The Destruction of Philosophy

Liberal Moonbat just posted The Incoherence of the Philosophers, which referred to Islam's retreat from rationalism in the twelfth century. I wrote about exactly that ten years ago, and the history rhyme is even more obvious today. So, without further ado, here is my version:

The Destruction of Philosophy
(February, 2008)

Given the inability of a significant minority of Americans to find the Moslem world on a map, and their dismissal of Moslems as "ragheads", it is not surprising in the least for us "masters of the world" to be unaware that our nation is riding the same curve that Islam followed a thousand years ago.

Just as America occupied the entire non-Communist world after the European Civil War (WW1 and 2), Islam exploded out of Arabia at just the moment when the Roman and Perian (Sassanian) empires had destroyed each other. Islam expanded into the vacuum of that mutual suicide, pragmatically took what talented people and tools were on offer, and conquered and dominated the Mediterranean world without serious opposition for the next six centuries. The Moslems, especially in Spain, were noted for their tolerance. They practiced advanced science, mathematics and medicine, and had a flourishing trade and commerce, while Catholic Europe rotted in ignorance, petty feuds, and religious fatalism.

In fact, Islam grew so rich and so sophisticated that it began to become agnostic.

Amid the advances of science the old orthodoxy fought to keep the loyalty of the educated classes. The conflict between religion and science led many to skepticism, some to open atheism..."You torment yourself for nothing," said Isbahan ibn Qara to a pious faster during Ramadan; "man is like a seed of grain that sprouts and grows up and is then mowed down to perish forever...Eat and drink!"

It was in reaction against such skepticism that Mohammedanism produced its greatest theologian, the Augustine and Kant of Islam. Abu Hamid al-Ghazali...

al-Ghazali wrote...Tahafut al-Filasifa (The Destruction of Philosophy). All the arts of reason were turned against reason. By a "transcendental dialectic" as subtle as Kant's, the Moslem mystic argued that reason leads to universal doubt, intellectual bankruptcy, moral deterioration, and social collapse. Seven centuries before Hume, Al-Ghazali reduced reason to the principle of causality....(from there, he argued that) science cannot prove the existence of God or the immortality of the soul; only direct intuition can assure us of these beliefs, without which no moral order, and therefore no civilization can survive.

In the end al-Ghazali returned through mysticism to all orthodox views...He accepted the Koran and the Hadith...When he died (1111), the tide of unbelief had been effectively turned. All orthodoxy took comfort from him; even Christian theologians were glad to find such a defense of religion, and such an exposition of piety, as no one had written since Augustine. After him,...philosophy hid itself in the remote corners of the Moslem world; the pursuit of science waned; and the mind of Islam more and more buried itself in the Hadith and the Koran...

As orthodoxy triumphed, toleration waned.

- Will Durant, "The Story of Civilization: Part IV The Age of Faith"

So, while its not surprising many red-blooded Americans are ignorant of this history, it certainly is ironic to this pointy-headed intellectual. The ancient Greeks probably had a word for this, something like "hubris".

What does this largely forgotten history tell us? It tells me that, well within the historical record, a prosperous and scientifically-oriented, advanced and dominant civilization deliberately turned its back on rationality, embraced theocratic mysticism, and began to descend to the pitiful depths that we see today in the Moslem world. It tells me that it certainly can happen right here in America today.

Of course, concerned people have been trying to make this point for over a decade:

the final factor behind the new American dumbness: not lack of knowledge per se but arrogance about that lack of knowledge. The problem is not just the things we do not know (consider the one in five American adults who, according to the National Science Foundation, thinks the sun revolves around the Earth); it's the alarming number of Americans who have smugly concluded that they do not need to know such things in the first place. Call this anti-rationalism -- a syndrome that is particularly dangerous to our public institutions and discourse. Not knowing a foreign language or the location of an important country is a manifestation of ignorance; denying that such knowledge matters is pure anti-rationalism. The toxic brew of anti-rationalism and ignorance hurts discussions of U.S. public policy on topics from health care to taxation.

There is no quick cure for this epidemic of arrogant anti-rationalism and anti-intellectualism.

