Re: Cultural Dominants

Reilly Jones (
Sun, 15 Jun 1997 15:33:35 -0400

Damien Broderick wrote 6/14/97: <Thanks to Reilly for a detailed and
thought-provoking response. Writers *live* for this kind of reaction...>=

<chuckle> A few writers do, perhaps...

Damien: <Yes, Keith read my manuscript and made nice comments about it. =

The first half of the book is precisely about the pathologies of
fashionable academic silliness. It might be that my own diffidently
presented discursive model is just as silly. But I don't think it's
*obviously* so.>

Considering what Keith has written about academic quasi-deterministic
formulations of history, I doubt very much that he would agree with your
"diffidently presented discursive model." However, if you have done a
passable job on the pathologies of academic silliness, I'm sure he would
welcome it. I fully agree that your model is not *obviously* silly,
otherwise, books in this genre (such as "The Fourth Turning") would not
sell so well to "gullible aging yuppies with the narcissistic urge to rea=
about their life, have their palms read and have money to waste."

Much discussion on the E-list over time has centered on rational
decision-making methods, such as game theory, Bayesian theory, risk-rewar=
matrices, etc., and why the benighted public makes clueless decisions so
frequently when all these fancy tools are available. Logical fallacies a=
frequently subtle, especially when statistics are involved. The category=

error in analysis I mentioned is subtle, yet pervasive. Individuals who
desire to forecast the future, are inherently self-centered, and are quit=
often blind to my dictum that when examining human history "no year is to=

be given a privileged position when starting a cyclical analysis."

One of the greatest of academic pathologies is presenting models
"diffidently." The lack of seriousness among academics and intellectuals=

today is soul-quenching. Ninnies like the French compost-modernists with=

all their "play" and "games" are sickly, and noodleheads like Richard
Rorty, a self-described "liberal ironist," are delusional. As Roger
Kimball notes, the problem with liberal ironists (e.g., the diffident
academics), is that "they are ironical about everything except their own
irony, and are serious about tolerating everything except seriousness."

Damien: <Communication is usually dialogical, as in this list (as in
this reply). Even novelists and poets who write in their silent rooms an=
fling out messages in bottles get responses back, however mediated, and
those responses help shape their further utterance. The point I was tryi=
to make is that communication is reciprocal, even when the reciprocity is=

masked or suppressed...>

The reciprocity, or loop, or feedback, whatever you wish to call it, does=

not portend cyclicality in history in any way, shape or form. A writer's=

(or speaker's) words go out, they are sent one-way. They cannot be taken=

back, they cannot be changed, they are launched at a particular place, at=
particular time, never to return or recur, never to be modified or altere=
at all. It is entirely up to individual readers to accept a writer's
modifications, clarifications, retractions, etc. of previously written
words. The writer has no part in this. There is no loop, no continuity,=

no recurrence. Responses helping to shape further utterances do not in a=
way, modify previous utterances, every utterance is made by a unique
individual at a unique point in time, and hangs there solid and whole
forever. If it difficult to see this, think of how long dead writers sti=
can speak to us, with no reciprocity, no mediation, no dialogue at all. =

Think of Nietzsche's idea of "communication" in "Untimely Meditations"
where "one giant calls to another across the desert intervals of time and=
undisturbed by the chattering dwarfs who creep about beneath them, the
exalted spirit-dialogue goes on."

RJ: <Individuals make history and individuals never recur, so why should
history recur?>

Damien: <My reference to Toynbee's punctuations by war is a hint, surely?=

This is the reference to Toynbee: "Arnold Toynbee famously found in this=

unhappy recurrence a key to alternations between war and peace: `the
survivors of a generation that has been of military age during a bout of
war will be shy, for the rest of their lives, of bringing a repetition of=

this tragic experience either upon themselves or their children' (A Study=

of History, Vol. IX)."

First of all, Toynbee's statement is complete balderdash on the face of i=
as Toynbee knew well. The instances of war-like conditions extending ove=
multiple generations within a given society are so numerous, they could
fill volumes by themselves. I'm sure Toynbee ran across the Spartans, fo=
the most famous instance, somewhere in his studies. The question is, why=

would Toynbee publish what he knew to be a big, fat whopper? The answer
can be seen by filtering through the following passages from Arthur
Herman's "The Idea of Decline in Western History" (1997):

First, Herman presents some background on the cultural milieu of the
English ruling elite that Toynbee was born into: "The liberal optimism o=
the early Victorians had been evaporating long before Toynbee was born. =

This was due in large part to the degeneration scare, which had cast
serious doubt on the future of civil society in the industrial age. If t=
fear of degeneration had driven English liberalism into retreat, then the=

trauma of World War I completed the rout. In the minds of interwar Briti=
intellectuals, their nation and the modern West were summed up in the tit=
of T.S. Eliot's famous poem: "The Waste Land." Some turned to Marxism t=
create a new social order; a few others, like the artist Wyndham Lewis an=
the novelist D.H. Lawrence, turned to an irrational vitalism bordering on=

fascism. But Toynbee and many of his generation turned to another
alternative, which flowed out of the New Liberalism of the later Victoria=
and its postliberal assumptions. Instead of demolishing the West, they
would refurbish it as a community of shared moral values, what the
Enlightenment would have termed 'polite' values. Tolerance, compassion,
humanitarian concern, and reasonable compromise would define this new
Western civilization; its chief virtues would have a spiritual rather tha=
a material basis. However, this kinder, gentler West would establish in
effect a new universal empire of peace and harmony, with its humane,
civilized values serving as the basis for a world government and unity
among peoples everywhere. This pacific new vision for the modern West
proved to be immensely influential, and not only in England. It dominate=
the geopolitical outlook of modern liberals to this very day."

