THE ARCH CRUMBLES AT DAWN

AN INTELLECTUAL JOURNEY IN TWO PARTS

PART ONE

Copyright© 2013 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

For permissions & comments, contact the author via email < law@jaygaskill.com >.

 

By Jay B Gaskill, Attorney At Law

 

It was no accident that Marxism was erected on the edifice of economic, historical and social materialism.  And it was no accident that Marxism in all its forms has bulldozed the value of individual human dignity, the last bulwark against the dehumanization of humanity.

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The arch-materialist position is running on empty. The persuasive force of that view - that life, the universe and everything is all just stuff, in effect that you, me, and all our hopes and thoughts are nothing but matter and energy - has been groaning under the weight of the information age and the cumulative abuses of the materialists whenever they have achieved political power. 

 

Arch-materialism is not just a love of material things; it is the denial of the moral reality of everything else. In its most malignant form, materialism is a wrecking ball with the clear and present capacity to take down modern civilization.

Values are not just inclinations; they are the living channels of our moral awareness.  The single most harmful consequence of arch-materialism was the demotion of values to emotional states and of morality itself to an emotional construct, a plastic one that the authoritarians among us have molded to fit their ends.  Ideologies are theologies stripped of the universal moral underpinning.

 

For a thousand years, the morally aware among us have agreed on the core values that sustain civilized life, the prohibitions against stealing, cheating, oath-breaking, assault and murder.  The implications of this consensus are profound. When different human minds separately keep coming up with the same insights, principles and norms, the sense of discovery is a tell.  Discovery is not limited to physics and mathematics.  Discovery is not invention. The core moral principles are discovered, not just made up “by dead white men” or anyone else.

 

I propose that we have arrived at a new place in the development of thought, one in which we now accept that meaning is also a discovered property of reality, detectable only by conscious, intelligent minds (which also provides us with a pretty good working definition of living, conscious intelligence as the set of faculties of any living organism that detect meaning and significance).  The overly skeptical, arch materialist minds of the post enlightenment sophisticates among us are operating on borrowed skepticism and borrowed time. Their position on center stage is over.  But their naughty adult children, the ones who still tell our real children that “if it feels good, do it” are loose and active, much as the pathogens of a plague survive the rotting corpses that it has already killed.

 

The late Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (See footnote[1]), wrote about an impossibly powerful computer - “Deep Thought” - that was tasked by mice to discover the “secret of life the universe and everything”. After performing prodigious calculations over eons, Deep Thought finally came up with an answer: The number 42. (See footnote [2])

 

Adams was telling us the importance of asking the right question.  And Deep Thought’s answer was revelatory. The computer was “at 6’s and 7’s” because the question asked it was ultimately beyond the power of any algorithm or non-living thinking device to answer.

 

We need to break into the territory where the answers our questions about life the universe and everything are located. In other words, we need to break out of the intellectual trap of arch-materialist thinking; this is the conceit that absolutely everything in and out of our minds can be fully accounted for by material processes.

 

We humans are stuck at the fault line caused by our own release of acidic skepticism about two and a half centuries ago. The doubt acid was unleashed on the world (I tend to think of Pandora’s Box or the Sorcerer’s Apprentice) by well-meaning intellectuals bent on bringing down entire archaic and oppressive social institutions. When the well-meaning intellectuals unbottled the magic solvent, their main goal was to weaken the support systems of the royalist-clerical autocracy that these intellectuals despised.

 

Their strategy worked…and then some. An early success (the American Revolution) was followed by an epic cascade of unintended consequences. Once out of the bottle, the acid of comprehensive doubt began dissolving everything of value; the damage went well beyond the targeted institutions.  By the time the doubt virus had infected the modern and postmodern mind, churches were on the ropes, ethics itself was in disarray and the entire civil order was left defenseless.

 

Human nature so abhors a moral vacuum that something, no matter how repugnant, will always fill it. Without the firewall of faith-anchored morality, invented “scientific” doctrines swiftly gave rise to virulent mass movements.  Among them, Nazi race theory and Marxist human-nature transformation theory filled the moral vacuum with toxic ideologies.  These were faux scientific ideologies, deeply irrational to the core.  Marxism and Nazism acquired the patina of moral authority by default - the great acid flux of doubt had disabled or crippled everything else that we believed in.  

