiberal religious past. Siedentop (and he is far from the only one) shows that the progress vaunted by liberals is unthinkable in the absence of deeply Christian assumptions.

But because enlightenment thinkers were motivated more by hatred of God than love of truth, they concocted a new narrative that made religion the enemy of reason and progress. It is bad enough what this did to history, but it also maims the soul, because it deprives it of its deep historical continuity and contributes to the resultant cosmic alienation. From there it is but a step to the perpetual resentment of the left.

As Siedentop puts it, "We no longer have a persuasive story to tell ourselves about our origins and development." Rather, "things have just happened to us," as in the accidents of natural selection. Thus, the liberalism that was once a positive philosophy grounded in religious principles "has come to stand for 'non-belief' -- for indifference and permissiveness, if not decadence."

How did this happen? How was this positive philosophy drained of meaning and transformed into the unholy trinity of relativism, envy, and entitlement?

In order to answer that question, we must first ask whether it is "mere coincidence that secularism developed in the Christian West"; or in other words, whether we are dealing with continuity, or whether there has been an ontological rupture along the way.

One of the things those enlightenment thinkers did was to fabricate a new continuity with the ancient past, with Greece and Rome. In seeking to "minimize the moral and intellectual distance between modern Europe and Graeco-Roman antiquity," they maximized "the gap between the 'dark' middle ages and the 'light' of their own age." As a result, "the millennium between the fall of the Western Roman empire and the Renaissance became an unfortunate interlude, a regression in humanity."

But is it true? Or is it just a flattering narrative, a collective neurosis for the purposes of self-aggrandizement? This leads to another question, "just how free and secular were ancient Greece and Rome?" Because if the modern secularists are correct, Christianity must represent a dark departure from that idyllic world.

In the book, I discussed this, starting on p. 142, under the heading Viral History 101. I would consider Siedentop's book Viral History 201, or whatever the next level would be. He looks at some of the same things, only, you know, in a sober and scholarly way instead of in the mischievous and freewheeling manner of the Raccoon.

Bottom line, when we look at that world -- really look at the average mentality, not the geniuses and luminaries -- "we find ourselves drawn back to an utterly remote moral world." It is so remote that I personally find it impossible to imagine what it must have been like, any more than I can imagine what it is like to be a frog. I mean, it's weird. And yet, for them, they did not regard it as such. In fact, if anything is weird, it is this recent and unexpected emergence of the individual in the Christian west. No one saw that coming.

"To recapture that world -- to see and feel what acting in it was like -- requires an extraordinary imaginative leap." For starters we must de-Christianize ourselves, which is probably impossible, as impossible as removing the yeast from the bread.

To begin with, not only was the family a religious institution, it was the religious institution, with father serving as priest, magistrate, judge, law enforcement, and executioner if necessary. Not only was there no separation of these domains in society, there was no separation in the individual, which, as we shall see, is a key point about the eventual impact of Christianity.

And now I'm out of time. To be continued....

26 Comments:

Blogger mushroom said...

As such, their unconscious assumptions are not subject to any critique, neither from other minds nor from reality.

They really can't believe anything else. I think that's true.


Though Spengler suggests they know how silly they sound: In fact, they have their reasons to hate us. They are being silly. We know they are being silly, and they know we know, and they can’t stand it. ... we can’t stop giggling. ... People who write such rot know they are ridiculous, and demand from the rest of us that we do not giggle.

12/18/2014 10:04:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Not only was there no separation of these domains in society, there was no separation in the individual, which, as we shall see, is a key point about the eventual impact of Christianity.

On the one hand, Moses and the Prophets and all represent a massive leap forward in revelation and enlightenment. But if you start thinking about some of the stories recorded in the Old Testament, realizing the concept of the individual is still "in the womb", some of it might make more sense.

12/18/2014 10:11:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

For starters we must de-Christianize ourselves, which is probably impossible, as impossible as removing the yeast from the bread.

Yes - and then also remove all of the scientific knowledge we take for granted, and replace it with arcane knowledge of the world derived from living close to the land... I can understand, conceptually, what needs to be done. But really, I can't imagine what it would be like at all.

Mushroom, that point of Spengler's is a good one. If people really believed what they say they believe, they would act very differently. For instance, if people really thought one in five women would be raped or assaulted at college, who would pay to send their daughters there? It is ridiculous, but we may not laugh.

