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 Amazon.com 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 Amazon.com (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.