Saturday, September 29, 2012

A "Bare Bones" General Case For Liberty

We return. In this post I will outline, in basic form, a "bare bones" General Case for Liberty, I call it. I will leave aside for now its connection to the material from two weeks ago on the Five Stages. This material falls more in line with the projected Liberty and Its Two Enemies.

Probably the majority of the ideas here are hardly original with me, but with any luck they've been assembled (or have assembled themselves) in a way that is fresh and somewhat different. I've isolated ten fundamental principles here, not all of them immediately associated with liberty but with the philosophy behind it--principles in metaphysics and epistemology that, in this writer's judgment, need to be in place before the case for liberty makes sense. Libertarians will probably accede to the first eight right away; some will hesitate over (9) and (10) (those leaning toward theoretical anarchism or anarcho-capitalism will not like (9) at all!). I hope I can eventually convince reasonable people, aware of human nature and human failings, that such principles are necessary for liberty--they are not mere addenda and do not contradict it. On the contrary, without such principles to counter weaknesses inherent in human nature, liberty will eventually self-destruct no less than any other system. Maintaining a free society means maintaining a society which sees liberty as a social and civilizational value, and does not promote this as total, unregulated freedom for the individual to do just anything he sees fit. That is, it distinguishes liberty from license. Free markets mean that prices, etc., respond to supply and demand. It does not mean there are no checks on human behavior. This is an idea implicit in (7) and (8).

In any event, here are the principles. Feel free to post a comment at the end, whether by agreement, disagreement with one or more, or to elaborate if you want.

A "Bare Bones" General Case for Liberty (in Ten Principles).

(1) The Determinacy Principle. We inhabit a determinate universe—or, at least, we inhabit a world where our surroundings behave in a fashion that appears determinate. We think in terms of causes and effects, in which the world around us is predictable. Thus we can establish goals (or subsidiary objectives), take action to achieve them, and sometimes succeed. If our surroundings behaved randomly, or if the general scientifically-discoverable laws changed unpredictably, or even if we believed they might do so, human action would be impossible.

(2) The Indifference Principle. The universe, because of its law-governed nature, is indifferent to human needs, wants, or other interests. However we explain this (Christians can turn to Genesis 3; naturalists will speak of the absence of evidence for divine providence), we reach the same result: if a person simply sits and takes no actions whatsoever, he/she will eventually die of thirst, starvation, or exposure. Think of Robinson Crusoe, stranded on his desert island. He must get up off his duff and do something. Interaction with one’s surroundings (voluntary or otherwise) appears to be a necessary condition for the survival of any organism.

(3) The Intelligibility Principle. This idea is implicit in (1) and (2). That the workings of the universe are intelligible to the human mind is a presupposition of all science. The working out of events in our surroundings is intelligible to us; this is a presupposition of life itself: again otherwise, whatever successes the sciences have achieved, and those of technology, would be utterly mysterious. Of course, theories of the specific ways in which various domains of reality are intelligible have changed considerably over time, but the general thesis that the universe is intelligible to the human mind, at least in part*, has remained a constant.

(4) The Action Principle. Successful action in the world is both possible (because of (1) and (3)) and necessary (because of (2)). I am using the term action essentially as Mises used it: the employment of specific means to achieve specific prior-imagined ends or goals, understood as embedded in the deeper metaphysics and epistemology of a determinate if indifferent universe (our proximate environment) we can both understand and bring under our conscious control, at least somewhat. Mises, of course, saw action as axiomatic: the denial of action would itself be an action; and so the denial of the reality of human action by a person is self-invalidating.

(5) The Individuality Principle. Complex systems respond to specific problems in their proximate environment individually because of how they are structured, and this includes human beings. Brains, nervous system, senses, are possessions of the individual, not a collective. Perception, cogitation, and therefore action are therefore fundamentally individual events. There are no such things as “collective thought” or “collective action,” except as metaphors. Now of course, human beings—like other systems—can collaborate and cooperate in their endeavors. They can share information, divide their resources and labor, and frequently come up with better and more efficient solutions to problems through complex sequences and combinations of actions. What results are various human institutions and organizations.

(6) The Production / Property Principles. Successful collaborative actions as understood within the framework of (5) will transform something incapable of being used by human beings into something capable of being so used (example: the conversion of crude oil into gasoline; or of stone, lumber, and glass into a skyscraper). This process was identified clearly by John Locke, in his Second Treatise Of Government, roughly 80 years before Adam Smith placed it in the context of economics. Locke spoke of property—that which you produce, you own; no one else can rightly step onto it without invitation if it is land or make use of it without permission if it is some good. Acknowledging this right to property, this right to ownership, as a moral claim on space not to be trespassed against by others, is a necessary condition for stable life in a civilization whose members expect to prosper.

