Saturday, November 10, 2012

Why a Fifth Stage of Civilization Might Not Happen in the West: Thoughts on the November 6 Election.

In just four days the election of November 6, 2012, has been analyzed and agonized over so much that it would be impossible to summarize it all. One thing is clear: always assuming no vote fraud in crucial states like Ohio, U.S. voters were willing to send Barack Obama, easily the worst president in U.S. history, back to the White House for four more years. This despite (1) his utter failure to contribute anything toward turning the U.S. economy around by encouraging a business-friendly or entrepreneur-friendly economic climate; on the contrary, under Obama’s watch unemployment rose to depression-era levels (see below), food and gas prices also soared, the percentage of people living below the official poverty line reached the worst levels since the Great Depression, and the national debt skyrocketed from $11 trillion to over $16 trillion with no end in sight. (2) Obama’s foreign policy has been based on a level of war, violence, and destruction that makes George W. Bush look like a man of peace by comparison, also with no end in sight as a confrontation with Iran now looks inevitable. (3) Obama’s continuing with the domestic police and surveillance state which began under Bush II and, very likely, will make whatever is left of Constitutionally-limited government, the rule of law, and privacy, things of the past within four years.

What we might add is that never before has an election season highlighted the immense gulf between fact and fantasy among American voters. The fantasy is that the differences between Obama and Mitt Romney were more than cosmetic. The fantasy is reflected in the hostility between Obama’s supporters and Romney’s which reached levels I have not seen in my lifetime (and I am old enough to have been following political campaigns as far back as the Nixon era).

The fact is that the Obama and Romney agendas were in agreement on all these essentials:

Both, as just said, have pro-war, interventionist foreign policies.

Both favor expansionist government and the regulatory state.

Both favor unrestricted immigration.

Both favor the continued outsourcing of jobs as a consequence of corporatist “free trade”; combine this with their support for expansionist government and both support, by implication, the main economic forces destroying the capacity of the U.S. to sustain a middle class: the fact that other things being equal, corporations always move operations to where labor is cheapest and regulations, laxest.

Both Obama and Romney service the superelite international banking cartel based in the City of London.

Both support the Federal Reserve System, the superelite’s primary instrument of economic control in the U.S.

Both therefore support an economy based on a fractional, inflationary monetary system which devalues the currency, wiping out incentives to save, and on steadily accumulating debt.

Both have supported and will continue to support bailouts for leviathan corporations (especially banks).

Both support a corporatism in food and pharmaceuticals, and factory farming, over the natural health movement against which the corporations would like to use federal authorities to suppress in all forms, be they dietary supplements, family farms, or just the producers of raw milk.

Both favor the brand of health care socialism that goes by the name Obamacare, which is not about health care but how health care is paid for. Obamacare does not contain one word about, e.g., primary prevention. What it does ensure is that health care will get more expensive, less efficient, and increasingly scarce as doctors leave the profession rather than comply with cumbersome regulations.

Both support continuing the irrational, destructive war on drugs which has resulted in the U.S. having the largest per capita prison population of any advanced nation in the world.

Both support continuing the centralization of “public education” through the U.S. Department of Education.

Both support the current tax structure.

Both favor police-state measures such as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which allows for the potential indefinite incarceration of U.S. citizens without specific charges, due process, or legal counsel.

Both will expand Homeland Security and the activities of the Transportation Security Administration. The latter has already expanded its reach beyond airports into bus terminals, subway stations, and tractor-trailer weigh stations. One may expect the TSA to begin random checkpoints on interstate highways and major thoroughfares in the wee hours of the morning when it can be done without creating traffic backups.

Both support the growing cold war on Internet freedom.

Both support, at least by implication, the growing tendencies to demonize the various freedom communities (libertarian, Patriot, Constitutionalist, prepper, homeschooler, etc.) by labeling them potential “domestic terror” threats.

