Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Miscellaneous Asides About Modernism....

I have been swamped lately. Too swamped to focus on the formal chapters of my work on modernity and its enemies.

But I do feel I owe you folks something, so let's offer a few informal insights.

First, this item from Rand Corporation researcher David Ronfeldt, co author of brilliant works about terrorism and western strategy like IN ATHENA'S CAMP: Preparing for Conflict in the Information Age.

"David, I particularly like your turning to discuss the interplay between liberalism and modernism. For what it's worth, I've always liked Karl Mannheim's old book "Ideology And Utopia" for its discussion about how the chiliasm of the Anabaptists, the Hussites, and Thomas Munzer represented an initial, pioneering form of the modern utopian mentality. Their spiritualization of politics signified a break-through whereby previously spiritual ideals became fused with the mundane demands of the lower social strata and were said to be realizable in the here and now:

"It is at this point that politics in the modern sense of the term begins, if we here understand by politics a more or less conscious participation of all strata of society in the achievement of some mundane purpose, as contrasted with the fatalistic acceptance of events as they are, or of control from 'above.'

Of course Ronfeldt has a point. But in fact there are many ways to "define" the transition process toward modern thinking, which has been amorphous and nonlinear. For example:

* Hobbes and Rousseau and Plato were all far more similar than many scholars will admit. All offered variations on romantic incantory purity and oversimplification of human nature. (Indeed, so do most formal mystical religious systems.) The breakout offered by Locke and Smith was to say (in effect) "you ALL are partly right, and therefore entirely wrong. It is foolish to write detailed prescriptions of human behavior that are rigidly enforced by an elite class. We must design a pragmatic society that allows each person to hold the others accountable. If it is done right, you will get all the benefits without the vile drawbacks of tyranny."

* Here's another point I raise elsewhere, having to do with literature and the weird obsession that most lit profs seem to feel toward so-called "eternal human verities"... a concept that I find utterly disgusting and chilling.

Before Thackery, almost all novels/stories/legends featured fantasy/fantastic elements. Afterwards, fantasy (and later scifi) became marginalized, as "mainstream" literature focused on contemporary minutiae of mores, conventions, personal drama and tiny variations on normality.

Why such a huge change in the format and content and topics of popular storytelling?

My theory is that the world before 1600 was always pretty much CONSTANT in its macroscopic appearance and social structures - featuring the same cast of feudal and mystical/priestly types - but unreliable in respect to individual luck. (For example, things might be going fine, then a plague or war would hit. Your kids might all die at any moment.)

At an accelerating rate after 1600, this all reversed. (At least in prosperous portions of the West.) Average people started believing that they stood a good chance of becoming grandparents. There was still an awful lot of bad luck churning around, but a majority began to feel a solid chance that war and sudden calamity just might pass them by. But meanwhile, society was growing less stable. Your kids might stand a better chance of seeing the future. But that future started to become vastly more contingent in the way it might look and feel. Your descendants would generally see a new world rocked by macro social changes that often shook elites from their perches.

This may have been what influenced the change in fiction, from being generally about fantastic subjects/situations to focusing in upon contemporary minutia, featuring a fanatical devotion to normality... a pretense that change did not matter.

I could go on. There are dozens of other possible ways of looking at the zeitgeist shift toward modernity. One that I contend is reaching a crisis point as we speak. The most modern nation of all is filling rapidly with panicky reactionaries of left and right who share a common anti modernist agenda.

There doesn't seem to be any sense to why this should be happening right now. For example, terrorism - the much vaunted fear of this decade - is inarguably FAR less disturbing and/or threatening than nuclear war was! There is no way that any of the most inflated estimates can suggest we are in as much immediate danger, as people and as citizens, as we were thirty years ago. (Though that may change in a decade or so, dramatically.)

In fact, evidence suggests that this panic is being engendered by the very success of modernism, bringing us to the brink of a singularity, or something like it.

