Sunday, November 11, 2007

What Does it All Mean? (11.02.10)

We're still discussing Mead's God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World. After laying his foundation in the first three sections of the book, he tries to put it all together in the last two sections, and address nothing less than The Meaning of History, the Lessons of History, and The Meaning of it All. It is here where I believe he seriously falters, but this is a necessary consequence of being a secular scholar operating under the extremely constricting assumptions of his essentially materialistic psychoclass.

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.



hoarhey said...

"The main problem with the meta-cosmic Raccoon narrative is incompatible with selling many books."

My position, as I've discussed with you in the past, is that you may have stopped a little short in revealing the thread connecting the meta-cosmic Racoon narrative, in context with Anglo-American social ideals and world history, along with a little help from the "invisible hand" on your way to a best seller.
But I have the feeling you're working on that. ;^)

Van said...

"But is it really accurate to suggest that Muslims and secular leftists share this view? ...and by extension, reality, since Mead's central insight is that the successful negotiation of reality involves the dynamic synthesis of reason-revelation-tradition"

When you have a three legged stool, it's important where the legs of the stool are placed, and where yours are placed upon the stool. If they aren't balanced, you're unbalanced, wobbly, the motions you go through to keep your balance, are themselves no longer balanced.

If you're doing it as part of a parlor game, the people observing you will be laughing at the spastic postures you assume to remain 'standing', people will even twist themselves in attempts at sympathetic help to keep you from falling - but for all your audiences twisting, in the end you still fall on your butt and everyone erupts in laughter.

If it's not a parlor game, you still gyrate in wild spasms to remain standing (how else do you explain people trying to adhere to political correctness?), and the eruptions of laughter from those watching becomes more thin and more alarming.

If it's not on a personal, but a global scale....

Smoov said...

Whatever the English once were, they have largely assumed its opposite today. In Victorian times a standard part of an English gentleman's morning ritual was checking to see that his derringer or pistol was properly loaded before tucking it into his waistcoat. Policemen, on the other hand, went about unarmed. On those rare occaisions when an armed robbery occured the police were often to be seen borrowing firearms from nearby citizens in order to give chase to the fleeing bandits.

This model--actual power vested in the people and conspicuously attenuated in those who represnt the State--is not so far from that found in America (with the exception that America has become far too accepting of things like SWAT teams and the quasi-militarization of police forces in general).

Today in the UK the citizen is wholly powerless, both in actuality and symbolically. Crime rates climb at a double-digit clip, while with each passing year the possibility of an Englishman ever again being in a position to legally defend his home and family becomes ever more remote.

America has so far withstood most of the predatory attacks of the Left (with the notable exception of the deeply evil practice of abortion). I have little faith in the UK. Canada is somewhere in between, since much that is good rubs off on Canadians from the adjacent US.

Even though I'm not a particular fan of guns (and wouldn't walk around armed) I'm VERY glad others are (and DO walk around armed -- at least when I'm state-side).

Van said...

From the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Holmes to Watson in,

“Do not go asleep; your very life may depend upon it. Have your pistol ready in case we should need it. I will sit on the side of the bed, and you in that chair.”

I took out my revolver and laid it on the corner of the table.
“He has come back and done it. I tell you that he is a clever and dangerous man. I should not be very much surprised if this were he whose step I hear now upon the stair. I think, Watson, that it would be as well for you to have your pistol ready.”

Holmes was intended to be a remarkable sort of character, but Watson, Doctor Watson, was to represent an ordinary, typical sort of Victorian gentleman.

Extraordinary my dear Watson, too bad it is no longer elementary.

Anonymous said...

yes, two decades ago, conservatives supported the arming of islamist groups. i just want to say - thank you, conservatives, for training and arming people like osama bin laden. surely, training and arming iraqi sectarian groups will work out just as well for us all this time as it did the last time.

walt said...

I have a rat in my attic. Every day he comes round, and I can hear him chewing on the wood. It is really annoying.

julie said...