12/18/2014 11:01:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

When my first granddaughter was 3 or 4, I would sometimes find her actions and remarks very amusing. She would sometimes look at me grimly, sigh, and say, "Poppy. It's not funny."

This did not always have the effect she intended.

12/18/2014 11:40:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

"As Siedentop puts it, "We no longer have a persuasive story to tell ourselves about our origins and development." Rather, "things have just happened to us," as in the accidents of natural selection. Thus, the liberalism that was once a positive philosophy grounded in religious principles "has come to stand for 'non-belief' -- for indifference and permissiveness, if not decadence.""

Yep. And to Mushroom's point from Spengler too, the one leads to the other. If I can get the time to finish a post I've been trying to work on, the moderns took it for granted that the rush towards 'science!' meant a rush away from the moral, the religious, the poetic - a mad rush away from anything smacking of imaginative heart. That was what drove abandoning everything from Homer to the Bible, from Aesop to nursery rhymes - all out. Facts were all that students needed, pack 'em in, drill 'em in, if they can repeat correct data then they have all the skills they need to succeed.

The problem is that data, absent heart, is truly meaningless. It leaves one workout convictions and able to 'justify' any whim at all.

When Arendt described the Nazi on trial as the banality of evil - that IS the ideal that modernity has been striving for... it has only been the ever dimming memories, nightmares, of past beliefs, that have kept us aping 'moral outrage' when reality had approached too closely to the ideal.

12/18/2014 12:08:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"But is it true? Or is it just a flattering narrative, a collective neurosis for the purposes of self-aggrandizement? This leads to another question, "just how free and secular were ancient Greece and Rome?" Because if the modern secularists are correct, Christianity must represent a dark departure from that idyllic world."

Leftist viral history -451 fair n' shite.

12/19/2014 03:59:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"Mushroom, that point of Spengler's is a good one. If people really believed what they say they believe, they would act very differently. For instance, if people really thought one in five women would be raped or assaulted at college, who would pay to send their daughters there? It is ridiculous, but we may not laugh."

Aye, and if there was really an epidemic of racist, police brutality the left wouldn't hafta lie about it, because there would be thousands if not millions of cases to prove it.

12/19/2014 04:04:00 AM  
Blogger John said...

This notion that individuals are relatively new has bearing on foreign policy, clearly, as most of the world is still, psychologically speaking, living in a pre-Christian, collective world.
When Madeleine Albright, said, for example, that sanctions, killing half a million Iraqii children was worth it, starts to make sense. As also, when we flip out when one of our citizens is killed by them. We aren't killing individuals, but frogs. They are killing individuals.

12/19/2014 06:03:00 AM  
Blogger William Wildblood said...

Bob, you say, ‘enlightenment thinkers were motivated more by hatred of God than love of truth’. That is so true and remains the case today. It seems that while the religious person hopes that God is real, many atheists fear he may be so and do everything in their power to create a world in which God is either not needed or else rejected outright. Very frequently the real motivation of the left appears to come from that fear, and is therefore based on egotism though I doubt this is even recognized let alone admitted to. Presenting it as a struggle for freedom and equality sounds much nobler. It’s the old, old story of the rebellion of the ego against God.

With regard to Christianity and the individual, it is surely the prizing by Christianity of the individual or person that makes it a greater revelation of spiritual truth than any other.

12/19/2014 07:25:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

John (and William):

Yes, what you say is true. In a way that makes me feel slightly uncomfortable to say, comparing Christian individuals to pre-individual hive-people is comparing apples and oranges. The irony, however, is that our Christian revelation enjoins us to treat them as individuals, whereas the reverse is not true. Our Muslim enemies have no respect whatsoever for the individual, which obviously gives them a big edge in asymmetrical warfare.

And this understanding was wholly missing from the Feinstein report. The purpose of our use of harsh interrogation is to SAVE LIVES. It is founded on the principle that life is precious. Islamic terror is founded on the principle that life is worthless.

12/19/2014 08:00:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

BTW, Stalin in particular was the same way in WWII -- nor regard whatsoever for his own soldiers, who often fought with guns pointed at their backs. Then he turned around and manipulated Roosevelt on the grounds that Russia had lost so many men in the war!