Are you familiar with that term? It is a broad and marvelous topic having to do with the rapid pace by which the modernist agenda may accelerate and bring about truly fantastic transformations. For a lovely intellectual feast, drop in at: http://www.singularitywatch.com/articles/jsinterview2003.html

You'll see what I mean when I say that modernism itself is always in danger of turning weirdly romantic!

See Next entry on Modernism....

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Modernism Part 17: Addicted to Mysteries...

In the last section I admitted that this dichotomy (Modernism vs Romantic enemies of the Enlightenment) is flawed... as are all dichotomies... even though it explains the behavior of polemical people far better than the superficial "left-right political axis."

But pause a moment. I can't help it. I must reiterate one aspect of all this, yet again, lest it be missed.

The romantics' classic fixation on snobbish secrecy.

Before science, the chief traditions of knowledge were magic, religion, craft guilds and scholasticism. For all of their differences, these general systems seem to have shared some very consistent buttressing attributes. For example, they generally tended to emphasize the mysterious nature of their close-held procedures and arcana. All raised obstacles against unsanctioned outsiders who might attempt mastery of the inner lore.

All spoke of how daunting or dangerous it would be for the masses to know what the lay in the locked grimoires of hierarchical authorities - be they mages, shamans, guildmasters, priests... all the way to platonist or confucian philosophers.

Today you can see a plethora of new or upstart groups that have risen in varied forms to join these older ones. They come in bewildering variety of styles and specifics - while sharing this ancient legacy of secretive exclusivity. The particular paranoia can range from UFO cults to Straussian neocons, yet if you scratch below the surface veneer, all display startlingly similar character traits. Especially a nearly identical need to rationalize contempt for the masses while withholding vital information for use by a special and worthy elect.

I am NOT saying that all of these groups are equally right or wrong about the specifics of their beliefs! Today, either liberals or conservatives may offer better arguments on this or that issue. Moreover, religion certainly delivers benefits that are attested to by millions. My remarks here are not aimed at particular notions but at an all-too common trait of human beings who like to hold notions.

Whether the surface dogma is quality or dross, there remains this underlying shared current - something psychological that is separate from the surface details. Indeed, this deeper agenda can push in a direction diametrically opposite to what a person or group claims superficially to believe. Take, for example, those who, in the name of promoting freedom/democracy, all-too often seem to foster behaviors that undermine both.

One telltale sign of underlying romanticism is a deep fealty to mysteries. To secret codes hidden in the Bible, or in UFO-spun wheat fields, or conspiracy theories, or a desperate need to control mass media and clamp down on government information flows. From the sublime to the ridiculous and all across the range of intellect, what they all cater to is the most delicious, voluptuously attractive self-image of all. The notion that - "I know what's going on in the world and all you clueless fools do not."

This classic human way of viewing the world is one of the reasons that romanticism is... well... romantic! The appeal offered by mystery is very much in the tradition described by Joseph Campbell. And it may be the biggest reason why romantic writers, no matter how much science education they claim, simply never get what science is really about.

Writers like Michael Crichton and Margaret Atwood (to use our earlier examples from the far right and far left) are inherently - probably at the level of unchanging personality - unable to perceive that secrecy - not science - underlies nearly all of the failure modes that they draw out in their dire tales. Their scenarios would evaporate in the presence of CITOKATE. Is there even a chance that someday they will perceive their shared, incredibly consistent and predictable pattern? While secrecy is 'bad' when practiced by their villains, it is never villainous per se. Because secrecy is romantically delectable, and it dramatically empowers hubristic mistakes to go out of control.

As for dry accountability ... that's a pallid modernist thing. (Who else but a modernist would find anything appealing in an acronym like CITOKATE? ;-)

In order to see just how alien the scientific worldview is from pre-enlightenment ways of dealing with knowledge, take a look at how many scientists compete with each other in order to get shows on PBS, the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, the History Channel and so on. Listen as they gush and fizz as eagerly as some school kid, excitedly sharing what they know with fellow citizens who (after all) paid for the research with their taxes.

It's a very public manifestation of what goes on every day, on 10,000 university campuses, where ideas ferment and snotty grad students stand up to professors, sometimes gleefully proving them wrong. (Admittedly at some minor risk.)

