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Throughout this DIM narrative, my primary focus has been on the major foreign policy statements or “doctrines” of the presidents, which in my judgment are representative of their mode of foreign policy thinking and essential to their coordinate impact on the history of American foreign relations.

This study — if it can be called a “study,” since it is not nearly as penetrating as the research for a book on the subject would be — is limited further in its significance by the fact that it is entirely “longitudinal,” if I may introduce yet another neologism into the thesis. In other words, it is a highly delimited “length-wise” cut through the history of a single aspect of government (foreign policy). It does not propose to analyze the mode of any particular president as such. That kind of broad analysis across the breadth of a particular individual’s coordinates in history (which for a president, as a coordinate actor would include social policy and economic regulation, constitutional stance and relationship to the supreme court, conduct during elections and while in office, cabinet member selection and integration thereof, etc.) would be “latitudinal,” if you get my meaning. I do believe that the mode I’ve uncovered for each of the presidents’ foreign policy doctrines is actually representative of their personal mode, which the exception of the fact that based on everything I know about them, I would guess that the Ms — Truman, Eisenhower, JFK, and Johnson — are probably M and D mixtures (as suggested recently by “Steve D” in the blog comments) though not M-D mixed mode thinkers, as discussed in my last post on the subject.

(The concept of a “mixture” is very important, because it indicates the primacy of “D” in the thinker in question.  Only a D can “mix,” without integrating.  In a sense, this virtually guarantees that all the presidents in question are D1 thinkers overall.)

Reagan is the same way. Unlike Nixon and Kissinger and probably Ford (who are the exception up to this point as being strongly D, without significant M admixture) Reagan was a genuinely idealistic and ideological figure that appealed to Americans on that basis, not merely because of his charisma and charm, but because he expressed a version of Americanism that resonated with their own and invited them to implement it in a new way.

Reagan appealed to the capitalist or free market element of Americanism with his “Reaganomics,” and to the conservatism of his Republican faction with his “War on Drugs,” and to the Truman-Doctrine M thinkers in foreign policy, with his declaration of the Soviet Union being an “evil empire.”  This is probably a mixture of M and D, with D dominating overall.

With regard to foreign policy, Reagan is remembered for re-escalating the Cold War. After it was initiated by Truman and set up as an M conflict between “good” and “evil,” it was dis-integrated somewhat by Nixinger, who turned it into a board game and activated China and Latin America as moving pieces. A widely admired feature of this dis-integration was the essentially meaningless arms limitation treaties of the “détente” period, which D appeasement can be linked to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which was met by more (this time M2) appeasement by Carter. By 1980, Americans had had enough of this anti-American conduct. They wanted a president who would proudly stand up for America. Reagan was the best option on offer.

Reagan’s re-escalation of the Cold War, called the “Reagan Doctrine,” was designed to provide overt and covert aid to anti-communists world-wide, essentially: to re-misintegrate the Cold War!

So here we are moving along the M-D axis of thought.

Bush had his “axis of evil.” This one is mine.

I know many people view Reagan highly.  I do not.

Reagan is a strange case, because, in relation to what I discussed last time, his coordinate impact is quite high. Compared to Jimmy Carter, he is a significantly superior president. Thus, relative to the alternatives at the time, he represents a decent “rear guard” president, in defense of Americanism. Despite my positive assessment of him in this sense, I do not rate Reagan highly in absolute terms as a president. What can you do? There isn’t one that I do rate highly in that sense after Lincoln.

All one should need to falsify any positive view of Reagan in foreign policy terms is the following picture of ragheads in the most sacred chamber in the history of world governance.

Reagan hosts the barbarians, while George Washington looks on in shock.

This is sacrilege–if the word has any meaning

The Japanese have an interesting notion about “spiritual pollution” that applies to this sort of gathering. If Reagan had understood just how awful what he was doing was, he would have committed seppuku or shaved his head and lived out his days in a Buddhist monastery.

In light of the events of 9-11 and the subsequent “war on terror,” and the profound degradation of freedom that has come as a result, the essential roots of which are to be found in the Reagan Oval Office, Reagan comes close to being an unforgivably awful president.

(If I was more of a masochist, I would run a “worst picture in American foreign policy” contest. We would line up Kissinger and Mao shaking hands, FDR and the Saudi kind laughing it up, Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam, and a few others…but I don’t think any of them can beat this one.)

Reagan’s naivete about the Afghans verges on the non-modal, it is so pitiful. “To watch the courageous Afghan freedom fighters battle modern arsenals with simple hand-held weapons is an inspiration to those who love freedom,” he said. In what universe?! The world of the forms, I can only suppose, where Afghan “freedom fighters” are nominally grouped under the higher logical “form” of “freedom fighters” in general, thus completing an ineluctable Platonic connection of no actual worldly reference.

The people seated with Reagan in the Oval Office has no understanding whatsoever of freedom.  They viewed America as evil–and Reagan as a “devil.” They only wanted American weapons to murder Soviets. By empowering them, Reagan re-booted the M Cold War, but proactively using a Nixon style “Afghanization,” having “learned” from Vietnam.  He thereby significantly contributed to the rise of America’s next great enemy.

Because of his D-M mixture (or possibly mixed-mode) he couldn’t see it.

“We must not break faith with those who are risking their lives…on every continent, from Afghanistan to Nicaragua… to defy Soviet aggression and secure rights which have been ours from birth. Support for freedom fighters is self-defense.”