Islamists do the same thing, i.e., capitalize on our concern for the individual.

12/19/2014 08:04:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Stephen King had a line in The Green Mile which was quite astute in this regard, describing how a murderer was able to kidnap twin girls and carry them off into the woods with neither one screaming (lest the other be harmed): "He killed them with their love."

12/19/2014 08:09:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I once did a psychological evaluation of an immigrant from mainland China. It was like talking to a medieval serf who had gotten into a time machine a thousand years ago. For him to even be talking to a "psychologist" was as absurd as me going to a witch doctor.

12/19/2014 08:12:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Julie: That is a great line by King. One could say the same of the left. They always try to appeal to our higher sentiments for base motives. This was and is the whole basis of Obama.

12/19/2014 08:18:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Which, BTW, is why I never say that liberals in general are bad people. To the contrary, they are often very caring people who are just easily manipulated. In contrast, liberals often consider conservatives to be non-people -- like that academic who HATES Republicans. (Google BEST OF THE WEB
Benghazi, the Sequel; it's at the bottom)

12/19/2014 08:25:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Taranto has a joke at the end:

“When I was an undergrad at the University of Michigan, one of my professors told me: ‘There are two kinds of people in the world. There are the ones who engage in black-and-white thinking. And there are those of us who hate them.’

“I asked her: ‘So what’s the other kind?’ ”

12/19/2014 08:27:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Yes, just so. I was about to make the same point - it's a very effective tactic against people who genuinely care, but aren't capable of seeing past the immediate issue to the longer-term consequences. They truly care, and they truly don't understand. The one without the other all too easily leads to disaster.

12/19/2014 08:29:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Re. the joke - ha!

I miss Taranto. Now that he's behind the paywall, I don't read him. Is there a way to peek around it? All my Googling is just taking me to the blocked article.

12/19/2014 08:38:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

Julie said "They truly care, and they truly don't understand. The one without the other all too easily leads to disaster."

That pretty much sums it all up right there.

12/19/2014 08:46:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I'm able to access Taranto every day by simply googling Best of the Web and the title of the piece (which I get via email alert). Like just now I googled "Best of the Web Benghazi the Sequel," and there it was at the top.

12/19/2014 08:56:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Weird - I tried that earlier, and just got the paywall view. But now the whole thing comes up. I must have forgotten an incantation or something.

Thanks!

12/19/2014 09:14:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Now just sign up for the email alert, and you're set. You've defeated The Man!

12/19/2014 09:29:00 AM  
Blogger John said...

In spite of the leftist dominance, I do find concern for the individual to be increasing in the West. Look at death tolls, for example in the Civil War or WWI. It is mind boggling, and yet people just seem to have accepted it. Now, we reel over 5000 soldiers dead, which, though sometimes annoying, is, in the end a positive. Minimizing deaths is now a high goal in warfare.
It's similar with these often trite media stories about some lost child. They annoy, but have the overall, and probably unintended, effect of making people think deeply about the individual.

12/19/2014 09:38:00 AM  
Blogger John said...

Not meant to be a refutation of your post, but most all ancient cultures have a strong stranger welcoming tradition. Indeed, when you travel to the 3rd world, one of the things you immediately notice is how friendly people are to you as a stranger. Much less so here. Not at all, say, in Paris. In other words, it's not a sign of the development of the individual. Quite the opposite.

12/19/2014 10:32:00 AM  
Anonymous HappyAcres said...

FYI a review of "Inventing the Individual" in WSJ today
http://www.wsj.com/articles/book-review-inventing-the-individual-by-larry-siedentop-1419029537

12/20/2014 04:43:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I was reading the comments, and this odd bird caught my eye:

"Long ago I was one of the world's largest high frequency traders, then I dropped out and devoted my life to Plato. For many years I have lived alone in the middle of nowhere reading Plato all day long day every day, only Plato nothing else not even books about his work just his original words, never leaving my office, never talking to anyone. Today I happened across this article because it has the word Plato in it, and for the first time in a long time I commented on a newspaper story, and then I decided to see if I could find anyone to debate with. Of course it's hopeless and now I will go back to my book! One day I hope to become a real philosopher sage, but Plato is very very hard, much harder than mathematics and quantitative finance I used to study, so perhaps I will die like this, alone and in the wilderness."

12/20/2014 05:29:00 PM  

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