(7) The Trade Principle. Persons or collaborations of persons may produce surpluses of specific goods which can then be traded for surpluses produced by other persons or collaborations of persons. These trades—or exchanges—will occur when both parties perceive benefits from them, and not otherwise. (They may be wrong in their perception, but never mind this now.) As these states of affairs multiply, they create an economy—economic space, one might call it—in which trade can take place freely and openly: unhampered (as Mises would say). As some will prove to be leaders and others will be better as foot soldiers, divisions of labor will develop and multiple as the economy grows and begins to flourish. Money becomes a medium of exchange against which the perceived value of various goods and necessities (food, clothing, etc.) is measured, replacing the inefficiency of, e.g., barter.

(8) The Duty Principle. The state of affairs described in (7) works under the assumption that its participants recognize a fundamental negative duty or negative obligation which follows directly from the moral claim identified in (6): do not interfere either with the property of others or their decision to enter into a trade. In other words: unless there are very good reasons for doing otherwise, allow all persons to make their own choices, rather than forcing them down paths not of their own choosing to obtain a specific outcome dictated by someone else. (What these "very good reasons" might be is an issue we now take up.)

(9) The Encoding-of-the-Rules Principle. Consider this question: will all of civilization's members play by the rules, as it were? If the answer is Yes, then we could have a possible world where there is no need to encode the rules, or arrange for mechanisms of enforcement or punishment for those who break the rules, and in that world there would be no need for specific brands or bodies of governance. No one, of course, really believes we live in this world, although some envision building it. In the real world, some do look for opportunities to circumvent the rules, or will use force when it is more convenient than voluntary trade. Some will steal from others if they believe they can get away with it. They will also attempt to defraud others. Will some producers even join other producers in an effort to seek unearned advantages? If the answers to this is Yes, then if governing bodies are not created by specific measures by representatives of the people they will be created by those who simply want to create and sustain a legal empowerment over the people that would effectively end their freedom to act according to their own choices in any meaningful way. Thus, it is best if some are entrusted to encode a set of rules and create institutions of enforcement. There is a need for government as rule-encoder and enforcer, provided it can be bound by specific limits on its authority (to encode the rules and serve as the agency of punishing rule-breakers according to a specific set of rules or civil laws applying the same to all). This is not to minimize the difficulties in doing so that have been well known for over 2,000 years when Plato first wrestled with them (and came to the unfortunate conclusion that only central planning could solve the problems of civilization). Nor is it to suggest that there is an ideal resolution to these difficulties. Addressing them is, given human nature, an ongoing problem rather than a permanently solvable one.

(10) The Worldview Principle. Paragraphs (1) through (9) offer an outline of the basic tenets of classical liberal political philosophy with sideways glances into Austrian-school economics, systems theory and (perhaps) a deontological ethic (though not exactly in Kant’s sense). Yet what we have is clearly incomplete. It makes one of its fundamental priorities protection of the individual person’s right to act according to his/her own choices—conjoined with the duty to allow this same right to all others. It makes another fundamental priority respect for the right of each person to the fruits of his/her successful actions. Yet again, how much trust can we place in persons to honor these values voluntarily? Can one trust the large organizations not to collaborate in ways that would thwart the choices of others by controlling markets? Are we to believe that governing institutions can be compelled to answer to the desires of the people? Can one trust the perceptions of the common people that their choices reflect awareness of the difference between real needs and mere wants. Will their choices bring about actual benefits, as opposed to long-term problems that if continued long enough will spread and render their society dysfunctional (examples: familiar vices ranging from smoking cigarettes and eating unhealthy food to trades involving drug use/abuse, prostitution, gambling, and so on—activities which even the libertarian ought to concede damage both the individuals engaging in them and the surrounding society to the extent they are engaged in). How are large numbers of people to be educated in such a way, having been taught critical and long-term thinking, that they voluntarily refrain from making such choices? One of the primary jobs of philosophy should be to identify, articulate, and evaluate the worldview presupposed by the various activities and institutions which make up the warp and woof of civilization—challenging them when necessary, and constructing new ones when possible. Liberty clearly requires moral principles that have teeth: while if they are not chosen they are not truly moral principles, as principles they can be taught and they can be enforced; and there are long-term consequences associated with their violation. Liberty thus requires a worldview embodying a moral view of the universe and ethical standards for human conduct. These are not products either of culture itself or the marketplace. Moral principles do not describe our actions; they prescribe and proscribe. They supply a set of “oughts” and “ought-nots.” From where does morality come. Not from physical reality, which as we said (2) is indifferent and within which only descriptions can be given; and in which actions are described only in terms of their efficiency or lack of. Nor can they come from the marketplace, which left to its own devices will supply what people want and need without moral comment. If enough people want harmful drugs, that is, or want to engage in gambling, that is what the marketplace will supply, and civilization will pay the long-term consequences. You can have, in David Kupelian's phraseology, a "marketing of evil" that obeys the same economic laws as any good. A healthy civilization needs a transcendent moral order to make sense of this distinction. As Hayek recognized (chs. 4 and 6 of The Constitution of Liberty) there may be circumstances in which, e.g., the Trade Principle, is defeasible. The most obvious is if specific trades, however voluntary, are bringing about (or threatening to bring about) massive social dysfunction.