This is a classic M1 mis-integration. The basis of Reagan’s support for the Afghans was the common denominator of “anti-communism” and a link to this-worldly “self-defense.” While this might be a valid basis for a alliance (a foreign policy integration) with a country like Britain, it was not with Afghanistan, a hole in the ground if there ever was one, where no fundamental American interest could ever be supposed to exist–especially while the situation with Iran remained unresolved, which as a culturally dominant anti-American neighbor, would exercise great influence over the Afghan outcome.

Just a little understanding of the history of Afghanistan should have been sufficient to see this. Dubbed the “highway of conquest” by one historian, Afghanistan has been nothing but a graveyard for aggressive empires for its entire thousands-year-long history.  Soviet resources were being drained and their morale significantly undermined by their attempt to control it.  In light of this it might have been proper to send the Afghans weapons. But it was never proper to claim that they were “freedom fighters” or that the basis for supplying them with weapons was any commensurability with Americans’ love of freedom.  This mis-integration is what has led to American soldiers lives being egregiously wasted there.  While Islam and tribalism dominate Afghan culture–which America has now assured will be the case for still longer–Afghanistan will continue to be among the most anti-human wastelands in all the world.

Reagan’s coordinate good fortune was to be president when the Soviet Union was collapsing under the weight of its impossible attempt to keep up with the US, and when Gorbachev happened to be in the coordinate role of communist dis-integrator. This luck is not Reagan’s virtue. If anything, Bill Gates deserves the credit.  The guns or butter problem became impossible for the Russians, once the computer revolution took hold.  Thank you, Bill.

To my mind, Reagan is a good example of how Republicans have almost always been more damaging overall to America than Democrats.

When M2 or M-D dictatorship comes to America, it will almost certainly be at the hands of the Republicans, or some faction within the Republican M-D axis of thought.

[I'll be traveling and sorting out a lot of personal and business challenges over the next couple weeks, with the the start of the new HistoryAtOurHouse school year, and the launch of the inaugural LiteratureAtOurHouse program, joining Music and Science in the LearningAtOurHouse suite of products.  So this will be my last post on this theme for a while.  I'll be back.]

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Totally Awesome!

I have received a series of really amazing responses to my most recent post about the possibility of a D-M mode from David Hayes and “Steve D,” which are contained in the comments to the previous post on Carter and Obama.  I highly recommend reading what David and Steve have to say.  I really appreciate their contribution.

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In my last post about Carter and Obama, I made the following statement about Leonard Peikoff which, in retrospect, I don’t think is fair:

This is the kind of stuff that I think Leonard Peikoff, as the nearest person I can think of to a genius, just cannot look at. I think, literally, he does not know how bad it is, because he can’t bring himself to look. I think a lot of the older Objectivists are like this. They look around and say: oh well, I’ve only got a few years left, myself. I don’t need to worry about. It’s someone else’s problem.  I’ll just work on the stuff I like.

I do see this kind of thing in some Objectivist seniors, but not Peikoff.  What I think would be more correct to say is that Peikoff is so highly selective, so dedicated to his values with an intense focus that you don’t find in other humans, that he may literally not expose himself to certain concretes sufficiently to bring them under the modoscope.    (They just are not worthy of his attention.)

Peikoff has more passion for this world in his pinky finger than any “Objectivists” who still have fifty years left in them that I’ve encountered.  Truly, he is amazing.  Here is a recent podcast that he did that proves it.  (In it, he discusses how recent events, if factored into his DIM Hypothesis, would probably lead him to *compress* his timeline for an M2 takeover.  I agree.  Though I think it could be D-M.)

PEIKOFF.COM PODCAST: Is it moral for a person to expose secret government programs which violate citizens’ individual rights, even if this may harm strategies which the government states are essential to national security? In other words, what is your estimate of the NSA now?.

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Has there ever been a president less well equipped to deal with reality than Jimmy Carter, and thus a president more damaging in his role as president of the United States relative to the full context in which he occupied that office? I have my doubts.

Many pro-freedom Americans would say that Obama is the worst president in American history, and that may be true in absolute terms. But when I judge a president historically, I judge him in relation to the reasonable alternatives available at the time and relative to the social and geo-political context in which he acted. Thus when I look at Obama, I ask myself, “How bad is he–relative to the alternatives that were available? How much of a difference will it have made to have Obama in office? In my judgment, John McCain would have outwardly been quite different, but like Bush before him, he would have strongly expanded the power of the state as well, probably along different lines, but with regard to fiscal & monetary issues there would have been no essential difference, and with regard to the expansion of the financial-espionage complex, he would have been no better (probably worse) than Obama too. Maybe healthcare nationalization would be slower. Maybe Iran would have been confronted (which would definitely be one good thing), but overall, the outcome of a McCain presidency would not have been that different overall, and it certainly would not have forced the Republicans into some soul-searching about what they stand for (not that it matters) . And then there’s Mitt Romneycare. He would have been just as bad as Obama, if not worse, especially because everything he would have done would have been labeled “capitalism.”

Judging how damaging a president has been to America involves weighing the alternatives that were possible, leads me back to two of my top candidates for “worst president in American history:” Teddy Roosevelt and Jimmy Carter. Relative to Teddy Roosevelt, as a crucial example, how would William Jennings Bryan (the Democratic presidential nominee in 1900) have performed? To my mind, America was still in a kind of cultural ferment at the time, creating a context in which a president was in a position to be more of a leader and steerer of the culture, and where presidential doctrines in foreign policy, especially, could well have been decisive for generations, and thus hugely impactful on the trajectory of America through history. In light of this, the fact that Bryan was an anti-imperialist is very significant. It’s quite possible that as president he would have contributed to a series of impactful precedents in American conduct that would have radically altered the cultural path dependency of America at the time of World War I. There is no way to *know,* but at the turn of the last century, American culture was in flux, and smallish differences in conduct with regards to the Philippines, Cuba, Panama might have had a magnified significance in relation to America’s response to the a fundamentally *European* war, within a span of time during which hugely significant events were transpiring, causing massive long-term differences. Call it the William Jennings Bryan Butterfly effect.

