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.