 

The entire skeptical project was founded in a false premise: the notion that the material realm holds all of reality’s secrets. But that very premise, the arch-materialist’s vision – that there exists nothing other than the physical-mechanical – was never deeply examined nor carefully questioned.  It generated a world view that was as fiercely held and doggedly defended as any fundamentalist religion. For a plurality of the dominant intellectuals in the academy, it is still the glorious paradigm of the current age…but not for much longer. 

 

Arch-materialism makes outrageous claims on its face, something akin to the lie that the naked emperor of the fable was clothed in splendorous raiment.  The notion that everything that is or can be is completely reducible to mere “stuff”, to matter and energy, and their processes and interactions, with nothing “left over”, leads to a series of absurdities in which, for example, Mozart’s Requiem can be fully and completely reduced to air pressure fluctuations that induce brain electro-chemical responses in some subjects.

 

The claims of arch materialism are bankrupt. There is no room in arch-materialism for the “I am” or the “I love” or for the “I ought”, except as you or I might arbitrarily decide. In the world of arch-materialism, our decisions themselves are a sort of ephemeral gloss on the biochemical, bioelectrical fluctuations that we “really” are, and our very consciousness, the sense of being, is a mirage.

 

This was the single greatest fraud perpetrated on the human family of all time.

 

More and more of the intelligentsia are coming to their senses; one by one, they are returning to the older, more balanced and more integrated wisdom traditions.  As these newly awakened minds recover from the spell of arch-materialism, a realization dawns:  The mechanistic part of reality, the subject of the physical sciences of measurement and prediction, is just that, a part or phase of the greater scheme.  Meaning cannot be redacted from the picture.  Meaning is not a measurable property of physics, chemistry or the other physical disciplines; nor is it “just made up”. 

 

The recovery from the grip of arch-materialism is almost like waking up from a spell.

 

The Secrets of Life, the Universe and Everything can be unpacked only when we acknowledge the deep and enduring reality of ongoing creative emergence (See footnote [3]), the essential ontological link between the material and the not-material phases of reality, and the role of our own minds as the bridge state between these two. (See footnote [4]) The gifts moral intelligence and esthetically tuned awareness are among the cognitive tools that were issued our species.  Arch materialism has temporarily disabled us from using these tools to discover the nature of reality and the reality of nature.

 

If the esthetic is real (and it is), but cannot be captured in the narrow confines of comprehensive materialism; then so it goes for the ethical aspects of reality. And if the esthetic and ethical are real, then so is the spiritual. If meaning exists at all (and it does), then meaning, qua meaning, necessarily exists outside the confines of narrow materialism.  It follows that Reality naturally includes both the material realm of energy, matter and space and the non-material realm of meaning.

 

Reality in its totality can neither be defined by nor limited by the material realm.  The lowly possum has a bifurcated brain, one in which the huge bandwidth connections between left and right hemispheres (that we smart humans take for granted) are missing.  You can show something to a possum’s left side without the right side “knowing” anything about it.

 

The artificial bifurcation between the material and spiritual, between the real of the measurable physical and that of un-measurable meaning is a mental disability.  It is as if we humans had decided to emulate the lowly possum.  We need to pursue a mutually correcting dialogue between the two.  For me, one insight opened up all the rest -- that the overall integration of reality is a primal fact, the a priori key to further knowledge about life, the universe and everything. We thinking, feeling beings are the interface between these two realms.  We are the venue of the meta-dialogic. There is an overall rational structure to our values that can be mapped.

 

For those of us who believe that acts of faith can be both reasonable and heuristic (See footnote  [5]), these recovered insights have truly infinite implications, among them: A universe that generates creatures that are capable of apprehending meaning and purpose; is a universe that has meaning and purpose.

 

To the blind followers of arch materialism, we can do worse than repeat the words of Hamlet - “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

 

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THE CRUMBLING ARCH at DAWN

PART TWO

Why pick on poor, old Marxism?

Feedback from my recent article, The Arch Crumbles at Dawn (where I predict the demise of arch-materialism), included a complaint because I singled out Marxism:  Please substitute the word capitalism for Marxism. Open your eyes and look at the damage.   …And, what has been the damage of Marxism as opposed to the current state of affairs, and the vampiristic, insatiable appetites of morphing capitalism?”

My article was about values and their Source.  Every social /economic model has its best and worst exemplars.  Communism, at its best, was a drawing room theory adopted by gentle idealists who supported the arts, the wars and wouldn't hurt a fly; at its worst, Communism was used to create a brutal authoritarian system in which millions were murdered and a productive country was impoverished and enslaved.   At its best, Capitalism honors the human dignity of one's trading partner and encourages creative innovation; at its worst Capitalism has been a cover story for organized crime,  and the crony capitalism of corrupt elites (really, organized crime by another name) who play ball with liberal and conservative politicians alike.  