And then there is 1976. However problematic a Ford/Dole administration (the Republican alternative at the time) would have been I am pretty confident that such an administration would have acted much more approximately correctly in response to the Iranian Revolution, and that the whole course of America’s Islamist Entanglement would have been radically different–for the better. Again, even a relatively minor difference would have yielded a magnified effect in the long run, given the circumstances.

The essence of this point is not the relative merits of the presidents. It is merely an “invitation to treat” the issue of what I call the “coordinate” impact of a president (and by extension, any person, institution, nation, etc.) given his identity relative to the reasonably viable alternatives. (Not–one must stress–relative to George Washington! There’s no point in torturing oneself too much with the whole “What would the other George do?” question. He ain’t around. Get used to it.) Given the historical “coordinates” of the presidents, how much did differences in their attributes–which conditioned their choices and actions (you know, the whole “entities act according to their identity thing”)–alter the timeline given the full historical context?

It is a highly abstract causal question, and given that history is dead, and thus there is no science of coordinate abstractions, let alone any modeling systems relating to such, like an Asimov-type “psychohistory,” I don’t have anything other than an educated guess.

Still, in am convinced that one major factor that doomed America to the seemingly impenetrable complexity of the Islamist Entanglement was Jimmy Carter’s woefully inefficacious otherworldly mode. By contrast, a D1 mode, such as Ford/Dole administration with the likes of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld in the administration might well have led to a powerful response to the Iranian situation, possibly even an abortion of the institutional rise of Islamism there.

What was Carter’s mode? Here is an elegant illustration, from an excerpt from the Playboy interview with Carter, from 1976:

“Because I’m just human and I’m tempted and Christ set some almost impossible standards for us. The Bible says, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Christ said, I tell you that anyone who looks on a woman with lust has in his heart already committed adultery. I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times….”

This by itself is pure “idealism,” in the true metaphysical sense of the term. For Carter, abstractions are real things. For him, to cheat in one’s “heart” is to cheat in a reality that is just as real–actually *more* real–than this one we live in.

How could such a sinner cast the first stone against Iran?

Obviously, he couldn’t, and didn’t.

I don’t have the stomach to recount the events of 1979 here. If you don’t know them, you better frickin’ get busy living–or get busy dying, as Andy Dufresne said in the Shawshank Redemption. You certainly will be doing one or the other based on your choice in the mater.

What I want to focus on with a modoscope is the so-called “Carter Doctrine,” enunciated in January of 1980, which for all the clouding verbiage surrounding it amounts to the following passage:

The region which is now threatened by Soviet troops in Afghanistan is of great strategic importance: It contains more than two-thirds of the world’s exportable oil…

This situation demands careful thought, steady nerves, and resolute action, not only for this year but for many years to come. It demands collective efforts to meet this new threat to security in the Persian Gulf and in Southwest Asia. It demands the participation of all those who rely on oil from the Middle East and who are concerned with global peace and stability. And it demands consultation and close cooperation with countries in the area which might be threatened.

Meeting this challenge will take national will, diplomatic and political wisdom, economic sacrifice, and, of course, military capability. We must call on the best that is in us to preserve the security of this crucial region.

Let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.

This is a modally inconclusive series of statements in and of itself, with some reference to vital American interests (pretend I), but it ultimately tilts to M2 abstractions: economic sacrifice, collective efforts, and global peace (as an abstraction, obviously, not a real possibility).

Even with regard to “America’s vital interests,” we see M2 peeking out from behind the curtain. Carter seems to be taking a stand. But considered in full context, it is appeasement because the reality behind the words “by any means necessary” is that Carter considers appeasement to be one–indeed the primary–means. Carter, as a true M2, tried to stop the Soviets by telling them that they can have Afghanistan for the price of the US not sending its team to the Olympics, as long as they don’t cause more trouble. Pretty please. (Appeasement in foreign policy, as in personal life, isn’t necessarily modal. It can just be religious in nature, if the person enacting it doesn’t have any philosophical mode. But when it is modal–and with presidents, it is–it is fundamentally M2 driven, because it is based on non-rational moral ideals, especially a conceptual commitment to the notion that the bad guys will not be bad guys, because turning the other cheek is miraculously superior to justice.)

Being quite confident in advance that Carter was M2, it wasn’t hard for me to find M2 in his “doctrine,” so I asked myself whether or not I wasn’t just suffering from a little confirmation bias, and I decided to try to disprove my view.   For the sake of a thought experiment, I did my best to see if I could read the Carter Doctrine as a D1 document, to see it as the mind of a “knowing skeptic” contending with the world by carving it up into a variety of ones in the many.

It didn’t work, but it led me to an interesting problem.

One thing that set off alarm bells was the D-looking “let me be clear” phraseology (for which Obama is notorious). When used by presidents over the past 40 years of D government, this catchphrase in all its variations, such as “make no mistake about it,” typically signals an oncoming soundbite that is meant to stand alone as a self-contained (and typically non-integratable) assertion to represent the nominal connotation of a presidential “discourse.” It is what the journalists are supposed to quote.