- Susan Jacobi, "The Dumbing of America", The Washington Post, Feb. 17, 2008

But in the overtly anti-intellectual environment of today's America, such critics are dismissed as "elitists" (again, Ms. Jacobi):

It is almost impossible to talk about the manner in which public ignorance contributes to grave national problems without being labeled an "elitist," one of the most powerful pejoratives that can be applied to anyone aspiring to high office. Instead, our politicians repeatedly assure Americans that they are just "folks," a patronizing term that you will search for in vain in important presidential speeches before 1980.

At the same time as the masses have been manipulated to embrace stupidity, the elite members of the "deconstructionist" school of philosophy have taken joy in demolishing every form of reasoning in sight. In the process, they demolished academic philosophy. But never mind. All those philosophers are now employed by advertising agencies and political consultancies, to make sure that corporate-peddled ignorance cannot be challenged by logical consumers or public-spirited citizens, ever again.


It would appear, then, that America is embarked upon the same cultural suicide that Islam committed in the name of "faith" a millennium ago. And, like all things American, it is happening at a much faster rate today than a thousand years ago. We are well on our way to going from maximally rational to screamingly fundamentalist within the lifespan of one person. Only this time, instead of swords and triremes, our science will bequeth to our lunatic fundamentalists WMDs, which they will have no qualms about using, because they are certain god is on their side. You have already heard them screaming to nuke Iran.

The scientific leadership of America (dismissed as elitists and atheists) has, for the last few years, been in open revolt against the Bush program of censoring, ignoring, and lying about science. But, since the corporate media and their deconstructionist flaks support Bush, this polite elitist revolt has brought no results.

(Just an aside: even though Bush/Cheney are clearly insane megalomaniacs, very few scientists are willing to speak out about the metastasizing defense budget and the removal of all civilized restraints from the development and use of inhumane weapons, tactics, and torture techniques.)

One can only conclude that effective resistance can only come from the mobilization of the broad population, coached and guided by the scientific elites. It is really scary to think like this, in the 21st century in what used to be an advanced civilization, but: we need to go stand on soapboxes and defend the Scientific Method against "ignorant and proud of it" thugs, egged on by unscrupulous wannabee kings and high priests. We need to educate people how, in a globalized economy and a de-industrialized country (with both leveraged beyond the breaking point), slight shifts in credit or oil flows could result in a catastrophic shutdown. Its sort of like the worry that polar ice melting will shut down the North Atlantic conveyor. Of course, you can't use that analogy because the people you are talking to can't remember what's in aisle seven at the WalMart, much less what ice has to do with a conveyor.

I think I will stop here. Its sort of like planning how to stop an armored division with a Civil War musket. Depressing and futile. I think I will get back to learning how to grow my own food.

21 users have voted.


arendt's picture

At least the scientists are now openly organizing to defend science; but they have probably waited too long. The population has been so dumbed down, and their economic situation is so precarious, that they have no energy to support this movement. According to plan, it will be painted as elitist or snowflake. The TV will crank out more "Ice Road Truckers" or "Pimp My Ride" episodes, while shows like Nova will show more and more military-themed episodes.

One of the most insidious tactics of the fundamentalist resurgence is the whole Evangelical racket of telling folks to work their shitty jobs as some kind of spiritual exercise. Yeah, don't protest, submit and you will be rewarded in the next life. Or, if you buy the psuedo-Christian Prosperity Gospel con men, you will be rewarded in this life. Either way its mind over matter, willpower - the same garbage that has been preached for hundreds of years.

11 users have voted.
Meteor Man's picture

Mindfulness meditation to produce happy corporate slaves Cutting Through the Corporate Mindfulness Hype

In fact, history shows that the so-called ‘science’ inherent in industrial psychology and management scholarship has never been neutral or objective. The nature of the management project has always been to organize human life to serve particular interests, historically, in favor of the elite.

Twisting and manipulating everything for the bottom line.

7 users have voted.

"They'll say we're disturbing the peace, but there is no peace. What really bothers them is that we are disturbing the war." Howard Zinn

arendt's picture

@Meteor Man

I, for one, do NOT welcome our techno-libertarian overlords
Sorry that the article is posted at GOS.