How many times have you heard an intelligent person assert that "there is no such thing as morality," or "we determine our own morality" or "life is an accidental event" or "there is no purpose to any of this, just human will"?  These and a thousand other similar sentiments have their roots in philosophical materialism which is arch-materialism dressed up in skepticism.  My article was a fraction of the larger critique that includes Nazism and Islam.  That larger discussion was just touched on with this passage from my first piece –

"Human nature so abhors a moral vacuum that something, no matter how repugnant, will always fill it. Without the firewall of faith-anchored morality, invented “scientific” doctrines swiftly gave rise to virulent mass movements.  Among them, Nazi race theory and Marxist human-nature transformation theory filled the moral vacuum with toxic ideologies.  These were faux scientific ideologies, deeply irrational to the core.  Marxism and Nazism acquired the patina of moral authority by default - the great acid flux of doubt had disabled or crippled everything else that we believed in." 

Marxism was the God(less) Father of all the later forms of modern, “scientific” social reform experiments, from Nazism, Fabian Socialism to the Third World “revolutionary” regimes of Cuba and Venezuela, all of them authoritarian nightmares writ large and small. 

Until materialism (in the technical sense I’ve been using the term) took over the political arguments in the public square, the social reform proposals of the day were argued in the context of  well-established moral traditions.  Slavery, for example, was vanquished because of the moral confidence of the abolitionists who relied on a moral tradition, not by throwing over traditional morality itself as was the case of Marxism. 

Materialism was the ammunition of “weaponized doubt” (for more on this, see my essay posted at http://jaygaskill.com/WeaponizedDoubt.htm ). This was my term for the acidic skepticism that took down traditional institutions, both bad (royalism) and good (churches), until the playing field was open for truly revolutionary ideas, unconstrained by moral scruples.

Arch-materialism empowered “chemistry” to supersede morality (chemistry is a stand-in for arch-materialism). Dostoevsky said it first. In The Brothers Karamazov, his character, Mitya Karamazov, is in jail talking with his brother. Mitya says that he is “…sorry for God” because, ‘Your Reverence, you must move over a little, chemistry is coming!’” …and he adds, "How...is man to fare after that? Without God and a life to come? After all, that would mean that now all things are lawful, that one may do anything that one likes.”  

In that 1880 novel, Dostoevsky nailed the central problem of the modern and postmodern age: the notion that science has displaced God, deep tradition and universal humanism, shunting aside our most trusted sources of moral wisdom.  In this “modern” view, moral truth (if it exists at all) is best explained by anthropology...even chemistry. When Dostoevsky wrote the Brothers, a malignant alternative to traditional morality was gestating right down the street. It was God-hating, bloodthirsty Marxism, the ideology that would destroy Russia and bring the planet to the edge of nuclear winter.  Dostoevsky was a prophet. [6]

Arch-materialism granted permission for “science” to do anything without reference to the overarching moral order.  Arch-materialism necessarily supersedes morality, because without the non-material realm, morality does not exist except in our heads.

With that background, let me return to that much maligned system we now call capitalism, by posing a question. Which would you rather have: a world without Marxism or a world without capitalism? The Chinese will not abandon capitalism because they refuse to starve.  They will try control it (because they fear= it is an agent of regime change) and distort it (into a nationalized, semi-antonymous progress-engine) as long as possible. Russia is basically in the same place.

Karl Marx is credited with naming capitalism (in Das Kapital).  More than any other intellectual, Marx cleverly moved the focus away from free individuals engaging in commercial trade to the few, well connected players of the late 1900’s and early 20th century who were tightly allied with powerful politicians and were not above using political power to gain market control.  Many of these “capitalists” were given monopolies by the Crown or government.  This form of “capitalism” is called mercantilism, and it has more in common with China’s state-owned businesses than the realm of free markets and usually bankers. Pure capitalism, in the Milton Friedman sense, requires a political and economic system that abhors force and fraud, and effectively supports honesty in our dealings with each other.  That is why it is still comparatively rare.