Here is a classic Obama-ism of that sort:

“Let me be clear: The United States strongly supports the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.”

That anyone can hear this and take it seriously is staggering to me. As if the Palestinians have ever demonstrated any basis for being remotely conceived of as being capable of participating in such a scheme. Abstract pronouncements like these by Obama are designed to provide the appearance of idealism while the speaker knows damn well that no such outcome can ever happen. This is the kind of stuff that makes so many people sure that Obama is just a liar. It just seems like he cavalierly says things that aren’t true.

While I don’t doubt that he is a liar, in that he consciously deceives the people that he cannot but look down upon as infantile mentalities for having elected him, I also think that Obama’s ability to make statements disconnected from all possible rational meaning is actually more of a psycho-epistemological psychosis. I think that Barack Obama in true Kantian fashion, quite literally does not know how to connect (high-level) concepts to reality, because he does not believe it is even possible.

I know it is hard to fathom, and I can understand anyone who refuses to cut Obama any slack, but I honestly think that he has such a profoundly irrational mode that he not only uses M-based mis-integrations (such as “self-determination” as a foreign policy absolute) as his primary mental file folders, but then he dis-integrates those!

This is something Leonard Peikoff never mentions in the DIM Hypothesis! A mixed mode involving both M and D!

To me this makes complete sense as a coordinate phenomenon in light of the trajectory of American foreign policy.

When Leonard Peikoff talks about mixed modes, he explains in his own words that modes are coordinate phenomena. To use more conventional lingo: modes evolve within a historical context. So, for example, you don’t get D1, until you have Newtonian I, and it is penetrated by Kantian D. D1 doesn’t exist as some kind of reified abstraction or Platonic essence. It is an emergent historical entity, which we identify by a process of abstraction.

So why doesn’t Peikoff discuss M penetrated by D?

It seems obvious to me. It was an objective coordinate judgment on his part! In other words, it just doesn’t seem to exist with sufficient cultural weight to matter.

DIM TrichotomyOr doesn’t it?

In fact, might this not be a very possible cultural outcome for America, and — I hate to say it — the worst possible one!

If we are in a D – M culture war, isn’t a D – M mixed mode cultural outcome possible?

Are there D – M syncretists out there now?

I actually think that that is what Obama is (and McCain and Romney too)! The abstract content of Obama’s thinking reeks M2 — thus he appears to be an idealist — but he is primarily a D intellectual.

So the result is dis-integrated mis-integrations–an almost unfathomably awful outcome to a rational mind.

Now, when you have a mixed mode, there is inevitably a hierarchy established between the two in the mind of the thinker. One mode sets up a kind of metaphysical terms of reference, and the other mode dominates the epistemological coping strategy. So, for instance, Enlightenment I says that this world is real, and Kantian D says, “Yes, but of course, we don’t really know anything about it, because we are conscious, so we have to keep our abstractions humble.”

In the same manner, which is what I see with Obama (and Jimmy Carter to a lesser extent) is that M2 sets up the metaphysical reference frame. Abstractions for them both are otherworldly. And then, because those abstractions bear no connection to reality, like presidential demi-urges, they must stuff them into this-worldly compartments according to the D mode.

The Soviets invaded Afghanistan? Oh, then, we won’t send our team to the Olympics!

I mean, truly, this is a classic! Worthy of Obama.

Notice that this is not M1.

Eisenhower was M1. Nasser wants the Suez Canal? Oh.   Here’s how we have to think of that:  the Soviets are dangerous and we have to contain them.  So we need to apply Truman’s M2 to a very real this-worldly security situation. Eisenhower didn’t say to Egypt:  You want to take over the canal? Well, we’re going ban publication of travel guides featuring the pyramids!  He definitely mis-integrated, but his screw-up had an I component, so it wasn’t a complete disaster.

By contrast, when an M-D mind encounters a cognitively challenging this-worldly situation, it just completely malfunctions.

Justice Roberts, is Obamacare unconstitutional? No, it’s a “tax”.

Wait. What?!

I mean, did you see that one coming? That’s D-M. It’s so messed up, you could not have imagined that kind of cognitive contortion.

Hey History Channel, what is history? Pawn stars and UFO hunters.

Wait. What?!

You get that history is about the past. Right? I mean, if you just dis-integrated it, by showing us disconnected episodes about the past like you used to, it would be boring, but it would at least be history. But UFO hunters? Are you out of your mind?!

(Yes.)

This is the kind of stuff that I think Leonard Peikoff, as the nearest person I can think of to a genius, just cannot look at. I think, literally, he does not know how bad it is, because he can’t bring himself to look. I think a lot of the older Objectivists are like this. They look around and say: oh well, I’ve only got a few years left, myself. I don’t need to worry about. It’s someone else’s problem.  I’ll just work on the stuff I like.

And who can blame them? Our modern culture is shit.  (I just chuckle to myself when I think of the image of Leonard Peikoff watching Wolverine.)

Anyways, to bring this unpleasantness to a close for now, I now have a standing order to be on the lookout for D-M. I am not certain that there is a coordinate basis for the “Other-worldly Compartmentalists” category to be added to DIM? And if there is, I don’t look forward to it on two fronts.

One. If there is a hole in DIM, and I insist upon it, I’m sure I won’t win any friends. (Not that anyone cares about whether DIM is “open ended” or not. Ain’t nobody going to be yelling at me for being some kind of small “d” dim-wit instead of a big “D” DIM-wit.)

And two. Who on Earth would care to rank the prospects of a D2, M2, or a D-M mixed-mode dictatorship?