This is not a revised version of magical and guild systems, with abject apprentices serving domineering masters (though some professors - being human - try to act that way). At best, science is the polar opposite of such systems. Scientists understand this. But romantics cannot even perceive it.

According to both Atwood and Crichton, - and to those on all sides who share their underlying world view - those scientific boffins are dangerous and need to be controlled, lest they unleash demons to wreck the world. Never mind that an open society should find the errors faster than any elite ever could, enabling (as we have seen time and again) modern society to both have its cake and eat it. Instead of trusting openness, we should turn instead to more secrecy. Leave policy to those who have worked out The Truth from basic principles. To ideologues who know what’s right by their very nature as philosopher kings, sages, priestesses... whatever... without having to prove anything at all.

Above all, do not look upon the future as a realm that can and should be improved by the active will of assertive, pragmatic human effort.

Accept the benefits of past modernism, without ever acknowledging a possibility that the best may be yet to come.

...Next posting... how this relates to science fiction...

PS... one of you spoke of my participating in a web ring or such on this topic. I certainly am willing to try to promote the concept of pragmatic modernism as an alternative to insipid Left-Right cliches... On the other hand, my productivity as a science fiction author has suffered badly of late. My wife wants me to do less of this, not more. Especially with a lot of happy but frenetic activities, of late.

So yes, I'll contribute to any such discussion. But others must do the organizing. The only REGULAR participation I can promise is what I'm doing right now. Scribbling a draft minifesto for grownup humans who don't need manifestos....

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Modernism 16b: An Aside About "Human Nature"

Apologies. Family matters have me frazzled to the bone. Only snippets of time for this blog.

But here's a bone for those eager for something to chew over...

An Aside about Human Nature

Before continuing with my overall points about Modernism and its enemies, let me suggest that we should always drop back now and then and contemplate that minefield topic: "human nature".

All ideologues - and indeed all modernist-pragmatists - base their arguments and agendas upon assumptions about human nature, often explicitly stated, but far too often not. A worst-case example was Karl Marx, whose marvelously ingenious just so stories about destiny and society began with excellent foundation in contemporary economics... then marched right off a cliff of Tex Avery ditziness an teleological determinism that ignored any reference to evolution or real science.

Ayn Rand is just as bad, doing exactly the same things that Marx did, casting romantic incantations without ever offering falsifiable statements or opening her ornate reasoning to CITOKATE (Criticism Is The Only Known Antidote To Error.)

When it comes to "human nature," I am skeptical of all explanations of human nature that leave out the neolithic.

By far a majority of human generations took place, strove, endured hardship and evolved during that long epoch. We may have adapted and developed a lot of sophisticated culture since then, but the UNDERLYING genetic predispositions nearly all arose in a context of migratory hunters gatherers, chipping clever stone tools and singing by camp fires, interacting with each other at a level similar to LORD OF THE FLIES.

Neolithic people had very sophisticated minds and tremendous strengths. They had minds basically as good as ours. But they almost certainly lived all that time in systems of power and interaction that were not democratic. Our knowledge of more recent tribal societies suggests that we are internally wired for some degree of fealty to chiefs and shamans. A distressting image, but sobering.

I do believe that we are genetically different from neolithic people is a few ways. The discovery of beer probably unleashed a very rapid culling of drunks, resulting in the astoundingly high percentage (at least 2/3) of humans who can "just say no". (This glass-half-full way of looking at human addiction is rare, but worth pondering.) Likewise, the effectiveness of kings at utilizing harems has been shown to have had a notable genetic effect. (8% of Chinese people are descended from Ghengiz Khan, apparently.)

ChidrenPrometheusIf interested in how culture may continue evolution, see CHILDREN OF PROMETHEUS: The Accelerating Pace of Human Evolution, by Chris Wills.

Still, most of our proclivities arise out of neolithic people who were almost genetically the same as us. Leaving me amazed at how MUCH democracy and enlightenment and science we actually turn out to be capable of! The paramount trait of those neolithtic folks seems to have been adaptability.