This pacifistic utopianism shares the fatal ideological presupposition th=
mankind is inherently good. Fatal because:

Herman: "Renouncing force and violence became a moral imperative for the
heirs of liberal humanism.... From appeasement and the League of Nations=
to the Committee for Nuclear Disarmament and the Euromissile protests of
the 1980s, twentieth-century liberalism proved more adept at encouraging
its enemies than at protecting those it claimed to represent."

Now, as to why Toynbee would tell such a whopper:

Herman: "In terms of sheer numbers =AD 702, 410 dead =AD Great Britain su=
no more in World War I than Italy. But Britain's casualties were
disproportionately drawn from society's elite: one third of the Oxford
class of 1913 died in the war, and the death of many promising young
Balliol men cast a pall over the British establishment. Out of the shock=

and sense of loss would emerge the myth of the 'lost generation,' which
haunted British intellectual culture and policy-making for the next two
decades. World War I was for Great Britain what Vietnam would be for
America, the breaking of the morale of its political elite. Among those
broken was Arnold Toynbee. Yet Toynbee managed to escape the ordeal
unscathed. Although he initially supported 'the war for civilization,' h=
mother's encouragement and the help of influential family friends enabled=

Toynbee to evade service witha trumped up medical deferment. Guilt over
his compromised position plagued Toynbee for the rest of his life. Almos=
as if in reaction, he became a committed pacifist who detested everything=

smacking of military value, heroism, patriotism, or other 'antiquated'
notions of the prewar Victorian past. 'In 1914,' he wrote long afterward=
'I became convinced that war was neither a respectable institution nor a
venial sin, but was a crime.' In January 1918 Virginia and Leonard Woolf=

had dinner with Toynbee, and Virginia noted afterwards that he 'knew the
aristocratic heroes who are now all killed and celebrated, and loathed

I just love armchair psychology as a spectator sport, especially when it
has the ring of truth about it.

Herman: "Now, after the experience of the Great War, the New Liberal
consensus asserted that the nation-state, too, would have to disappear,
along with its war-making powers.... [B]y shedding absurd claims of
national sovereignty and joining with other nations to promote peace, the=
could concentrate on their primary duty: feeding, clothing, and elevatin=
the lives of their own citizens.... Military victory was always for
Toynbee certain proof of moral deficiency: he suggested that, had Americ=
and Israel lost some wars rather than continually winning them, it might
have been better for their souls.... He made himself the new prophet of
the demise of Western civilization in its modern (especially American) mo=
and of a new spiritual stirring in the non-Western world that promised a
future of universal peace and social justice. '...Mankind must become on=
family or destroy itself.' Privately he added, 'One has to admit history=

is against us.... I can't think of a single case of the cooperative meth=
having done the trick.' But in Toynbee's perspective... being good was
more important than doing good. It was one's intentions, not the results=
that ultimately counted most. In a politically unified world, these
various faiths would inevitably merge into an ecumenical religion of love=
which would teach compassion and tolerance for diversity =AD the sort of
agenda later adopted by liberal religious groups such as the World Counci=
of Churches."

Yuck! An all-around bad guy. He told a whopper in Damien's quote becaus=
he wanted to discourage war, ultimately through One World Government
dominated by non-Western peaceniks.

Damien: <We are now living through the exhausted stage of an American

RJ: <"Exhausted stage"? Is this an empirical statement of fact, or might=

it be a bit of chafing over Australia being off the radar screen when it
comes to current superpower status?>

Damien: <Ah, the gratuitous ad hominem surfaces. I don't much like
superpowers, as it happens, so I'm not chafing. More to the point, the
cited passage is not me speaking as such but me summarizing the Modelskia=
theory of long cycles under discussion.>

I'm sorry, but I simply fail to see the gratuitous ad hominem here. I am=

questioning your motivation to characterize America as "exhausted." =

America as a superpower is the only guarantor of the very notions of
"liberty and justice" as they have been formulated within the traditions =
Western civilization. The notions themselves would likely disappear off
the face of the earth, if Americans fall asleep. It is dangerous in the
sense of promoting a self-fulfilling prophecy, to encourage the idea that=

America is "exhausted." There is no other guarantor on the horizon. Thi=
dislike of superpowers, America being the one only around, is part and
parcel of modern liberalism's ideology, which, in Herman's phrase, is "mo=
adept at encouraging its enemies than at protecting those it claimed to
represent." You say the cited passage is not you speaking, yet I can't s=
that you have distanced yourself from it either in the original post or i=
your follow-up. Indeed, your expressed dislike of superpowers, meaning
America, even if it is a "diffident" dislike, draws you closer to the cit=
passage, not away. Be diffidently charitable with me, please don't confu=
my armchair psychology with bad old ad hominem's.

Reilly Jones | Philosophy of Technology: | The rational, moral and political relations=

| between 'How we create' and 'Why we create'=