Van, funny you should mention Holmes. I'm finally nearing the end of his adventures (having never read any of them until a couple of months ago). I often think, as I'm reading the stories, how tragic it is that the England described therein no longer seems to exist.

Gagdad Bob said...

Demonstrates the truism that socialism creates a new and inferior sort of man.

ximeze said...

How boring, how predictable these wannabe trolls are. Dangme, they're dull. Never an original utterance, nary a useful or interesting thought.

Regorgeaparrot of the beyond stupid. And lazy/ignorant to boot. Don't they teach English to these bots anymore?

Wow man, I'd never heard that thing about "supported the arming of islamist groups". Wow. How did you get soooo smart, man? I'm really, really, really impressed. Wow.

Hummm, just kinda insulted psittacines.

Sorry Beaky, certainly did not mean you or your like. Frankly, my dear, what you have to say is more cogent, even tho you ARE a parrot, & not yet 10. Kiss the beak.

Smoov said...


Is this list any good?

Top Jazz Albums

Anonymous said...

yes, my points are so fleeting and poignant that i have to get them out as quickly as possible so i don't have time to press the shift key.
wouldnt want these gems to disappear into the ether would we

Anonymous said...

the conservatives also armed the commie russians during world war two.

Anonymous said...

also the conservatives breeched the levees in new orleans and then disarmed common citizens.

walmart shopper said...

Arming the mujihadeen helped bring about the defeat of the Soviets in Afghanistan. It was a hugely demoralizing defeat and part of the USSR's ultimate collapse -- a sad event for moral supporters of leftist totalitarianism like you.

Wait -- now you're saying that equipping the Russians during WWII to fight the Nazis was strictly an idea of conservatives? You mean the court-packing, New Dealing FDR -- the eternal hero of liberals (and president at the time) -- wasn't in on the plan? I tell you, the things I learn on this blog!

But listen...You had better keep this one to yourself, O anonymous teller of hidden truths, because a lot of your pals take some pride in the notion that FDR was at the helm when America whooped the fascists, and that part of his strategy involved giving ol' Uncle Joe a helping hand. They're bound to be disappointed if they find out. Probably gonna be some pretty embarrassed historians, too. So, like I say, best keep this one under your hat.

Gagdad Bob said...



That might be a list of the scariest jazz albums ever. Whoever the compiler is, he leans heavily toward the free jazz end of the spectrum. There are many gems in there, and most of my favorite artists are represented, but the list very much skews toward the dissonant and dischordant. I prefer jazz that skirts the borderline between the form and formless, whereas many of these albums venture too far into the formless.

Van said...

Only modern liberal lefties discount, and even deny, what Thucydides called "the imponderables of war", the certainty that you can not be certain what will result from your actions. The wise person understands that there are no good choices, only bad and worse ones - and the absolute worst, making no choice at all.

We aided the mujahadeen to thwart the USSR, and as Walmart Shopper pointed out, thank God we did. Of course there were unforseen consequences... anyone who doesn't think there will be, is a fool and a moral idiot.

Which brings me to Bill Clinton.

Billarly thought he could pull out of Somallia, and have no further consequences occur. Billary thought he could ignore the first bombing of the world trade center, and the embassies, and the USS Cole, avoid making any decision on taking out Osayamama, etc, etc, etc, and think he could come out looking good.

Billary tried to hide, and tens of thousands of people have died.

What is truly imponderable, is that anyone could even consider voting for Billary again. Shudder.

Joseph said...

It was actually Jimmy Carter who began the operation of arming the mujahadeen.

We have never been very astute at forseeing consequences of actions in our foreign policies. It takes about 100 years to survive the consequences.

Anonymous said...

hey GB,
If by incompatible, you mean with the small r small k group that seems to dominate the word business, you are probably right. But to those of us on the big R big K group, we would love to read it. Frankly, although my mom didn't raise any smart children, I have been looking for the Cliff Notes to the whys and wheres of the left for years and here, in about a week and a half, you have allowed me to understand and synthesize their various parts/legs/arms and toes into something I can comprehend. It seems to me that before the conservatives can take a concerted action from the base, the base has to all understand and agree as to the causes and reasons. So to that end, your writings would be most helpful....and if they were constructed in some basic sound bite points and with a nod to Mz Coulter, Bobby, it would sell!