In the end, though, we are foolish to ignore the fact that we still carry buttons that can be pushed, often cynically, to get us reacting to tribal totemic images and threats etc.

Chiefdoms became feudal societies because that transition is an easy extrapolation, while democracy (as the Athenians found) is hard. Really hard.

Modernism and the enlightenment are hard. They do not come easy. Today there are many, left and-right, who are busy pushing neolothic buttons to try and end the modernist experiment.

Example: I think one reason for the anti-modernists' hostility is the fact that our current high priests and shamans don't behave as mysteriously and in the domineering but reassuring way that they used to (and that they are depicted doing in fantasy: e.g. Gandalf and that horrible demon, Yoda.) Many people do not like the way today's high priests of knowledge fizz and pop on PBS about our steadily growing knowledge & power, eager to share it with all, unlike every other priestly class.

Far deeper inside us is the expectation that priests should keep secrets, domineer, and cast incantations. Very authoritative and convincing. Far more than watching some TV physicist gush "we don't know! Ain't it great?"

Finally, let me correct a notion that anti-modernists never look forward in time. As described by Leon Wieseltier in the New Republic: "Utopianism is back. We are exhorted from all sides to believe in happy endings. Russell Jacoby has just written Picture Imperfect: Utopian Thought for an Anti Utopian Age, a woozy and peculiarly unpolitical volume in which he demands that the old liberal anxiety about the consequences of the belief in the perfectibility of the human world be retired."

EndPovertyAnother example is The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time, by Jeffrey Sachs, in which he calls for "ending poverty in our time"- specifically, "by the year 2025." This is also the goal set in a report released last month by the United Nations Millennium Project, led by Sachs. Both modernists and anti-modernists can share GOALS, and even short term political desires.

The difference (and culture war) lies deeper down.

soon... addicted to mysteries...

Friday, March 11, 2005

Aside: How the U.S. Saved the World by Buying Vast Amounts of Stuff...

Sorry, here's a topical aside. There's so much in the news.

Of course it all relates to the modernist agenda and its enemies.

Saving the World Through Walmart?...

Every year, Warren Buffett (probably the world’s greatest investor personally writes a letter to the shareholders of the company he controls, Berkshire Hathaway. The following excerpt is from a section that concerns the US trade deficit, in which Buffett explains why he is diversifying into currencies other than the US dollar.

"If the U.S. was running a $.6 trillion current-account surplus, commentators worldwide would violently condemn our policy, viewing it as an extreme form of “mercantilism” – a long discredited economic strategy under which countries fostered exports, discouraged imports, and piled up treasure. I would condemn such a policy as well. But, in effect if not in intent, the rest of the world is practicing mercantilism in respect to the U.S., an act made possible by our vast store of assets and our pristine credit history. Indeed, the world would never let any other country use a credit card denominated in its own currency to the insatiable extent we are employing ours. Presently, most foreign investors are sanguine: they may view us as spending junkies, but they know we are rich junkies as well.

"Our spendthrift behavior won’t, however, be tolerated indefinitely. And though it’s impossible to forecast just when and how the trade problem will be resolved, it’s improbable that the resolution will foster an increase in the value of our currency relative to that of our trading partners. "

While I respect and admire Buffett in many ways, I think that things may be a little more complicated that he portrays them to be.

I have a perspective I'd like to add. It does require "stepping back a bit" and taking in an even wider context, so hold on.

Many periods in history have seen one empire or another achieve enough power to establish and enforce the rules of trade - nearly always to their own advantage. It happened under Pax Romana. Britain did it with the Triangular Trade in 1770s. Ghandi's biggest complaint against the Raj was the way Indian industries were crushed in favor of exports from British mills. As Buffett says, it is called mercantilism.

Only now comes a funny thing that happened in our lifetimes. It is probably the biggest fact about world civilization in the last sixty years, yet I do not know of anyone explicitly or openly discussing it.