Capitalism’s historical excesses are real.  They are the result of human nature.  We are flawed creatures with a predisposition to blatant greed, gross dishonesty, and we are all too eager to succumb to power lures.  The communists were no different.  All social systems must contend with these human tendencies, including the systems modeled on Marxist ideology.  But the authoritarian abuses of Marxism are inherent in its very conception and structure. Marxism is a model of economic governance that is founded on the morally unconstrained, “scientific” remaking of human society (and even human nature). Communism rested on the faux-scientific premise that fixing the very structure of private ownership (eventually abolishing it) will correct all the abuses in society.  Such a conception cannot by its very nature avoid authoritarian abuses so severe that they that should chill the hearts of liberals and conservatives alike. 

German National Socialism arose as the dark mirror image of its enemy, Russian Communism. Nazism was founded on an equally loony faux-science, the pernicious notion of a state-run eugenics program aimed at racial superiority - this in contrast with Marx’s scientifiic social engineering aimed at enforced equality. The socialist project in all its forms (whether Fascist, communist or communist-Lite) is the bastard child of Marxist materialism.

Our culture, indeed the whole modern Western social order, are deeply infected with arch-materialism and its spawn.  Mr. Romney’s 47% gaffe was an echo of Marx’s economic determinist materialism.  And the campaign’s laser-like focus on economic, i.e., narrowly material issues instead of values, was a concession to Karl Marx’s materialism. 

Look around you. We are expected by our dominant handlers to seek material things and the attendant status they seem to confer above all other considerations.  Values? Especially moral values rooted in religious and other traditions? Not so much.

The 2008-9 American mortgage debt collapse was sold by our elite opinion makers as mostly a financial malfunction, brought about by well-meaning people caught up in an imprudent bidding bubble.  As if getting something for nothing and getting rich quick without productive effort, as if tricking your fellow investors and nationalizing a Ponzi scheme were not symptoms of a profound moral failure!   

The mortgage/banking crisis of 2008-9 was a truly massive moral failure with catastrophic financial consequences for the innocent and guilty alike.  Our elite-run financial system was embarrassed and almost brought down by endemic dishonesty, self-deception and endemic breaches of trust. Many of the same elites have proposed fixing this mess by deflating the value of our obligations (which amounts to theft by stealth in my moral universe), and by treating miscreants and victims alike (the very definition of injustice).

If we fully implement their proposals, another damaging moral failure is certain to follow.  The collapse of materialism and the resurgence of moral values are just in the early stages.  That is why I described this as dawn. When it takes place, our recovery will not be more than another bubble, unless it has a necessary moral component.  When dawn comes, it’s time to get up. We have a lot of work to do.

 

JBG

 

Jay B Gaskill

Attorney at Law

 

 

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[1] Adams whimsically described the series as a “trilogy in five parts.”

[2] Deep Thought was a computer that was created by the pan-dimensional, hyper-intelligent race of beings that appear in our universe as mice. As to the answer 42, Adams (through a character) said, “I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you've never actually known what the question was.”

 

[3] Stay in touch with this concept.  Emergence represents the seemingly spontaneous appearance of order in otherwise less ordered systems.  Think of bird flocking behavior and the seeming self-assembly of the constituent molecules essential for living organisms. The phenomenon is well studied, but less comprehensively applied than it can be.  For example, conscious awareness can be understood as an emergent state of higher order in a neural system.  Creative leaps, whether in evolution or thought are examples of emergence.  Of course, much more remains to be said on the topic.

[4] In effect, the entire non-physical realm (thinking of the realm Plato’s forms as a stripped-down precursor) and the realm of physical processes can be understood as phases of the same encompassing reality (i.e., the share the same ontological status, much as matter and energy of solid and gas represent phase states of the same “stuff”.  This is very condensed version of a longer discussion by the author. 

[5] Heuristic systems are capable of learning from experience.  Similarly, the necessary faith-exercises  that enable us to rationally deal with the unseen, including the inferential and the partially known, allow us to detect important aspects of reality that arch-materialism conditions us to ignore. For example human trust always requires an exercise of faith. In this sense, arch-materialism is anti-heuristic; it even rejects the faith of scientists that the universe will be intelligible to human reason. The scientist/theologian John Polkinghorne (below) is excellent on this question.

[6] …And so was the poet Matthew Arnold, when he wrote, “The Sea of Faith/Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore/ Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled/ But now I only hear/ Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,/Retreating, to the breath/Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear/And naked shingles of the world.” From Dover Beach (1867). …And so was William butler Yeats: “Turning and turning in the widening gyre/The falcon cannot hear the falconer/ Things fall apart. the centre cannot hold/ Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,/The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/The ceremony of innocence is drowned;/The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.” The Second Coming (1919-20)