Going beyond (10): some of us have concluded quietly that only a Christian worldview can rise to the occasion of supplying an adequate transcendent moral order and compass to guide individual action beyond an efficiency that can describe on equal terms building skyscrapers or creating weapons of mass destruction. But a full accounting of our conclusion will have to wait for a future weekend.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Chilean Holiday & History / Comte's Law of the Three Stages & Beyond

I. Back again. I am not sure whether you will see one post per Saturday or not; but as it so happens, I have a free afternoon. This coming week, Chile celebrates perhaps its most important national holiday: Chilean Independence Day, September 18. On this day, in 1810, Chile declared independence from Spain (although the official declaration of independence was not issued until February 12, 1818). What followed-predictably-was 16 years of violence until the last of the royalists surrendered in 1826. September 18 remains a day of festivities, and it so happens that the two surrounding days, the 17th and the 19th, are also caught up in the celebration, with businesses closed and streets and avenues open to parades, food, reenactments, music, and dance. It is a lively time to be in Santiago. The greatest hero of Chilean independence was Bernardo O'Higgins. The son of a former viceroy, O'Higgins took control of pro-independence forces in 1813 and became Chile's second Supreme Director in 1817. In an importance sense, as the first to hold that position after the issuing of Chile's declaration of independence, O'Higgins is Chile's George Washington. A major thoroughfare through downtown Santiago is named for him.

Chile has a history as remarkable (and as stormy) as U.S. history. Its more recent history is of much more interest, of course. On September 11, 1973, forces loyal to Augusto Pinochet stormed the palace then occupied by socialist Salvador Allende, in what is known here as El Golpe. Allende committed suicide rather than be captured. Pinochet assumed absolute power and presided over a military dictatorship until 1990. That year, he held an election, lost, stepped down, and turned the Chilean government back over to civilian rule. The entire era still troubles this nation: Pinochet was a dictator and does what dictators do, which is to rule by force, suppressing free speech and imprisoning and torturing political dissidents. Chileans do not forget the thousands who simply disappeared during the Pinochet years. But Pinochet also oversaw the rebuilding of Chile's economy via the "Chicago Boys," a small group of Chilean economists sent to the University of Chicago to study under Milton Friedman. They returned, armed with classical liberal ideas, and began Chile's transformation into the first world nation it is today.

Pinochet is thus praised by some who see him as having gotten rid of a communist threat and turning the country in a new direction. Chile today is as prosperous as any Latin American country-but its prosperity has come with a price! That era still hangs like a shadow over the aggregate psychology of this country. Perhaps it's just leftists, who are still around. But that might be too simple an explanation. There is a sense in which this has become a very business-oriented nation of workaholics, very risk-averse, who take breaks only on holidays like the one to be celebrated beginning Monday. My observations of the rising Chilean middle class remind me of William Whyte's The Organization Man, a disquieting study of the then-rising U.S. middle class published in the early 1960s. The Chilean middle class appears to consist of organization men in Whyte's sense, with relatively few entrepreneurs. As we now know, the rising of large organizations presages a more and more centralized society-with corporatism possibly the best name for the specific economic model. Under corporatism, corporations and government make policy together under the guise of democratic rule, with elections, etc. Corporations get rich; governments get power. Both are happy with the arrangement, but are the common people satisfied? Do they have many options?