After WWII, the United States had an overwhelmingly superior position in the world, with an economy that had benefitted prodigiously from war, rather than suffering from it. By any measure we had become the latest "pax" or imperium, able to set rules and establish patterns that others could only follow.

But something surprising and historically unprecedented happened. For the first time, this kind of power was held by a nation and people whose value system was colored by both satiation and lessons of the Enlightenment. (The two are, of course, related.) Moreover, we were guided at this time - with respect to international matters - by arguably the greatest man of the Twentieth Century, George Marshall, who ensured that the U.S. would use all this power in ways diametrically opposite to any other historical imperium.

Motivated by a strangely pragmatic version of utopianism - called Modernism - we set about the ambitious goal of reshaping the world.

Most people today know Marshall only for his "plan" to rebuild European cities and farms in the immediate aftermath of war. But that was only one small part of a far greater scheme. More significant, in the long run was the establishment of trade policies that reversed mercantilism.

Instead of the Central Kingdom (Chung Kuo) forcing satrapies to buy manufactured goods from the center, the U.S. allowed client states to set up barriers against US manufactures while facing negligible duties to their goods imported to America.

Chief results?

#1 - a huge U.S. balance of payments deficit. This has been discussed relentlessly ever since the sixties - offering grist and nourishment for pessimists, predicting disaster. Indeed, it is becoming hard even for optimists to imagine happy outcomes for America, with the trade deficit now reaching more than half a trillion dollars a year!

Keen observers such as Warren Buffett predict a major reconfiguring of currencies in the near future, with another dolorous outcome -- the U.S. becoming an extreme debtor nation. And they are probably right. This is mismanagement on a collosal scale.

Okay. That's pretty clear. So far. But there is another side. A completely nother side.

#2 - The 60 year anti-mercantilist trade pattern established by America also resulted in the greatest transfer of real wealth in world history. The effects, first in Europe and Japan, then Taiwan and Korea, then the smaller "Asian Tigers" and parts of Latin America, have been staggering.

Out of the world's six billion people, more than two billion have been lifted into some kind of middle class existence - with modest but clean homes, access to water, power, education and hope - as a direct or indirect result of Americans buying trillions of dollars worth of goods we never needed.

Another billion or so appear to be on the same track, only a little behind.

We are told that the world is a devastatingly sad and oppressive place, filled with poverty and hopelessness. And, indeed, the raw numbers of people who suffer malnourishment and/or oppression, can only tear at the heart. Ideally, this awareness will spread and make us feel determined to do better.

But the irony is that only people who are relatively satiated can indulge in empathy and feel the pain of others, for whom satiation is but a dream.

In fact, the percentage of human beings who live in some degree of comfort and safety, with secure hope that their increasingly educated children will do better, has been rising spectacularly for two generations. And the principal driver of this change has been the U.S. consumer, purchasing the output of tens of thousands of foreign factories, wherein the same pattern gets repeated from one country to the next. Workers systematically move from exploited peons to hard-pressed semi-skilled assemblers, to unionized skilled labor... while roads and infrastructure get built all around them and their kids go to school, graduating into the bourgeoisie.

Let me reiterate this point. Far outweighing all "aid" the world ever saw, the greatest force for good in the world has consisted of Americans purchasing megatons of crap we never had to buy in the first place, under trade rules designed to favor those thousand of foreign factories.

Alas, we'll never get a scintilla of credit for this vast beneficence. Because it did not blossom out of motivations like guilt or generosity. To a large part, it flowed out of a childishly spendthrift love of shopping.

Indeed, when viewed from this unusual angle, America looks even more impressive than ever. After single-handedly lifting up Europe and Japan, in the wake of WWII, then hauling Korea and Taiwan into the middle class with the helpful voraciousness of our appetites and wallets, we proceeded thereupon to offer this same bounteous good deed to dozens of other nations and peoples until, today, we are accomplishing what no one would have imagined possible.

We are SIMULTANEOUSLY lifting both China and India toward prosperity. Nations amassing more than two billion people. At the same time.