Van said...

Joseph said "It was actually Jimmy Carter who began the operation of arming the mujahadeen"

Yeah, that's why I said 'We', instead of Conservatives.

"We have never been very astute at foreseeing consequences of actions in our foreign policies. It takes about 100 years to survive the consequences."

I wonder if part of the real, as opposed to assumed problem (Our foreign policy reflecting our internal standards of civil law) is less a case of not foreseeing the consequences, than of thinking that we can foresee the consequences?

I think we've got to keep ourselves focused on what is ours to say and do - protecting our people and direct interests at home and abroad (which I think would have given far more weight to forcibly preventing the middle eastern tin horns from nationalizing western oil company properties, from the 1950's on), and not pretending that we have direct influence and responsibilities where we do not.

An interesting case of compare and contrast between then and now, is playing out now with Iran then and Pakistan now. Carter was far to school marmish about the Shaw. The attitude of they're not being Nice, so we'll give them a spanking, led from the Bad thuggish order, though mostly stable Iran, of the Shaw, to the fanatical mayhem and state sponsored terror of the Mullahcracy of Iran.

If we don't shut down our current school marms inside and outside of the administration, we're going to see a repeat of it all again in Pakistan - and this time the 'students' aren't going to hold our embassy hostage with rifle, but the entire western world, with nukes.

Joseph said...

I fully agree that it is hard to see consequences of foreign policy actions, which is, of course, one of the reasons the founders admonished zero "entanglements".

There certainly were those, for example, who believed it was suicidal to embrace the Soviets during and after WWII, but they were not listened to. For better or worse, those who are for lots of foreign action and entanglements are often those who put a very positive spin on the "consequences". When I see clips of Wolfowitz before Iraq, part II, I simply cringe.
I agree with you. It would have been better if he said, "it may take 6 months, it may take 60 years...who really knows?"

Van said...

Joseph said "I fully agree that it is hard to see consequences of foreign policy actions, which is, of course, one of the reasons the founders admonished zero "entanglements"."

One of the things I find most fascinating, is how we are to know when to revisit the particular vertical/horizontal ratios we live amidst. One of the purposes of memory has got to be for storing previous evaluations so that we don't have to keep reevaluating the wheel, but somewhere along the line we need to be sensitive enough to the moment to realize that the parts no longer jibe, and we'd better re-evaluate things.

Prior to 9/11, I was far closer to the founders view that we should 'avoid foreign entanglements', that we should be militarily disengaging from the world, getting out of Europe, Korea, etc. The big threat of the USSR was over, bring the boys back home - don't throw away their weapons, keep them polished, but put them back in the rack.

That was based upon an understanding of the world as being something that was far enough from our shores that we distance alone could keep us from getting our own roots and branches entangled with them. After all, everyone knew that if provoked, we could swoop in and trim their trees quick enough. All was well.

Now, I did think all along that we should be responding severely to Iran and other terrorists, but I didn't envisage the scope of danger we were courting. I dislike the shrinking world imagery, but in this case I think it truly has shrunk - with the ability of even neighborhood thugs like al-qaida to inflict damage upon us from across the world - how does the wisdom of 'avoiding foreign entanglements' need to be reevaluated? How would Washington express that today?

I sorely wish that our current crop of 'leaders' had wit enough to debate such issues today, rather than the pap they do.

"...would have been better if he said, "it may take 6 months, it may take 60 years...who really knows?""

...yeeesss... but I think that's probably a case where most people were and are interpreting what they heard based upon what they 'knew they really meant'. It should have been said louder and more often, but every time Bush discussed it, he said it would be a long, hard difficult conflict... but that was brushed aside by most who didn't wish to hear it.

The Chinese curse applies, we do live in an interesting world.

Van said...

oops... interesting times, not world.