What of spiritual concerns? While there is religiosity here-that of the prevailing Catholicism characteristic of Latin America-it is at least as superficial as much of the religiosity of mainstream Christian denominations in the U.S. Here I am reminded of Harvey Cox's The Secular City (1965) which charted the progressive secularization of the modern world and its "bypassing" of the great questions of theology. Is that the direction Chile is heading? I do not yet know. Chile has its share of large corporations; and globalism definitely has found a place here. David Rockefeller Sr. has come to Chile on numerous occasions. Chile is, of course, one of the partners in the infamous Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), forged over a two-year period behind closed doors by the elites of various nations including the U.S., Mexico, Peru, Australia and China. The TPP has been vehemently criticized as the NAFTA of the Pacific world, and a long term danger to any rising middle class, although Chile's tremendous natural resources offer it some protection from the kind of outsourcing that has decimated the middle class in the U.S. More meditations of this sort in future posts.

II. Last week I discussed three prospective works in progress. One of the key purposes of this blog is to get the central ideas of these works up in one place, lest circumstances beyond my control prevent their completion. I can only hope the ideas are important enough to justify the effort. Is thinking about the future important? Obviously it is! Can this blog contribute to a discussion of where we ought to go as a civilization, whether in Chile, the U.S., or wherever we happen to be? The jury is still out on that one.

A central theme of all this work will be what Auguste Comte (1798-1857) called the Law of the Three Stages, so I'll spend the remainder of my time here today discussing that, concluding with a theory about its present status. Comte is best known as the founder of the science of sociology and the originator of the philosophical ideology known as positivism. The Law of the Three Stages had emerged in his work in the 1830s, in his Course on Positive Philosophy. Although the Law of the Three Stages figures most prominently into the third of the projected series, it is also the lynchpin that holds everything together. So it would be best to begin with a discussion of it: its origins and postulates, its twentieth century fate, and the question of where we go from here.

What is the Law of the Three Stages? In Comte's hands, it defined the natural trajectory of a civilization, just as Newton's laws governed the trajectory of a falling body or thrown physical object. Comte didn’t invent the idea. One can find similar notions in Vico and Condorcet. But he gave it its clearest exposition. According to Comte, a civilization goes through three stages or conditions (he uses both terms--one could also speak of layers.

The first he calls the "religious or fictitious." The second is the "metaphysical or abstract." The third was the then-emerging "scientific or positive." It is important that these are not historical stages; all three both can and do coexist in Western civilization, albeit uneasily. The first, viewed through Comte's eyes, might be thought of as civilization's childhood; the second, as civilization's adolescence; the third, as its adulthood. Once civilization embraces the third stage, it finally has its feet firmly planted on the ground in this world, not some other, and can stride forward responsibly.

The first stage is the stage of: “God said it; I believe it; and that settles it.” While such sentiments might appeal to many Christians today, they allow little room for thoughtful discussion or discerning examination or philosophical inquiry. Stage One Thinking, as I will call it, is fearful of philosophy, as it might provoke doubt. It thus has little to offer those who are restless and dissatisfied with “mere belief,” but rather want some kind of understanding of what it is they are believing, and what the implications might be. Stage One purports to rely exclusively—or almost exclusively—on revelation from God Himself as its source of truth. Those who can claim to have received revelation, or to speak for past revelations in holy books such as the Bible, assume special prominence within society. Thus in practice Stage One Thinking, unhampered by later stages, easily gives rise to theocratic authority structures. It has as little tolerance for dissent as any dictatorship. The asking of the wrong questions may be handled through excommunication or exile or even execution (witness the fate of Giordano Bruno in response to his suggestion that God had created “other Earths” besides ours).

The second stage is the stage of high metaphysics and system building—philosophy in a grand sense. This stage produced the major classics of Western philosophy from Plato and Aristotle down through Aquinas, from Descartes and Hobbes down to Hume, Kant, and Hegel—and arguably, in the twentieth century, someone such as Whitehead. Stage Two Thinking is the first product of those who seek a comprehensive worldview, or theory of reality and everything in it, including whether or not God exists, who we are and how we came to be, what the moral life consists of in society, and so on. Stage Two Thinking gave rise to the classical arguments for God’s existence (the ontological, the cosmological and the teleological arguments), to the idea of natural rights of human beings, and of the idea of morality as something discoverable—perhaps a product of the relationship between the acting person and the rest of reality. Stage Two Thinking, however, does not treat God’s existence (for example) as a working premise or presupposition but rather as a proposition standing in need of proof. Many Stage Two Thinkers became agnostics or atheists in response to arguments for God’s existence falling short of their targets. They set the stage for the next development.