Both would probably support using military might to suppress a vibrant freedom movement, or possibly a secession movement in one or more States, that had reached a critical mass: with the NDAA and similar items of legislation some dating to the Bush years, and through any number of executive orders Obama has signed over the past four years, all the machinery is in place for such, with the permanent incarceration of its leadership, and it would be entirely legal.

In light of all these levels of fundamental agreement all of which were off the table during the contrived and orchestrated “debates,” a rational person would have to wonder what all the fighting between the two camps was over.

I fear rationality has very little to do with life in the U.S. today—or in Western civilization generally.

Where does all this fit in with our previous posts, in which we have discussed how Stage Three thinking (in Comte’s words, “scientific and positive”) eventually gave way to what I call Stage Four (“postmodern and negative”), and whether doors will eventually open to a Stage Five? This last, of course, is the primary subject of this blog.

Stage Three thinking had/has the advantage that its participants / adherents believed they had acquired genuine, objective, value-neutral truth about the universe and about ourselves. They believed the methods of the physical and natural sciences—also the social sciences—were the key, whatever their disagreements over specifics. Stage Three thinking, whatever our criticisms of it, has an impressive resume. The combination of respect for science as free inquiry, the unleashing of technological creativity of all kinds, and the furthering of commercial activities to improve the standard of living of all who participate (and many who don’t), built the greatest civilization the world had ever seen in what—in epochal terms—was a relatively short period of time (a few hundred years).

Niall Ferguson, in his latest book Civilization: The West and the Rest (2011), outlines the “killer apps” that built Western civilization: competition, science, the rule of law, modern medicine, consumerism, and a work ethic. While certain of these contain backward glances into Stage Two thinking (especially the rule of law), Stage Three civilization allowed them to bear full fruit as a seamless unity for the first time.

It is easy for those of us born in the twentieth century to draw benefits from Stage Three accomplishments without appreciating the amount of work that went into them. Somewhere here is the source of the entitlement mentality that characterizes the typical Obama supporter. The fact that Obama was reelected would indicate that entitlement addicts now outnumber those with a work ethic. When work no longer pays, people will gradually cease to work as it brings them no advantages. Civilization will, at that point, cease to enjoy further advances and begin to decline. If I may give Ayn Rand a quick nod, Atlas will begin to shrug. Some will say that decline has already begun. I do not believe the West is at that point just yet, if only because new technologies continue to appear in, e.g., electronics and high technology generally, the products of genuine enthusiasts for whom the work is an end in itself, not something they do just for the money.

So when we draw upon disquieting essays such as Bertrand Russell’s “A Free Man’s Worship” or Walter T. Stace’s “Man Against Darkness” or the literature of existentialism or the products of “modern art” to highlight those areas where Stage Three falls short via its gradual creation of a moral vacuum within civilization, we do not do so lightly, without a clear acknowledgement of its accomplishments and of the need to preserve what was best in them.

Stage Four, in this case, came about because of these weaknesses. While Ferguson sees the West as having fallen into a period of self-doubt, the problem of the moral vacuum of, e.g., utilitarianism was quite genuine. Some may be sacrificed involuntarily and even unknowingly supposedly to benefit others (e.g., the Tuskegee Experiment). Unnecessary wars, of course, sacrifice entire peoples and cultures to benefit the expansionist empire. We kept careful count of the number of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq. I don't know if anyone accurately counted the number of dead Iraqis. Were they less than human? Stage Three clearly went overboard in its optimism about human nature and its meliorism. Technology makes us more efficient and more comfortable, but it does not make us better people. Two World Wars plus the Cold War—plus the past 20 years during which we’ve seen the seeds of empire sprout full bloom in the West—should have cured us of that. These are observations, by the way, which philosophers are uniquely qualified to make. Why is the philosophical community (with very rare exceptions) not making them?