Now this view may infuriate liberals, who believe that doing good should feel like doing good, ideally motivated by sacrifice, guilt... and maybe some paternalism.)

It also won't please conservatives, who would just hate to picture George Marshall saving the world. (They certainly give Ronald Reagan all the credit for calling the final plays in Marshall's long and patient game.)

It seems to be in nobody's interest, left or right, to acknowledge either that the world is being saved, or that it has been accomplished by good-natured American extravagance. Is this why such a blatant fact is so ignored?

Oh, but it is NOT being ignored... in Beijing.

The Chinese leadership is painfully aware how much they have at stake in continuing the American buying spree. If their present transition were to stall short of the halfway point, with most of the rural population poised at an especially dangerous phase - aware of possibilities that have not yet been realized - then social disruption could wrack the nation on a seismic scale. Beijing needs confident Americans to buy plenty more unneeded goods with strong dollars, for the foreseeable future.

Can this be achieved, while our current accounts deficit shatters all records? Yes, if a sufficient counterflow is maintained. The Chinese and others could buy more American goods, for example. (Unlikely.) Or they could pay for intellectual property (even less likely).

Or they'll buy more American capital. The latter will be done even with complete awareness that US investments must depreciate eventually. They don't have any choice. They must buy our bonds and banks and skyscrapers and golf courses, as the Japanese did, at an expected long term loss.

Shall we derive some small satisfaction from that?

I don't see it as an issue of us-them quite as much as some do. Had we played this as a competitive game on that basis, Marshall would have set up a traditional mercantilist trade pattern and we would right now be not only the richest nation but the Great Creditor, owning debt in every other country... and the world would be a raging storm of rebellion against a genuine American Imperium, with billions more suffering in angry poverty than do now.

As I see it, we ARE getting something. We are getting cheap Asian goods and a better world. High quality Japanese cars and a vast majority of Earth's children going to school. A cornucopia at Walmart, and four billion people rushing toward the middle class.

(With concomitant ecological crises that will challenge the NEXT generation. Don't think for a minute that I've forgotten THAT part of things... or the way we are betraying our role as R&D department for efficient and sustainable growth.)

The ironies pile up higher and higher. If America fades somewhat because of all this, will we be taunted because a great empire let itself slip from the pinnacle through spendthrift ways?

Or will we be given credit we deserve? We spent and spent and spent, and in the long run, what we bought was hope for the world.

For follow-up, see: How Americans Spent Themselves into Ruin, but Saved the World

...next, a return to modernism...

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Modernism Part 16: It goes beyond the arts...

And now, part 16 of "Modernism and its enemies."

Modernism Part 16. Putting it all in context.

In part 15, I compared author Michael Crichton to one of his left-wing counterparts, Margaret Atwood, revealing underlying agendas that are remarkably similar, despite superficial differences of politics, heroes and villains. Relentlessly and point by-point, they reject the modernist notion that we can and should improve both humanity and the world through calmly-negotiated, pragmatic advancement in realms of commerce, society and science, in an era of openly shared knowledge.

Of course, each of them would deny this, since both claim to be "progressive" and scientific in their own ways. But I contend that a long checklist of traits argues otherwise. For example, they seldom, if ever, show either society or science utilizing sophisticated enlightenment processes for error-discovery and correction. While praising diversity in principle, they never show diverse competing interests actually engaging in a mature process of reciprocal accountability or negotiation.

True, a good fiction tale can thrive upon situations when such mature processes fail. Exciting drama may revolve around a few heroes opposing terrible errors or oppressive opponents. But these errors and opponents are portrayed by romantic authors in simplistic, polemical fashion, demonizing straw-man villain groups for the purpose of making a political point. Never to illustrate mature processes in action.

In almost every case, the fictional failure mode seems to arise out of secrecy that prevented society and science from functioning properly. And yet, secrecy itself is never shown to be a core mistake! Rather, hubris is the classic character flaw that these authors bemoan. With typical elitism, they cast unalloyed dread toward the possibility that common citizens may seize new powers to remake society, their own lives, and even the lives of their children.