The third stage began with the scientific and technological revolutions. This was clearly the stage Comte believed was emerging in his lifetime. His vision was of a way of thought which rejected the ideas of either revelation or abstract reason as sources of knowledge or truth. Instead, what counted was empirical verification of our ideas, or their testability, and their success in practice at improving the human material condition. Positivism took its name because its approach to the human condition was optimistic—positive, not negative. Its philosophers had little patience with such notions as original sin, and not much more patience with what they considered to be the air-castle-building of their predecessors. With its feet firmly planted in this world, not some other, Stage Three Thinking looked to human happiness itself in this life for the greatest number as the ultimate good, and Utilitarianism came of age in the writings of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill (the latter clearly respected Comte’s work). Stage Three Thinking embraced meliorism, the idea in moral philosophy that human beings can improve themselves not just technologically but morally, through their own efforts, especially via education. It looked to science, technology and commerce as our salvation and path to the good life, which was to be lived in this world, in Cox's "secular city." Some would develop very mixed feelings about commercial capitalism, and seek to check or control what they believed to be its excesses: the British Fabians and American progressives come to mind. Stage Three has little respect for such notions as natural rights, which they see—without using this vocabulary—as a throwback to Stage Two (the phrase Bentham had used was “nonsense upon stilts”).

To make a long and complicated story short, Stage Three had begun to manifest its dark side not long after the start of the twentieth century. Comte had believed the third stage to be a path to Utopia. History has shown otherwise. Kierkegaard (arguing from within his own unique Christian perspective), Nietzsche, and the Existentialists took one kind of avoidance versus Stage Three. Philosophers such as Walter T. Stace (1886-1967) began to ponder a kind of darkness that falls across the philosophical landscape once a comprehensive naturalism is embraced. See his essay "Man Against Darkness" (1948), or its predecessor "A Free Man's Worship" by Stage Three thinker Bertrand Russell (1902).

A multitude of other circumstances served to throw cold water on the idea of Stage Three as the path to Utopia. To make a long story short: not only had we failed to transcend war with science, technology and commerce, but our wars became increasingly destructive; there was abundant evidence of our basic inhumanity to our fellows—the genocide of the Nazis and Stalinists surely bespoke a capacity for evil that flew in the face of the prevailing meliorism of Stage Three.

On the scholarly front, the positivist conception of science had broken down by mid-century. Thomas S. Kuhn completed the destruction of this view of science in his widely read The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962). The positivist conception of science had held that the empirical methods of science delivered Truth, and that no other methods delivered Truth. While this latter idea made—still makes—a great deal of sense within the various scientific disciplines, Kuhn showed that a mature science is always governed by a body of presuppositions that, for a time, are taken as above scientific scrutiny: he used the term paradigm for what he had in mind (Ludwig Wittgenstein had first used the term to speak of governing usages in language). More ominously, thinkers who examined science in Kuhn’s wake—sociologists of science, for example—drew attention to authority structures within scientific communities and began to analyze science from a perspective taking seriously the idea that power and domination structures can masquerade as claims to truth, rationality, and objectivity. We had arrived on the shores of postmodernity, inspired by increasing unease with modernity coming from multiple directions.

By the time we arrived at the postmodernist upheaval in the humanities, it should have become clear that Stage Three Thinking had run its course. It had been devastatingly criticized and eclipsed. If we entered Stage Three in the early to mid 1800s, we probably left it sometime during the mid-1900s. Thinkers ranging from Kuhn and his colleague Paul Feyerabend on our shores, the latter, with his provocative Against Method: Outlines of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge (1975) to Continental philosophers such as Michel Foucault had subjected its assumptions to devastating criticism.

Moreover, in a much broader sense: the increasing societal uncertainty, anxiety, and escapism that began to characterize public life in advanced civilizations beginning around 1970 (possibly earlier) also indicated one of the weaknesses of Stage Three Thinking: in the last analysis, Utilitarianism fails as a theory of social ethics. We do not know how to pursue “the greatest good for the greatest number” without shafting or harming someone. Consider: the infamous Tuskegee Experiment is very much aligned with the utilitarian spirit. It illustrates very concretely the objection to Utilitarianism charging that the serving "the greatest good for the greatest number" is quite compatible with sacrificing the interests of some to better serve the rest.

More reason for thinking we had left Stage Three behind was the increasing flight into dangerous economic fantasies that began around this time. The belief that institutions in civilization from government to acting persons can live beyond their means indefinitely is an exemplar of an unrealism that had become firmly entrenched in public life by the time the twentieth century drew to a close.