Sounds like a rightwing version of the Human Potential Movement. Unfortunately, these vanguard neuro-Stakhanovites are just following the corporatists lead:

The meditation rooms now commonplace in many corporate headquarters are like tiny bubbles in which small groups of high-powered employees experience a sense of work/life balance premised—wittingly or not—on the externalization of risk and suffering that is endemic to capital markets. From the perspective of socially engaged Buddhism, a key flaw in corporate mindfulness is its neglect of the relationship between personal and institutional suffering (or dukkha).

Meng’s version of mindfulness ignores institutional dukkha in favor of a myopic focus on personal stress reduction and interpersonal empathy. Indeed, elsewhere Meng has suggested that Google and other tech companies can streamline mindfulness practice by developing Fitbit-style apps that would allow users to calm their minds more quickly—a development that he says would not only be “good for your career” but would also make customers “happy to spend more money.”

This vision is consistent with Silicon Valley’s utopian view of ‘smart’ gadgets as ever-more-efficient catalysts for the achievement of human virtue.

-Kevin Healey, What is the sound of a thousand tech workers meditating?

I guarantee you that when someone calls out the solipsism of these people, they will use some flavor of corporate Buddhism-speak to counterattack.

5 users have voted.
Alligator Ed's picture

@arendt to meditate. When all is the Pleasure Principle and its incumbent climb through the corporate ladder, assuredly the outcome of meditation will not be "other-directed". Even worse than not knowing that they don't know, the science deniers, as you said, seem proud of their ignorance. Your essay rings as true today as it did 8 years ago. How long have we gone since then? I don't know as a process how long, but as a result we are even deeper in prideful ignorance as before.

To those high priests (TrumP) and priestesses (Medusa) who are in on this perverse blindfolding, this is but another opportunity for personal advancement. An opportunity which shall not go unavailed. Look at YouTube (one of the Internet Tubes) and see how many flat-earthers there are trying to peddle what Galileo refuted half a millennium ago.

So, this is the revenge of superstition over knowledge. Granted many things cannot be proven, such as the existence of God (although in my opinion, the Big Bang theory is a religion). But to ignore those things proven by science, past the hypothesis stage, is sheer cultural suicide--just as your essay has pointed out.

When you're in a hole and you know it, stop digging.

Excellent essay.

4 users have voted.
earthling1's picture

is reduced to this;
You have to use gimmicks to get your point across.

13 users have voted.

Well it doesn't help that the upper establishment of the Democratic Party/"liberal" political structures--those who pride themselves on their degrees from top schools, many of them Ivy League--have essentially embraced neoliberal/neoconservative policies that have screwed over the working man and destroyed the middle class, while making themselves rich.

Thus, the so called "brightest and best" consist of destructive assholes like the Clintons, Obama, Larry Sommers, etc.

At the same time , these elites have the nerve to call the uneducated "deplorables."

Yeah, I get that it's better to be educated, intellectual, well read, and thinking than to NOT be those things. But when there is a whole class of such supposedly intelligent people that have no ethical core, and will sell out their own mothers for a buck, while preaching down to those less fortunate than them when it comes to educational opportunities that they are also screwing over with their policies, it is quite understandable that higher education and intellect get associated with a very negative type of "elitism."

Remember the "liberal" Clintons and Obama? Destructive neo-liberal whores, all of them. Yale, Wellesley, Georgetown, Oxford, Harvard, Columbia are all associated with them. For all their "learning," these "elite" politicos have been nothing but assholes.

8 users have voted.
arendt's picture


a smear with no grounding in reality into reality.

Every criticism you level about elitism has been made true by this gang of Yale/U of C/Princeton sociopaths. Its almost as if they were created to reify the inchoate resentment of the working class; and to spit in their "deplorable" faces.

The CCF has, over 25 years, ruined the reputation of the Democratic Party. They have made a mockery of the kind of liberalism that produced New Deal and Great Society programs. They have followed Nixon's plan of turning equal rights into quotas, and turning ethnic pride into Idenity Politics, of truly embracing the "political correctness" that the right complained about under Reagan. They have moved the party from being anti-war to being screaming neocon warmongers.

In short, the neoliberals stole the progressives' clothes and then committed robbery in broad daylight so that the liberals would take the blame. Today's DP is a "bustout" on the reputation of leftwing politics in America.

9 users have voted.