You can find the same loathing all across the arts, from fantasy novels that despise democracy and extol feudalism to rock videos that foster egotism as a primary human virtue.

Of course, the situation is not as simple as I've described so far. Dichotomies are inherently untrustworthy, (a decidedly modernist position, by the way.) Indeed, romantic polemics conveyed via the arts can often overlap with messages of the Enlightenment. They may even agree over specific or surface issues.

This shouldn't be surprising. Romantics and modernists were once allies, after all. Two centuries ago, until a great rift tore apart these worldviews, they briefly stood shoulder-to-shoulder through the American and French Revolutions -- before spilling apart in violent fraternal dispute. (Thomas Jefferson would seem to be the perfect blending of modernism and romanticism.)

For example, both movements claim credit for what seems to be the universal propaganda message, pervading nearly all recent movies and dramas. That message is Suspicion of Authority or SOA. (Name a popular film you've enjoyed in the last 30 years that does not feature it.) Both also claim to champion tolerance and admiration of human eccentricity/diversity.

Only with a key difference. Modernism calls for mild suspicion toward all centers of authority, including any that include you or me. An omni directional accountability, enforced by open and freely-accessible knowledge.

Romanticism nearly always manifests SOA as fervid hatred of some particular authoritarianism... while making excuses for its polar opposite. Romantics seldom see anything wrong with unaccountable power in the hands of their favorite authorities. Indeed, they make many excuses for why the masses cannot be trusted to take care of themselves.

And yet, after all this going on and on about romanticism in the arts, it may surprise you to learn that I find such artistic expression to be the least bothersome aspect of an ancient worldview. Indeed, the romantic impulse is deeply and naturally human. I exploit and foster it in myself, when writing a dramatic scene in one my own novels -- though I try to do so with open eyes and some awareness of the inevitable tradeoffs.

Even within the arts, romanticism has long waged war on the nerdy, cautious, cooperative and reasonable, in favor of extravagance, emotion, lusts and love-at first-sight. Indeed, can you even begin to count the number of times that films or novels have posed a dichotomy between logic and love? Between passion and reason? Between calculated risk and that bold roll of the dice? And how often has passionate illogic been portrayed as wrong? The nearly universal reflex does seem to indicate something driven, consistent, like a concerted campaign.

And I don't really mind. Again, we all grew up with this relentless romantic propaganda in the arts, and it sure has its good side. Certainly we will never abandon the richly emotional and voluptuous power that romantic posturing can offer through the arts, from Shelley, screaming at the heavens with lighting flashing all around, to Slim Pickens riding a hydrogen bomb like a bucking bronco, in Dr. Strangelove. The arts are where romanticism thrives and feeds us. In art, it can inspire and stir or replenish the soul.

Unfortunately, it goes far beyond fiction and the arts. If you look across six thousand years of recorded history, nearly all cultures were led by romantic thinking in their centers of policy and power. And that's where inestimable damage has been done.

Oh, there are more than enough superficial differences that allow anti-modernists of "left" and "right" to pontificate and rage at each other... while colluding over a deeper agenda. Certainly the left has been more direct and honest in its intellectually assault, fostering an entire movement called postmodernism, implying that their foe (modernism) is already finished off, a relic, even dead.

It should be no surprise that many of the leading figures in postmodernism, such as Derrida, Lacan and Foucault, emerged from the French wing of the Enlightenment... the wing that got suckered away from pragmatism and back into the arms of Plantoic mysticism.

Proclaiming that nothing is objectively true - that only subjective texts matter - they preach (in-effect) for a return to the era of persuasive magical incantations. By claiming that science is just another incantory system, they hope to downgrade its authority, denying this era's masters of wisdom any authority to "prove or disprove" anything at all. (More on this, in part 18.)

The hostility of rightwing intellectuals can be much more cryptic, and yet easy to understand. The retro-romantic impulse of the neoconservatives is not to restore the authority of magicians, but rather to re-empower aristocratic lords and priests.

...on to part 17... about the need for mysteries...