I would argue that sometime around 1970—the exact date is not important—we entered a fourth stage, a Stage Four, that Comte couldn't have envisioned. If Stage Three was “scientific and positive”—optimistic—Stage Four is skeptical and negative. Stage Four Thinking purports to have exposed as illusory the pretenses of objectivity, rationality, and acquisition of Truth that characterized all the earlier stages: Stage Three as well as Stage Two.

Here is the question: what does Stage Four Thinking put in place of those notions its sees itself as having eliminated? The surprising answer: almost nothing. With Richard Rorty—having become the most visible and widely read Stage Four philosopher on U.S. soil—we have “social hope” to cling to. While cashing out what Rorty means by this is necessary down the road, I believe we will have to conclude that once we’ve embraced his criticisms of foundationalism—the idea that knowledge, morality, etc., have foundations which it is the special providence of philosophy to discover—“social hope” becomes whatever we make of it and there becomes little to choose from between what had been the U.S. vision of the “American dream” and that of the Nazis who saw Utopia at hand once they had eradicated the Jews.

There are thinkers who have made peace with Stage Four Thinking. They believe that there is no reason to formulate the problems in such stark or extreme terms. They see Stage Four as containing new possibilities, perhaps foreshadowed by Nietzsche’s vision of the “overman” as creating and standing on his own values instead of embracing those created by others in the past. They look to the possibility of experimentation within a world not based on rules taken as rooted in foundations, but rather tailored to fit situations and societal specifics and subject to change as circumstances change. Certain species of entrepreneurship might fit the bill as capable of thriving within a Stage Four environment—in which, e.g., a city embraces an ever-widening array of cultures and lifestyles, made manifest in music, art, food and drink, social gatherings, and in doubtless other forms: the Stage Four “secular city” is, in this sense, a quite different place than the Stage Three “secular city” in its openness and diversity, where the only “value” is a demand for universal tolerance of that which is different. One can find happiness in the Stage Four environment—if one avoids looking at the “big picture.”

Nietzsche warned about the “advent of nihilism” as a consequence of the “revaluation of all values” which saw them as human creations—inventions, and not discoveries or revelations. In an important sense, Stage Three was nihilistic. Ultimately, its vision of morality as a product exclusively of the human desire for happiness or pleasure left civilization morally at sea. Since Stage Four essentially agrees with Stage Three in seeing morality as a human creation, here is the $50,000 question: is Stage Four just as nihilistic? Where do we go from here?

This stage will be our civilization's undoing if we cannot transcend it: by moving to a fifth stage, or Stage Five. (I am assuming here that the movement through stages or levels is unidirectional. I don't believe we can go back, say, to Stage Two, or that we would want to.)

How to characterize this fifth stage is a huge problem. Let's say it will be Christian but not in the sense of Stage One; it will be metaphysical and encouraging of such notions as the rights of acting persons, but not necessarily in the sense of Stage Two; it will respect science as the most important achievement within its domain, but not see science & technology as capable of solving all human problems, as was common in Stage Three. It will likewise refuse also to see commerce or the marketplace as able to solve all human problems, although these activities can solve many human problems if allowed by governments (and corporations demanding special privileges) to function. Stage Five will attempt to find merit in the potential for creativity opened up by the rule-challenging stance available in in Stage Four (Brian Eno comes to mind), but must not lose itself in Stage Four's nihilism. It will draw on all of these, but be more than just a fusion of the best of the first four stages.

This characterization is, of course, very incomplete. This is purposeful; I do not want to specify too much in advance. We want here to specify just enough to have a productive conversation going in the right direction, in the spirit of the British cybernetics pioneer Stafford Beer, who wrote this phenomenal passage when distinguishing algorithms from heuristics and the reasons and circumstances when the latter need to be pursued. Algorithms have precise rules; heuristics do not. "To think in terms of heuristics," Beer wrote, "is at once a way of coping with proliferating variety. Instead of trying to organize it in full detail, you organize it only somewhat; you then ride on the dynamics of the system in the direction you want to go" (Brain of the Firm, 1973, p. 53). Thus is the status of Stage Five Thinking at this time. (Note: I owe this quotation, and similar ones, to my having paid attention to experimental composer Brian Eno's remarks in interviews over the years going back to the 1970s. Credit where it is due.)