You’re helically wrapped around an axis on an inclined plane either way.

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Wordle: History is Dead. Long Live History! -- The Top 50 Word Cloud

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Philosopher Dr. Diana Hsieh recently interviewed me about “History is Dead, Long Live History” on her live internet radio show, Philosophy in Action. You can listen to or download the podcast any time. You’ll find the podcast on the episode’s archive page, as well as below.

About the Interview:

Why is knowledge of history important? How have historians failed to teach it? What’s the proper approach? How can adults educate themselves about history?

Listen or Download:

Topics:

  • Diana’s experience with “A First History for Adults”
  • What history could and should be
  • History as practiced in ancient Greece: Herodotus and Thucydides
  • History as practiced in the Enlightenment, including the American Founding
  • History as practiced today, influenced by Ranke and Marx
  • The cultural effect of the death of history: historical illiteracy
  • The importance of selectivity
  • The danger of storytelling in history
  • The proper purpose of history
  • Three Is: instruction inspiration, insight
  • The relevance of the Great Depression to today
  • Teaching history to children
  • The goal of rehabilitating history for adults
  • Methods of teaching and learning history: selectivity and integration
  • “History is Dead, Long Live History”

Links:

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I wanted to let you all know that tonight I’ll be discussing the topic (and title of my forthcoming book) “History is dead.  Long live history!” on the podcast radio show “Philosophy in Action.”

Immediately, many of you will no doubt be turned off the idea of listening to the show, since the show’s host Diana Hsieh is notorious for having stirred up various controversies in Objectivism.  In my experience, “hell hath no fury” like an Objectivist hating an “objectivist” or “libertarian” or a “fan” of Ayn Rand.

For the record, I am myself a big “O” Objectivist.  I define Objectivism as “the philosophy of Ayn Rand,” and I take what I call a “strict constructionist” view of Objectivism.  I also hold that Ayn Rand is worthy of being grouped with Plato, Aristotle, and Immanuel Kant in the “big four” of the history of philosophy, and that within this group she is immeasurably the clearest and most rational thinker — and that includes Aristotle (“the Philosopher”).  Ayn Rand’s philosophy proper is one of my greatest values.

Where Diana Hsieh stands on the various aspects of Objectivism, in her assessment of Leonard Peikoff or controversies surrounding him, or anything else for that matter, does not concern me.

If I had a chance to be interviewed by Bill O’Reilly, or especially John Stewart, I would take it.  Piers Morgan I could not stomach.  He is pure evil.  But Christiane Amanpour, sure!

What I’m saying is this:

My mission is to promote historical literacy.  I consider this mission to be wider than Objectivism.   Much to my dismay, I have been learning that historical illiteracy is not only widespread in the Objectivist community, but accepted, and that history is typically viewed with disdain by many intellectuals.

I happen to be an Objectivist philosopher-historian.  I do not think this is an aberration, however rare the breed is. I think it is a crucial, distinct philosophical category, and I’m proud to say that the only other practitioner of this art that I know of is: Leonard Peikoff.

I also happen to be an educator.  I am fundamentally interested in one question: how to make a historically-minded culture.  From that perspective, interacting with every single segment of the population is crucial.  I’m not interested in “preaching to the choir,” so to speak.  I’m interested in communicating to the world.

If you’d like to know why I think history is dead, what I mean by that, and why I think it is so important an issue that I have dedicated my life to it…then maybe you should tune in.  It would not constitute a “sanction” of anything, other than your own quest for knowledge.

This episode of internet radio airs at 6 pm PT / 7 MT / 8 CT / 9 ET on Wednesday, 17 July 2013, in the live studio. If you miss that live broadcast, you can listen to the podcast later.

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How’s your objectivity today?

Let’s do a little check-up.

If America continued to accumulate 1-1.5 Trillion deficits, and as “unfunded liabilities” accumulated, it went bankrupt in the next ten years, would that lead to positive changes, or negative ones, in America’s form of government and in the culture at large?

Would it be an opportunity for a strong, articulate “balanced budget” or “constitutionalist” faction to sway political leaders towards genuine reform, and to make a public argument for a new better way of doing things?

Or would it be a crisis that would lead to an entrenchment of the “aristocracy of pull” in a new, complex scheme, which the populace, numbed by a collaborationist disintegrated journalist profession would be unable to decipher, and thus succumb to?

Or perhaps neither, something different?

No matter.  Take a few minutes, say just five minutes — you know, not long — to think about it, and justify your own answer to yourself.  Preferably, write it down.  Use a timer so as not to spend to long on it.  (I did.)

Then come back, and keep reading.  (Don’t go on just yet.  Take five minutes, and then come back.)

…So what did you think/write?

I’m not particularly interested in whether or not you take an optimistic, pessimistic, or neutral view.   The outcome is not really the issue.

What I would invite you to look at is the basis of your view, and especially the method you used to approach the question.

…Here’s what my subconscious came back with, when I posed the question of myself:

  • Is bankruptcy really possible?
  • What happens when countries go bankrupt?
  • When do countries go bankrupt, and how?
  • What typically results?  What are exceptions, if any?
  • What explains the range and variety (assuming there is one) of outcomes, and what would be relevant to any such situation unfolding today?
  • What would be the fundamental similarities between the current case and previous ones?
  • What are aspects of the present context that might differentiate the present moment from previous ones?