Thus, while I find anti-intellectualism disgusting and worthy of contempt, I'm not unsympathetic to the relatively uneducated, working class that have been talked down to for years by the likes of the CCF and their allies. (I mean, do you remember the debate regarding NAFTA? Clinton and his ilk were telling working class people who rightly saw that their jobs were being threatened, that their jobs (and by implication, those working class people themselves) didn't matter . . . because we were now a "service economy."

What heights of arrogance!!!

See, at the end of the day, one can be extremely brilliant, perhaps even an intellectual genius. However, without a core of ethical values and principles, all you will get is just a smarter, smoother, craftier, more effective, and more slick crook.

And that's what we have today in the highly educated and intellectual "elites" of the Democratic Party/neoliberal establishment.

5 users have voted.
Alligator Ed's picture

@SoylentGreenisPeople @arendt Perhaps this is a moral question as well. Which is the better state: to be knowing and lying or to not know and not know that you know not?

Definitely the c99 does not fit into either circumstance. But I venture to say that 90% of the American populace is in the latter category.

Does my philosophical query present any useful mode of action? Yes. GRADUAL re-education of the hypnotized masses. Does this sound like the rantings of an elitist political snob such as me? Perhaps. But the ignorance is palpable, observable, audible.

With the purposeful defunding of secular, public education, the situation inevitably gets worse. Shall we, as a society, regress to the situation of ancient Egypt in which only the scribes and pharaonic classes could read or write? It looks that way.

3 users have voted.

@Alligator Ed

3 users have voted.
Cassiodorus's picture

One can only conclude that effective resistance can only come from the mobilization of the broad population, coached and guided by the scientific elites. It is really scary to think like this, in the 21st century in what used to be an advanced civilization, but: we need to go stand on soapboxes and defend the Scientific Method against "ignorant and proud of it" thugs, egged on by unscrupulous wannabee kings and high priests.

I do not think that the scientific elites can guide public opinion by themselves. Science measures a particular manifestation of reality, and it's not even the manifestation people need to see in order to motivate themselves politically. Meanwhile the scientists themselves don't really know about that other manifestation, or at least they don't know enough to formulate an appropriate fantasy to guide public opinion.

One can see this in the writings of James Hansen, whose intentions are good and whose science is without doubt state-of-the-art, but whose idea of a solution stands in need of work. The critique of John Bellamy Foster reveals this in plain daylight:

Hansen’s climate-change exit strategy thus has definite limitations. Despite its progressive features it is mostly a top-down, elite-based strategy of implementing a carbon tax with the hope that this will spur the introduction of necessary technological changes by corporations. To be sure, Hansen stresses the democratic nature of the plan, and has argued that Obama could have mobilized the population around such a tax at the height of his popularity in his first term through a series of fireside chats.33 He also suggests that the 100 percent redistribution element in the fee-and-dividend strategy must be backed up by the threat of the wider public to “fight” if this is interfered with. And he has himself joined in mass mobilizations against coal and tar sands oil. Yet, his plan includes no call for a general ecological-cultural revolution against the U.S. power structure.

The problem, then, as Foster reveals so clearly, is that if climate change is to be mitigated in any physical sense (as opposed to the fantasy sense in which people think they are mitigating climate change by buying electric cars or whatever), there needs to be a substantive change in the US power structure. But scientists are not experts in what sort of collective fantasy would motivate the public to change the US power structure.

In political life, then, we can say this: bound together with the depictions of reality which scientists measure are fantasies which will not go away. With climate change, the fantasies are clearly fantasies of money and property and commodities -- specifically, that money and those properties and those commodities which have to do with the exploitation of the world's fossil fuel reserves. We aren't going to get physical climate change mitigation unless we can steer global society away from those fantasies, by government diktat or by whatever "ecological-cultural revolution" one cares to fantasize about.

4 users have voted.

"Centrist/mainstream Democrats are counterrevolutionary stooges in a time when revolution is more needed than at any time in history." - Christopher Cox

QMS's picture

is assisting the mass confusion or 'dumbing down' witnessed with more frequency these days. The larger ploy of the info manipulators in saturating the media with conflicting scenarios added to misinformation (lies), multiplied by a propagandized education structure leaves a population afraid of facts and the pursuit of enlightenment disparaged as selfishness or some such. Mind over matter, as it is said: If you have no control over your mind, it doesn't matter.

3 users have voted.

Listen to your higher mind.