Be that as it may, Stage Four loses all confidence in the quest for truth—scientific as well as moral. Truth becomes a cultural artifact, invariably historicized and relativized in a manner not dissimilar to what happened to religion in the hands of Stage Three thinkers. Arguing in defense of putatively important truths is blurred with the category of imposition based on authority—an idea developed in great detail within postmodernist philosophy and cultural studies. (Back in the 1990s I had a running debate with a professor emeritus at a major university for whom this distinction seemed literally unintelligible. His way of putting the matter: “Truth is determined by authority.” I would ask in response: “Is your statement true, given that you aren’t in a position of authority?” I saw no indication that he understood the question or its significance.)

Not just is confidence lost in the quest for intellectual truth, but respect for truths essential to any sort of sound public policy is lost. Truth in a variety of public arenas ceases to be important. When truth ceases to be important, the masses believe fantasies. Indeed, almost automatically they come to live in a fantasy world which politicians and mainstream media shills merely have to reinforce to accomplish their goals which, in this environment, will involve furthering a more controlled society. The fantasy, in the case of Romney, was that he represented a viable alternative to, and fundamental change of direction from, the past four years of the Obama presidency. Orchestrated “debates” didn’t need to do much to reinforce the fantasy, as so many were already willing to believe it. Other fantasies include an “employment rate” that does not count as unemployed anyone who stopped looking for work a month ago (the “U3” rate), thus radically understating the true extent of unemployment in the U.S. which has been at near-depression levels; and an “inflation rate” that fails to include food and fuel costs (“core inflation,” a bogus statistic created during the Nixon era with then-Fed chair Arthur Burns). For antidotes to these fantasies of officialdom, go here.

What I am leading up to in this discussion is just the following: by talking about a Stage Five I am not talking about something that is, in some sense, inevitable (even if various aspects of a possible Stage Five mindset possibly exist in incipient forms in, e.g., systems theory and presuppositionalist theology). There are no “laws of history” in that sense. Comte’s phrase Law of the Three Stages is actually something of a misnomer. There is no inevitability that a given stage will lead to its successor, as Marx believed capitalism would create the conditions for socialism. Most cultures, after all, never achieve a Stage Two level, developing distinct philosophies apart from their theologies. Only in the West did Stage Three develop and come to fruition—although other civilizations have now “downloaded the killer apps” at least in part. China is probably the best example. Other nations showing promise: India, Russia, Brazil, and of course, Chile.

There is no guarantee that the West (by which I tend to mean the Anglo-European world) will survive the skepticism, self-doubt, and public flight into fantasy that characterize a Stage Four culture. Stage Four might well be the furthest the West gets. This blog is an attempt to define the problems and obstacles ahead. We human beings are problem solvers, and as problems go, this is the Big One—the hugest problem facing the West. Breaking through skepticism, self-doubt, and the tendency toward fantasy and escapism is one of the biggest challenges of those of us seeking to go beyond Stage Four and bring about the nurturing and eventual flourishing of Stage Five—at which we finally achieve wisdom born of age and bitter experience, including acknowledging our limitations as finite beings. This might soon become a still larger challenge, since the reality of unsustainable fiscal policy will make itself felt sooner or later—and the longer it takes, the rougher will be the landing on the shores of economic reality! Many writers (e.g., Michael Snyder, author of this blog) support the apocalyptic view that a crash of unprecedented proportions is just around the corner and could occur as soon as next year! I've avoided such pronouncements, since it seems clear that the global elite doesn't want this to happen; they could easily lose control. Could it be that such an event is necessary, however, and that afterwards it will be possible to build up a better civilization assuming that what was best in the West can be preserved? Doing so obviously will be several magnitudes more difficult than just reexamining our first premises now would have been. Most people will doubtless be too busy just trying to survive! The Ron Paul movement was attempting just this sort of reevaluation, especially where economics was concerned. The GOP elites responded with resolute hostility and brazen dishonesty. The entire country might soon be paying the price.


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