Then, my mind started to plot out a few initial answers:

  • America is in a historically unprecedented position.
  • It has the world’s reserve currency (that by itself is *not* unprecedented, there have been many cases of that, including imperial Spain and before the US, Great Britain)  so that has to be a factor, when currency is combined with a geo-political reality that America is far more militarily powerful that the rest of the world combined. So if America experiences an economic crisis, an important question is: how do the economic variables interrelate with other variables, to shape the context in which Americans would respond to the crisis.

Then my mind leaped to that external context, with other thoughts and questions:

  • Japan will go bankrupt first.  What effect will this have?
  • What is China doing, and where is China going?  We know they are accumulating gold reserves at a frantic pace.
  • Can Russia and China really work together, when push comes to shove?

Then:

  • To the essential point: What is the state of American political culture? The DIM Hypothesis indicates either continued DIS-integration, or repudiation  of the “D” framework, and an economic crisis as a “trigger” for M2 takeover. This is the heart of the question, because the issue is: how will *Americans* respond, i.e. by what method of thinking will they even approach the issues before them.  I do not see any basis for an “I” method to have a significant place at the table.   Even if there are some better elements in the mix, they will, at best, be undermined by modal inconsistencies.

So that’s what I came up with in five minutes.
As you know, if you’ve been reading my recent pieces, I take a negative view.  But, when I put the question to my subconscious, the first thing that started to happen was that my subconscious responded with a series of relevant questions that it expects to bring to bear.

That may seem strange. I asked my mind for answers, and it came back with questions.

Not only questions, of course, it started to flow towards filling in the picture. -So the first thing that happened, was my (subconscious) mind insisted on clarifying what is involved, by  signalling my conscious self that to answer such a question requires answering a host of related  questions. Then it started to provide my conscious mind with a series of contextual issues to start setting up the context for a proper consideration of the outcome: world’s reserve currency, military power, Japan, China, DIM…

That would have been just the start.  I had to stop at five minutes.

So what did your mind tell you?

Did you immediately state the answer to yourself and start justifying it?

Did you even have the guts to take this objectivity pop quiz, or were you afraid?  Are you in a position of having to admit to yourself that you would not have a clue how to answer such a question?

That, at least would be a sign of intellectual honesty.  Although, I certainly would not call it objectivity, if you haven’t even bothered to define a view and a justification for it, given the obviously negative trends in society today.  Your life is at stake.   What do you spend your time thinking about?!

If you did have a strong answer to the question I posed, let me ask you something else: did it include a factorization of:

  • an awareness of America’s world’s reserve currency status, and what that means, and how that is evolving?
  • a thought about military power and how it relates to economic questions, say in relation to how Britain, the world’s most recent superpower before America lost its reserve currency status to the US as it went bankrupt from the world wars?
  • a thought about how the current debt crises in Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, and Japan are unfolding both in sequence and in parallel to each other, and how central banks and the people are responding?
  • a thought about China’s massive dollar holdings, and the nature of the US-China trade relationship?

I know that none of these things directly relates to the question.  But they form the context.
The context of any particular issue is “the sum of cognitive items conditioning” it in your thinking–in this case, conditioning your personal outlook or prediction, i.e. a claim to knowledge.

So how’s your context today?

A rich pageantry of historical precedents and logically interconnected concretes culminating in a nice fully parametrized causal perspective on the world today and where it is going?

Predicting the future of America is not a deduction from Objectivist principles.  It’s an induction from historical examples,  and a historical awareness of the present, philosophically integrated.

So how’s your objectivity today?

Isn’t it time you made historical literacy a part of your intellectual life?

Of course, the question is: how?

Answer:  Stay tuned!  ;-)

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Hey, Scott, are you one of those “doom and gloomers”?

Absolutely not.

I’m not sure if I can relate this to anyone that does not know history, but I will try.

Let’s start with philosophy first.

Ayn Rand identified a psychological trait of individuals that she called a “sense of life.” This she defined specifically as a “pre-conceptual equivalent of a metaphysics.” The two main archetypes of this “sense,” she termed “benevolent” and “malevolent.”

Here is one of her more elegant passages describing the “benevolent universe premise:”

“There is a fundamental conviction which some people never acquire, some hold only in their youth, and a few hold to the end of their days-the conviction that ideas matter . . . . That ideas matter means that knowledge matters, that truth matters, that one’s mind matters . . .”

Notice that the benevolent universe premise does not mean “all is for the best, in this the best of all possible worlds.”

Benevolence (as a metaphysical conviction) means that you believe in human efficacy in this world, you believe that the human mind is capable of understanding reality, and you live your life with an expectation that you can understand the world, and successfully make your way through it.

I have always held this premise.

That’s why I have a negative outlook today.

How is that possible? How do I combine a positive metaphysics and a pessimism about history without contradiction?

What does the “benevolent universe premise” have to say about the final destruction of Carthage by Rome? The Fall of the Roman Empire? The Crusades? The Spanish Inquisition? The “terror” of the French Revolution? The Maoist Cultural Revolution? The Nazi Holocaust? Or 9-11?

Basically, nothing.  The benevolent universe premise is not a means of cognition.  It is an emotional stance.  Still, negative events and periods in history can serve as psychologically significant metaphysical data, and for me they definitely do, including for instance the manner in which all the above negatives contribute to my grasp of the following truth about human nature: if and when human beings succumb to such profound evil, it is because they have forsaken their rational nature. Obviously, when Islamic fundamentalists flew planes into the World Trade Center, the irrationality of their beliefs was the fundamental driving factor. Obviously, when the Crusaders of Christendom cried out “God Wills It!” (i.e. God wills the mass murder of men by men) they were irrational. When man refuses to be man, he cannot possibly flourish.

