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I may be a Christian, but there are things I believe unequivocally that are not shared by all Christians.
(1) While history is moving inexorably towards establishing God’s Kingdom on Earth, no earthly minds know God’s timetable. Those who “just know” that the Rapture will occur “any day now” are, in my book, delusional. This means we are obligated to care about the future, and our role in building it, not leaving things to chance (i.e., folly).
(2) Even if we see history going in a specific direction, what it clearly discloses is that civilizations go through life-cycles just as individuals do. Empires rise; empires fall. I’ve written about this here, here, and here.
A Biblical perspective, moreover, suggests that there were at least two major civilizational cycles, possibly of global reach, before ours. One was destroyed by the Noachian flood; the other was scattered following its building the Tower of Babel, however we interpret the admittedly sketchy Biblical accounts.
Is there physical evidence for this? Yes. Dozens of “ooparts” — out-of-place artifacts — have been uncovered, some embedded in petrified wood or removed from solid rock geologists say is millions of years old. These are not products of any known civilization. In a major work entitled Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings (orig. 1966), author and science historian Charles Hapgood documented the existence of maps, the most famous used by the fifteenth century Turkish sea captain Piri Re’is, that show the South American coastline, Greenland minus ice caps, and portions of Antarctica prior to its becoming iced over. These were clearly compiled from maps long gone. Studies have shown them to be surprisingly accurate.
The so-called “experts” deal with these anomalies by the “scientific” method of securing them within the windowless museum basements buried beneath consensus reality and forgetting about them.
(3) There are good reasons to believe our present civilization has begun a long-term downhill slide, Trumpism notwithstanding. Where that slide ends, no one can be certain. But there are still things we can do to mitigate its consequences and possibly even thrive in a future that will be better than the present.
I will leave (1) to the theologians and focus more on aspects of (2) and (3).
In the articles linked to above, I took note of Sir John Bagot Glubb’s theory of the lifecycles of civilizations. Glubb’s ideas, as a few readers pointed out, are not perfect. In retrospect, he plays fast and loose with the lifespans of empires, some of which lasted much longer than the 200-plus years he allows. But the essential point is made. Lifecycles of civilizations exist. The idea applies to our own, which has stages or states we can recognize if we know what to look for.
The author who best expressed a stages-of-civilization theory was philosopher-sociologist Auguste Comte (1798 – 1857).
Opponents of the West’s shift toward a controlled, technocratic order see Comte as one of history’s villains. I get it. His philosophical ideology of positivism offered the foundation and impetus for many intellectual and political-economic sins. Still, he had useful ideas how an advanced civilization develops, and my focus is on these.
His term was the Law of Three Stages. I’ve written about this at length elsewhere. So here I will summarize Comte’s views.
The First Stage is the “religious or fictitious.” It could also be called the stage or state of primitive faith, in which all explanations, even of worldly events, are in terms of supernatural agencies, and giving rise to such notions as the divine right of kings. Or that the king is a god. Theocracy is at home in First Stage thinking.
The Second Stage is the “metaphysical or abstract.” It could be called the stage or state of pure reason: the idea that a philosopher or theologian can start with premises he claims are absolutely certain (immune to doubt) and deduce an entire philosophical or theological system. Arguably, this was what most pivotal Western philosophers beginning with Plato did. Someone such as Ayn Rand — or Ludwig von Mises — is also Second Stage. (Second Stage thought is not necessarily Christian or theist.)
The Third Stage is “scientific and positive.” It is the stage or state of empirical natural science, doing away with a supernatural grounding for knowledge or morals in favor of utility, and towards humanism — the idea that morality begins with humanity and aims at human flourishing, not pleasing a supernatural being. It also does away with certainty in favor of the pragmatism and probability of empirical science. What’s most likely to be true is what’s useful, and maybe even profitable.
Something Comte either missed or deemed unimportant: these are not historical stages as such. While we see a progression, all three exist side by side, sometimes in an uneasy truce, sometimes in conflict as with the battles over prayer in public schools, or the teaching of Darwinism as fact, or the dustier and less visible conflict in academic economics between a handful of aprioristic Austrians and the many Keynesians and monetarists whose data-driven studies bespeak of their empiricism.
The First Stage suggests intellectual childhood, when we saw parents or other adult figures as akin to gods whom we were expected to obey without question.
The Second Stage embodies our philosophical adolescence — in which our reach exceeded our grasp, and our often reckless and rebellious efforts fell short of their goal, which for philosophers was certainty.
The Third Stage represents our scientific / practical adulthood. We grew up, accepted adult responsibilities, gave up childish and adolescent things. We are finally standing on our own.
Or are we? How’s this really worked out, anyway?
Clearly, Comte and ensuing positivists rested on their laurels too soon. I need not spend much time on details: the twentieth century world wars and acts of genocide, nuclear and other WMDs, the cold war, the pollution now choking even our oceans, the strip-mining of the planet’s natural resources which frequently amounted to Anglo empires bringing down democratically elected governments to ensure access (e.g., Iran, 1953), the continuing danger of nuclear annihilation. And today, the likely health hazards of corporations’ and the masses’ gleeful embrace of 5G technology in the name of profit and convenience respectively.
Not that the world was peaceful before, of course. But Third Stage thinking worked under the assumption that advancing humanist civilization would make us morally better, not just materially and technologically better.
I’d say that if that was the aim, it failed hands down!