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Saturday, September 8, 2012

Introduction to the Fifth Stage Blog

The purpose of these notes is to provide some focus to some thoughts I've been having recently, outlines for new writing projects, and some content, so that just in case for whatever reason the books described below as in their planning stages do not get finished or published in final form, with this material there will be some sort of record.

A couple of weeks ago I turned 55. Knowing what I know of my family's health history (grandparents three of whom lived to be around 90 and parents who lived into their mid-to-late 80s but with severe disabilities), I figure that other things being equal, if genetics have anything to say about it I have approximately 30 productive years left. The question then becomes: what is the best use to which this time can be put? Or, to ask the same question another way: what would the Author of our being have me do with the remaining years I am allotted, whether they be 30 or some other number? I will attempt to answer this question below.

First, a little bit about me (I will keep this short): as stated in my profile I have a Ph.D. in philosophy (earned in 1987). I have taught the subject at several universities including Clemson University, Auburn University, Wofford College, the University of South Carolina, Southern Wesleyan University, Greenville Technical College, and most recently at USC Upstate. I never attained tenure, obviously; and spent the past several years as an "adjunct instructor" at USC Upstate before giving up the position--doubtless rather abruptly, from the institution's point of view.

I am probably one of the few professional philosophers who is a convinced Christian. I consider myself nondenominational, tending to lean on insights from specific theologians such as Cornelius Van Til instead of any specific church doctrine. I have little trouble regarding human nature as fundamentally sinful and accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior quite a number of years ago. I have had my lapses (the most recent in 2008, during which I discovered Van Til). A presuppositionalist, I do not regard "proofs" of God's existence to be successful or helpful. "Proofs" that begin with human-based logic will always fall short of their intended goal and never exhibit the Creator as intelligible. On the other hand, God's existence and nature is the central presupposition of the Christian worldview; according to Van Til, both logic and the intelligibility of the world of experience presuppose God. The attempt by the atheist to argue against the existence of God either through experience or by pure logic thus presupposes the Authorship of each and so contradicts its own first premise in its presumption of success.

Such matters can be developed in further posts. I mention this now, to give a complete picture of who I am, as part of the background for my subject matter, and for the future.

Just over three months ago I moved to Santiago, Chile. My flight landed on Friday, June 1. The move was one I agonized over and debated with myself for years. I wasn't sure it was something I really wanted to do. But I could cite three sets of reasons for leaving the U.S. which I called the "three P's": political, professional, and personal. The political reason boils down to one thing: the U.S. is in decline, with a political system becoming progressively less responsive and more repressive; on the foreign front, its war machine has become everything it once opposed. Its Constitution is arguably a dead letter, not just ignored but openly so (Nancy Pelosi, to a questioner asking where the Constitution authorized the federal government to control health care: "Are you serious?"). Professional: my career in the States as a professional philosopher was dead in the water, and there were few reasons to pursue it beyond the simple fact of having a paycheck for a few more months, a paycheck that could easily end with the next major economic downturn possibly just months away. Personal: I'll let that one go for now, as this is a public blog and I've learned the hard way not to put too much personal stuff out on the Internet. My personal life is probably not very interesting, anyway. I'll say only that I live alone here, with two cats (their names are Bo and Misty). I lived alone, with the same two cats, in South Carolina (yes, I am an animals person, and went to the trouble and the expense of bringing with me the two cats that had belonged to my parents before I had to adopt them).

As a writer, the most interesting thing about me is probably the fact that I've written three books: Civil Wrongs: What Went Wrong With Affirmative Action (ICS Press, 1994), Worldviews: Christian Theism versus Modern Materialism (The Worldviews Project, 2005), and most recently, Four Cardinal Errors: Reasons for the Decline of the American Republic (Brush Fire Press International, 2011). All are available on the site. The third is available in a Kindle edition. I've also published numerous articles and essays both in refereed academic journals and online. Overall I've probably done hundreds of short pieces, including music reviews on (to my mind the most interesting musician / artist alive is Brian Eno).

The question: I am in Chile, what now? I started addressing that above. I currently teach some English, am assisting with test preparation (especially the GRE) for a consulting firm, and am studying Spanish intensively--since although you can find English here Chile's dominant language is Spanish. I am hoping and praying I haven't bitten off more than I can chew, but time will tell. I've been asked by associates back home whether this was a good move. I always tell them, "Ask me in six months?" But the real determining factor will be whether the environment I am now in will permit further professional development along the lines to be worked out below, and in future posts here.