Are we there? Is that what I’m saying about America today?

Not quite. There are so many wonderful things to say about America, still.  But you know that the people who want George Zimmerman strung up care not for the truth. And you know that the 47.5 million Americans who expect government food stamps care not to live life as men (certainly insofar as they are what Ayn Rand called “moochers,” they refuse to practice the cardinal human virtue of productivity). And you know that every advance by government power into a realm it doesn’t belong is fundamentally driven by the same irrationality. No one in their right mind can look at free industries, such as computing, and regulated industries like banking, and conclude that more regulation is good — ever. And yet regulation grows unchecked. The health care industry is just the latest victim. There are powerful cultural forces driving history forward.

And those forces are almost without fail unidirectional — in the wrong direction.

Is that “doom and gloom”?

As the French Revolution started to get out of control, would you have been among those to sling mud at Lafayette for leaving France? Would you have said he was a “doom and gloomer”? When Aristotle left Athens, saying “I will not allow the Athenians to sin twice against philosophy,” would you have mocked him?  (He was referring of course, to the previous murder of Socrates by Athenian democracy.)  Was Ayn Rand a “doom and gloomer” for writing Atlas Shrugged, which depicts the collapse of America?

I must admit that I find the response of some people to historically contextual pessimism to be disappointing, verging on frightening.

Oh, you’re one of those,” someone might say.

In other words: I can just dismiss what you’ve said, because your pessimistic, and that instantly discredits you.  I can now safely tuck you away in that category in the back of my mind that includes those tin foil hat folks on TV.

Such a person won’t bother to ask me what I think of the Athenian Golden Age, the Renaissance, the American Revolution, or the Industrial Revolution – the kinds of periods in history which inspire me, and which I celebrate with great passion with my students. All such a person wants is to deny that we are living through the obverse today.

This kind of refusal to look at facts is precisely why I am pessimistic. Ayn Rand identified that too.  It’s called evasion. And it is widespread.

Even prominent Objectivist intellectuals succumb to it. I’ve had it strongly put to me that anyone who is pessimistic is “nuts.”

I hope so. I hope that having studied all of human history, and integrated that sum into a unified whole of knowledge, complete with Objectivist epistemology and the DIM Hypothesis, that the whole thing has not actually helped me to understand the world, but rather, that it has made me “nuts.”

If I’m “nuts,” then everything will be OK, I guess.

Or maybe, somehow, magically, everyone will repent socialism and superstition when the economy grinds to a halt, because they’ll be thinking about the issues so clearly.  Yeah, that’s where we’re headed!  (It’s not impossible that there will be certain positive outcomes in certain delimited domains, but no one who understands what a dominant cultural “mode” is can possibly think that there will be a general, or even majoritarily positive trend in the culture any time soon.)

I know I can’t reach everyone.  It’s amazing how many of my clients will happily imbibe some of what I produce without ever wanting to know what makes that possible, as if it is some ineffable charismatic quality.  My long and constant study of my fellow men, over all of history, and here and now, leads me to understand full well that I cannot reach very many people at all. That’s not me being malevolent. I know what it takes to understand history and what that understanding of history permits. On a regular basis I encounter people who don’t know history, and are somehow content to dismiss it, without knowing — and indeed, refusing to know.

What can one do?

Whatever one can.

I will do my best to promote historical literacy to those who want it. That’s all I can do.

In the coming weeks, I will be making every single one of my products available for free.

Every course has a price, but every single one will also have a “free rider” option from now on.

If you want to take advantage of it, go ahead.  If you benefit from my work, and it helps you to bring the world around you into focus, then I’ll appreciate anything in return that you think justice enjoins — such as a post hoc full price donation.  It’s on you to decide.

I wish you all the best in understanding the world you live in.

The harder you work at, the more positive the outcome will be for you.

Don’t worry about being called a “doom and gloomer”.

The antidote to that malevolence is simple: “Knowledge is power.”

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Having taught history for over ten years now for students from age 6 to 66, I’ve reached a unique vantage point from which to observe and assess the culture.  The news is not good, so I’ve decided to accelerate my efforts to help people prepare for the coming future.In order to achieve a synoptic view of the present-day, I’ve studied and taught Ancient, European, (North and Latin) American, Islamic, Indian, Japanese, and Chinese history to Objectivist adults via the “First History for Adults” program and homeschool students via History At Our House. The outcome of this study has been a keen appreciation of just where we stand in relation to multiple interrelated threads, most essentially: the trajectory of American government and the ongoing disintegration of the modern monetary system.This perspective recently received an injection of an incredibly vital insight through the amazing work of Leonard Peikoff in the DIM Hypothesis, which has served as a kind of capstone to my own understanding.  Based on my entire career of historical research and understanding of Objectivism, I am ready to pronounce my agreement with the hypothesis:

“RELIGIOUS TOTALITARIANISM in America — that is my prediction.”
–Leonard Peikoff

I think when most people read this line of the book, or hear about it, they think of it as something that might happen — at some point in the future — but that is is only a possible outcome which is not really connected to their lives and values now, and thus not really relevant to their immediate choices and actions.

It’s something to think about later.

Religious totalitarianism in, say, two generations — maybe?  Plenty of time to enjoy whatever freedom we have left in the mean time then.  Right?

No.  Sorry.   Absolutely not.

The key to avoiding this trap is to understand how history unfolds.   A rationalist interpretation of DIM would be some kind of mental leap from where we are now to some distant Peikoff-defined M2 totalitarian cultural “mode” (as Peikoff calls it), without considering the path from one to the other.  What we have to grasp to avoid that kind of dangerous interpretation is that an “M2″ totalitarian dictatorship will be outcome of a chain of historical events that we will be living through, and they won’t be pleasant.