In sum: Comtean positivists, humanists such as Bertrand Russell whose “A Free Man’s Worship” (1903) best articulated that quasi-religion based on human aspirations of universal peace and justice, and technocrats who believed they could apply positive science to human society (and still do), have all fallen well short of the mark.
Writers beginning with Christian existentialists such as Kierkegaard understood — as far back as the early 1800s before Comte set pen to paper — that such schemes would fail.
Dostoevsky’s fictional Ivan Karamazov held that “if God doesn’t exist, then everything is permitted.”
Nietzsche warned that with God removed from Western man’s mental map, all that God gave meaning to was also doomed. He predicted that — in the absence of a “revaluation of all values” — the next century would see an “advent of nihilism.”
I don’t think one can look at much twentieth century art (e.g., Dadaism) and not see nihilism. Think of “artists” who spill paint on canvases, let it dry, hang it on a wall, and call it art. My cat could do it.
Instead of a “revaluation of all values,” much twentieth century art, music, literature, and cinema display only ugliness, vulgarity, pessimism, depravity, and violence.
Professional philosophy, meanwhile, has retreated into near-irrelevance.
I posit a Fourth Stage of civilization Comte did not consider. We are in it now, for the most part (a few Third Stagers, such as Richard Dawkins, remain). In that case:
Continuing the above progressions, the Fourth Stage exhibits negativity and anti-intellectualism. It is disdainful not just of authorities that have rightly been shown to have clay feet, but all authority whatsoever: scientific, political-economic, theological.
It is skeptical of all assertions of truth (except, incoherently but revealingly, politically correct ones).
Its minions virtue-signal shamelessly. What counts is presentation and spectacle.
Whenever some pundit says we live in a “post-truth world,” he/she is expressing a Fourth Stage sentiment.
A term used for Third Stage civilization was modernity: based on science, technology, commerce, large and strong institutions, public education including major research centers, and firm confidence in the idea of progress. Modernity was inherently optimistic. The future could be better than the past, and it was up to each of us to help make it so. Utopia awaited, after all!
To call Fourth Stage civilization postmodern sounds trendy, I know. Dated, even. And it probably oversimplifies. But the idea isn’t wrong.
For while benefitting from the genuine achievements of its predecessor, Fourth Stage thought throws out its premises. Truth claims are concealed assertions of domination. Politicians are inevitably liars (often cheats, thieves, and sex-abusers). Economics rationalizes the accumulation (sometimes seizure) of wealth by the one-percent — or is that now the point-zero-zero-zero-one percent?
Everybody has their own narrative (complete with grammar mistake, since grammar, too, is optional).
Fourth Stage thinking is cynical and pessimistic.
And ultimately useless.
I am not saying its best minds get everything wrong, or should be ridiculed. The institutions developed during Third Stage ascendancy are in a shambles. Fourth Stagers get this right, at least by implication.
Donald Trump, like it or not, is a Fourth Stage president. I know many reading this voted for Trump. Heck, I did, too. Better than Hillary was then my favorite line. But let’s step back, view the forest instead of the trees, and ponder what must happen for a somewhat edgy business tycoon turned Hollywood celebrity, who, never having held office before in his life, to seize the nomination of his party of choice, and then win against an elite-anointed insider.
And continue to frustrate his enemies because his command of social media (a Fourth Stage environment if ever there was one! ) is vastly superior to theirs.
Pseudo-pundits will ridicule Trump’s watching Fox & Friends or serving up tweet-storms. Maybe they should study him instead. He knows what he’s doing.
Trump won because in the eyes of enough voters, the political-economic mainstream in America had collapsed. Both parties. Many Democrats had no enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton. She basically stole the nomination from Bernie Sanders, after all.
And whatever one thinks of Trump’s performance, there is no alternative to him worth speaking of. No Republican Establishment insider is even trying, at least as of this writing. The Democrats, meanwhile, have moved leftward in tune with the insanity of an identity politics that supports the transgenders currently ruining women’s sports. At the moment there are over two dozen Democrat hopefuls. Most are embarrassing.
The Fourth Stage is the Stage not of adulthood and adult responsibilities, but of aging, infirmity, and perhaps dementia. This is why I call it useless.
If the Third Stage is dying — and it is — the Fourth Stage can’t replace it. Not without the roof eventually caving in, as we’ll find out when the latest economic bubble bursts.
Can we move forward? This is where things get interesting.
Could there be a Fifth Stage of civilization? Could some of us build up, for the first time, a stage fully conscious of itself, i.e., its thought leaders fully conscious of what they are doing? This would set it apart from the first four stages?
What will it look like? What problems will it have to solve? What promises does it make? Could it be done in time to avoid what might be the worst crash of all time?! Or will it have to wait until after the crash?
We presently face slews of problems, and they revolve around one thing I won’t identify here. Except that we will need some radically outside-the-box thinking and strategizing.
Are you ready?
[Concluding call-to-action: remember my call for donations. If no one donates, what that says is either that you aren’t interested in solutions or are not in the audience I am reaching out to. I will act accordingly.]
Steven Yates, PhD., has started Copywriting Solutions. He is the author of Four Cardinal Errors: Reasons for the Decline of the American Republic (2011). He lives in Santiago, Chile, with his wife Gisela and their cat Princesa. His next book What Should Philosophy Do? A Theory should be completed soon. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs at https://lostgenerationphilosopher.com.
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