I am thinking about three new and hopefully distinctive works. Fragments of all three already exist in my notes. I've already presented a short version of the third (at a philosophy conference last spring). So all three are started, and it is a matter of arranging priorities so that they are gradually advanced. Writing these works might shortly become my primary long-term goal for the remainder of my life, with all other goals or objectives being subsidiary in one form or another, whether they involve work, determining where to live (whether to stay in Chile, e.g.), etc. The three works, tentatively entitled, are: Liberty and Its Two Enemies; Philosophy: Its Place In Civilization (slightly better than Philosophy and Civilization); culminating in The Fifth Stage of Civilization which gives this blog its title. I don’t know whether or not these works have any chance of doing better than their three predecessors which sank without a trace, but I cannot worry about that. I can only do the best job I can writing them as honestly as possible, while creating conditions in my surrounding life as best as possible for writing them. The latter is doubtless going to be the hard part. What are these three books to be about?

In a nutshell: Liberty and Its Two Enemies will restate the existing argument for liberty and point to two areas where I believe the libertarian defense of liberty has proven inadequate. Frederic Bastiat identified the first clearly in his The Law (1849). Paraphrasing, when human beings are able to do so, they will attempt to live at the expense of others, and the results always thwart efforts to maintain liberty. This, however, only opens the door to the much bigger problem, which for around a decade and a half now, has been one of the key premises of all my work: in any population there is a minority that is fascinated by power. This minority may amount to around 4 percent, but that is enough. The fundamental problem of political philosophy then becomes: how does society control power? The question contains an irony, since control is itself a power word? But how do those who wish to live free lives place checks on those who do not want them to live free lives? Obviously, if a free society is to work at all, it must acknowledge those factors, some of them built into human nature itself, that invariably work against efforts to build and then maintain liberty.

Philosophy: Its Place in Civilization will, as the title suggests, attempt to present a defense of the idea that philosophy has a place in an advanced civilization; it has a definite job to do. Clearly it isn't doing its job in the U.S., however. Some of the reasons are beyond the control of professional philosophers, but not all of them. I will attempt to state what the job of philosophy is and why that job is important in a civilized world. Its job boils down to identifying, analyzing, and evaluating worldviews: their premises, components, whatever reasonings are elicited from those premises, and whatever institutions (including power relations) are in place to further worldviews. Christianity provides a worldview in this sense (perhaps more than one). Materialism provides a different and incompatible worldview (again, more than one). There are doubtless others. Whether a worldview can be fixed or whether it should be gotten rid of is a question that will arise during its evaluation.

The Fifth Stage of Civilization--the zenith of this entire extended product and the one to be completed and published last (assuming the others are published someday)--has as its point of departure the infamous Law of the Three Stages articulated by the founder of both sociology and philosophical positivism, Auguste Comte. The third stage, the one Comte favored, was one where science and technology (and economics) get the final word. In an era of crises of various sorts: economic, political, cultural, ecological, and spiritual, it is clear that at the very least we have left Comte's third stage although it obviously still has its defenders. What is the fourth stage? Speaking very roughly: what Jean-Francois Lyotard called the "postmodern condition." What will the fifth stage be? Well, that remains to be seen! (It would never do for me to give away the game in the very first post!)

It might be important to state what this blog is not. It is not a contribution to my material on directed history, as I call it (although obviously what I say here is compatible with that). My work on that has been done elsewhere; if you're interested, go here and here). I am not writing from a "right wing" perspective; nor am I pursuing a "left wing" perspective. This is not intended as a contribution to "conservatism" to the extent it still exists; nor is it a contribution to "liberalism." It is one person's effort to mine some truths from recent history and lengthy observations of civilization, and attempt to think creatively about the future and what kind of worldview ought to guide us into it. I am writing under the assumption that thinking creatively about the future is of supreme importance. If we do not take charge of our future, others will do it for us; the results might not be pretty.

So to sum up: we will sketch on these pages the basics of three works: the first emphasizing liberty, its nature and the problems it faces, including human nature itself; the second turning more fully to the nature of philosophy and the job it ought to do in civilization; and the third, an application of this job, walking us through the three stages Auguste Comte observed, a fourth stage he could not have imagined and would probably have opposed--and, perhaps, a fifth stage that preserves the strengths of each of the first four while setting out to avoid their weaknesses. One final remark. This effort probably won't be self-sustaining. If you think this is has the potential to be valuable and ought to be supported financially, please shoot me an email and we'll arrange a donation. My intent is to get a PayPal icon set up in here in due course. In the meantime, see you next post.