I anticipate, for instance, that an extended economic crisis, already underway since 2007, but entering into a new stage by the collapse of the Japanese (or Italian or French–pick any one of the bigger economies) economy this year, will generate a set — not a single one, but a set — of economic and geo-political triggers for modal change.  (The truth is NOBODY can predict the specific path that any particular economy will follow, never mind the global economy, over the next few years, except to say, it will be volatile, and inevitably downhill.  My guess is that Japan’s debt bomb goes off first, but better informed experts have been wrong about such things.)

The response to the crisis — whatever specific form it takes — will be governed by the current “D1″ (modal) framework of thought in American (and other) governments — and it will fail.

What this means is: governments will tighten controls on our lives piecemeal, as per capital controls, Smoot-Hawley type nationalist legislation (if not in America, certainly in France and elsewhere), and by printing hallucinating amounts of new fiat money to try to cover up what Austrian economics incontrovertibly tells us is an inevitable ongoing global deflation.

There won’t be a grand theory behind it.  “D1″s don’t work that way.  Think about how the Obama administration has responded to the Egyptian “Revolution.”  That is how it will respond to the end game of debt-based money.

One has to be clear, however, that this will mean an accelerated loss of freedom — in small, digestible stages.  The move from where we are now to full M2 dictatorship will involve little changes that people will be able to tolerate in isolation.  Each step will be weighed in the moment only, and found tolerable in itself.  Each step will condition those who acquiesce to it to be ready to accept the next one.  Until they are living in a dictatorship.

This has happened before.  The most tragic example of this kind of “boiling frog” scenario was the lead up to the Holocaust.   It is captured by a famous passage attributed to Pastor Niemoller about his own intellectual incapacity to deal with the history he was living through:

    First they came for the communists,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
    Then they came for the socialists,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.
    Then they came for the trade unionists,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
    Then they came for me,
    and there was no one left to speak for me.

The American story will go something like this…

    First they persecuted big businesses for their tax avoidance,
    and I didn’t speak out because I never avoided taxes
    Then they raided public pensions to pay municipal bonds
    and I didn’t speak out because I didn’t have a public pension
    Then they made cash transactions illegal above $1000.
    and I didn’t speak out because I liked using my debit card
    Then they started rounding up illegal immigrants, Mexicans and Arabs,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t an illegal immigrant
    They they came for me…

In the wake of the Boston bombing, Americans will get used to not carrying backpacks to public events.  It will be prohibited, as for the recent Miami Heat victory parade.  But it will seem sensible.   We already know how to take off our shoes when we get on a plane.  We don’t like it, but we do it, and we’re used to it now.  It has become “normal.”

After the next attack in some public setting, the TSA will start checking our bags as we board the subway.   We won’t like it at first, but then it will become “normal,” along with highway checkpoints, which have been showing up for quite some time, and only conspiracy nuts are complaining about.  Each step will be small.  That’s how the D mode operates as a cultural conditioner, as it lays the groundwork for M2 dictatorship.

And then, at some specifically unforeseen moment, it will be too late for Americans and their children.   Like millions of Jews caught in Germany and Poland, the normalcy bias will have numbed them to the gradual change.  And they will find themselves inside of an M2 dictatorship.

And so will you, unless you are equipped to avoid this fate.

It won’t be easy.  Based on my assessment of the culture, and even of the Objectivist sub-culture, I think that very few will actually avoid the worst.  History’s big changes have always been events that just seem to happen to people who don’t understand how they got caught in the middle of them.

But you can understand history!  It is possible, if you drag yourself out of that sense of normalcy that is numbing you to the decline of America, and take charge of your own personal trajectory through history.

You can generate one of two crucial outcomes:  either 1) the society around you collapses, and you find a way to insulate yourself, or simply to get out, thus avoiding the worst, or 2) you can actually help to shape the culture towards an alternate outcome.

Isn’t either of these two immeasurably better than just being another one of history’s anonymous victims?

I know.  It’s summertime.  There are beaches and barbecues to enjoy.    Pretty soon football season will be upon us.   Unfortunately, so will the war to implement Obamacare.

Yup, history is happening.   Life here and now absolutely has to have two aspects:  enjoy what you’ve got, and prepare.

The latter has to be a ruthlessly intellectual process.  It has to be a quest to truly understand the world around us, bring it into focus, such that we have an actionable, forward-looking framework of philosophical and historical guidance to optimize how we define our values and take the steps necessary to mitigate what history is going to do to us.

If you are ready to take charge of your trajectory through history, stay tuned to Powell History.

My goal as a historian is to make the means available to you, and I have many new products — including FREE ones! — in the works for the coming year.

If you can take advantage of these, then you can at least achieve a personally optimal historical outcome over the years to come.  That advocates of reason and rights can affect a culture-level change is, tragically, very unlikely.  Again, I agree with Leonard Peikoff on this.  We’re just too far gone and the society at large is just too unreceptive to good ideas.

That’s not a reason to give up.  That’s a reason to fight harder.  And to prepare oneself.

I know nobody wants to think about this stuff.  It’s complex and depressing.  The key is to understand that there IS a path for each of us to get through history as safe and as happy as possible, and to begin taking steps ourselves in the right direction, as history proceeds along its steps in the other.  People have done it before, and we can do it too.

Sincerely,

Scott Powell
Creator and Teacher, A First History for Adults and HistoryAtOurHouse

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