Saturday, January 21, 2012

Prescient Blooming

Howard Bloom's 1995 The Lucifer Principle attempted to explain a lot of human history, evolution and behavior via a focus on groups, status and belief. Superorganisms, pecking order and memes, in his words. He was especially interested in Islam even back then. Muslims were interested in him as well.
"Arab pressure groups asked ever so politely that The Lucifer Principle be withdrawn from print and that nothing that I write be published again. They offered to boycott my publisher's products — all of them — worldwide. And they backed their warning with a call for my punishment in seventeen Islamic countries."

Bloom "contends that 'evil' is a by-product of nature's strategies for creation and is woven into our most basic biological fabric." It is a vision which appeals both to my Gnostic and my conservative sides.

It has been a staple of conservative assessments of liberalism that part of what drives both temperaments is a differing view of human nature and the world. Liberals speak and act as if humans were basically good and capable of even greater goodness, under the right conditions. The actual state of the race (and lately of the planet) provokes in them the kind of emotional response seen on bumper stickers, pin and signs in San Francisco, Marin and other Centers of Enlightenment, Peace and Resentment:

Funny how her face reads smug and superior satisfaction rather than rage and concern.
Jus' sayin'.

Imagining that the world could be fixed --if only the right people were in charge of the government-- drives a utopian attitude. And usually leads to guillotines and gulags. Conservatives (and Gnostics*) see both the planet and the species as far too inherently limited and constrained for that kind of waste of energy. To paraphrase John Kekes, in a world full of the unpredictable and the contingent --both in nature's complex cycles  and in human events--, where scarcity of (and hence competition for) resources is a constant feature of the effort to survive, and with a species both ingenious and at least as prone to destructiveness as to cooperation, liberalism is nothing more than an irrational cryptoreligious faith.

Speaking of philosophical differences between liberals and conservatives, a religious philosopher noted in comments this morning that one of those dividing lines, often unnoticed, is the old split in Western philosophy between nominalism and realism. One (oversimple) way of looking at it to say that realists believe that language and reality, words and world, actually do connect. Things both physical and mental can be described adequately, if not perfectly, by our speech. Nominalists split the two, untethering our language and ideas from the great realm of objects and concrete actions. Aristotle was a realist, for example. Kant a nominalist. Not to put too fine a point on it, realists believe that when they talk about the world, they are talking about the world. Nominalists hold that they are just talking to themselves.

One of the ways these two attitudes unfold is that realist thinks that things have natures. We observe and describe them, but we don't create them. So, for instance, a man, or a horse, or marriage are things that exist, definedly. For a nominalist attitude, one strange result of believing that your ideas are separate from external reality is that you are not bound by it and so you are master of your own ideas about it. Man, woman, marriage, etc. All these things become issues for self-definition. Just ask Humpty Dumpty or The Ministry of Truth.

I think you can see how this plays out.

And if you don't see this, you are not paying attention.

* It is a standard stance --a trope?-- in anti-utopians like Molnar and Voegelin that "immanentizing the eschaton" is a Gnostic idea, indeed, a defining Gnostic idea. Gnosis as special insight is a fair assessment, attempting to transcend the world-system through revealed & self-authenticating knowledge. But the second step of trying to implement a social or governmental program to actualize it is pure BS. The essence of Gnosticism is that the world is irredeemable. I would suggest that the totalitarian utopian drives of Marxism and Islam owe far more to Judeo-Christianity than to the Gnostics.  I smell the same infection in contemporary neo-Constantinian "social justice" Christians, who very frequently use the metaphor of "building the Kingdom", a phrase which never, not once, appears in the Bible.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You suggest, then, a similarity between Islam's indignation against the doctrine of original sin even in an evolutionist version and liberalism's "speaking and acting as if humans were basically good and capable of even greater goodness, under the right social conditions"? ... The liberal says of the Muslim "The enemy of my me is my friend"?

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