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Archive for July, 2013

So we begin our DIM history of foreign policy with the Truman Doctrine.  Not the latest statement of foreign policy to be sure, but close enough to the present to still be highly relevant.  And a clear exemplar of a DIM mode.  Of course, the question is: which one?

“The United States has received from the Greek Government an urgent appeal for financial and economic assistance,” which assistance is imperative for the survival of Greece as a free nation, Truman says, beginning his famous appeal.

A fact is thereby submitted for consideration in American foreign policy thinking.  What does one do with such facts?  Does one begin to integrate a particular case into a framework of national security, in order to understand its implications in relation to American self-interest?  That certainly would be  an “I” approach.  However, after elaborating upon the details of the case, Truman turns to HIS thesis, which asserts another standard: the lofty abstraction of “self-determination.”

“Greece must have assistance if it is to become a self-supporting and self-respecting democracy.”

Why must the US provide that assistance?

Because others cannot, says Truman.

Yes, but why does Greece’s situation demand American action?  Does the fact that others cannot act constitute an obligation for America?  Isn’t the question one of how the problem relates to American national security or to crucial related values, such as the need to support a genuine ally?  Is Greece even such an ally?

Sensing that such a mode of thinking might assert itself in a polemical response to his message, Truman  works to redirect his audience to a different approach.  The Greek government is imperfect, he acknowledges,  but imperfection is not a practical problem; it is a moral problem reflecting our human predicament in the material world; it must be met by tolerance. Looking for clear answers with regard to people and nations is a failure to accept the truth of our flawed earthly existence.

Not wanting to linger too long at this uncomfortable juncture, Truman quickly switches to Turkey, whose case he intends to ally to the Greek case, as a neighboring country whose “independent and economically sound state is clearly no less important to the freedom-loving peoples of the world than the future of Greece.”

Important to whom?

To the “freedom loving peoples of the world,” says Truman,

Does that even really include the Turks?

Important for what?

Isn’t the real issue the containment of the Soviets by preventing them from having easy access to the Mediterranean?

The significance of Turkey to the world certainly could not be considered self-evident–unless one treats abstractions like “self-determination” as disconnected from reality–possessing a clarity akin to self-evidency qua abstractions, which one can embrace with a logical purity that is only possible with abstractions unfettered by practical considerations.

Evidently, Truman thinks this way.  No justification of abstractions is needed.  Abstractions are his justification.  Based on the abstract standard of “self-determination,” he may simply assert: “Turkey now needs our support.”

To anyone not accustomed to such a mode of thinking, Truman must, however, explain how the two cases of Greece & Turkey are united under one abstract heading.  To anyone uninitiated in the ways of an otherworldly mode of thinking, Greece & Turkey likely still appear as two separate existents–not units under a concept.

Truman’s first stage of elucidation consists of asserting that Turkey “is essential to the preservation of order in the Middle East.”

Now grounded minds can begin to climb towards the light.  The justification for aid to a single country is not to be understood as merely a compartmentalized single case. It is an instance of broader policy, which is the stabilization of a region.  So the less abstract goal of Turkish stability is integrated to the more abstract goal of regional stability.

“I am fully aware of the broad implications involved if the United States extends assistance to Greece and Turkey, and I shall discuss these implications with you at this time.”

“Broad implications,” of course, signify the wider meaning of a particular case — its connection to a context, into which the mind expects it to be integrated.

“One of the primary objectives of the foreign policy of the United States is the creation of conditions in which we and other nations will be able to work out a way of life free from coercion…”

So the abstract framework of a Greece and Turkey policy is not merely regional stability, but the even more abstract aim of “self-determination” for all.  If one can climb from the particulars up through the hierarchy of abstractions to this higher truth, one can see why helping others is the right thing to do, thinks Truman.

Of course, ideals do not realize themselves.  In this world, we must be “willing to help free peoples” determine their own fate.  Supporting the formation of the United Nations is one way, he believes, but that kind of idealism cannot always produce practical results in the resistant framework that is the this-worldly international system.

Greece and Turkey need down-to-earth, gritty, material help.  Why should we help them?  Because we support self-determination.  Why do we do that?  Because aggressors who harm self-determination thereby undermine “international peace,” which is the broadest, most abstract objective. And that hurts the security of the United States too.

Does it?  To conduct a careful analysis of this assertion would prove quite challenging. For instance, the aggression of France against Mexico in the 1860s, which was neighboring the United States, did not really threaten American national security–even when the US was in the middle of its own Civil War!   The truth is that France was overextended, and Mexico was inwardly focused. The war between Britain and Napoleon in 1812, by contrast, did involve threats to the rights of Americans.  That would be a good counterexample.  What about the British aggression against Afghanistan in 1839-42, or the parallel aggression of Britain against China in the First Opium War.  These do not seem to have hurt America any.  Don’t we need to look at the broader context to make a determination about whether or not American interests are indeed involved in any particular act of aggression, where the context would include who the aggressor is, against whom they are acting, and why?  A distant perturbation of the international order is not by itself a threat to America.  The Founders for their part were inclined to use a straightforward geographical line of demarcation in thinking about these things. They said that the Americas were our key security sphere.  But even that was a generality, to be applied contextually.  Did anyone in America lose sleep over the Brazil-Paraguay War?  One might concede the possibility of a distant conflict having a national security implication for America, but one certainly could not assume it, just because “international peace” is disturbed.

Of course, this kind of analysis — a welding of facts in their context, within a framework of thought dictated by a true national security standard — was not on Truman’s mind.

The truth is Truman merely mentioned national security, because he had to.  Not that he was against America, unlike a certain president one can think of.  He just didn’t view it as an abstract primary.  Of course, you can’t make a foreign policy statement on this Earth without some token statement of self-interest.

But with the brief mention of America’s self-interest disposed of, Truman moves to his true purpose.

“I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.

I believe that we must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way.”

Self-determination again.  Truman’s true guiding star.

The issue of Greece’s self-determination connects to the issue of Turkey’s self-determination, connects to the challenge of “disorder… throughout the Middle East”–and the demoralizing effect such problems would yield in Europe as well!  Ever the integrator, Truman seeks to show how his  vision subsumes as wide a sphere of impact as possible. “Should we fail to aid Greece and Turkey in this fateful hour, the effect will be far reaching to the West as well as to the East.”

As Truman concludes:

“The free peoples of the world look to us for support in maintaining their freedoms.
If we falter in our leadership, we may endanger the peace of the world — and we shall surely endanger the welfare of our own nation.”

Applying a modoscope to this restatement, we see the precise form of integration Truman proposes.  The particular case must be understood by reference to an abstraction: self-determination, which itself is but a component abstraction of the broader, purer ideal of “the peace of the world” from which sublime height of consideration we descend to observe even America’s own welfare subsumed and given new meaning.  Not merely a welfare defined by a crass “selfish” calculation.  A welfare that derives from a high ideal of “world peace,” as the glowing “form of the good” illuminating the welfare of all, commanding the enlightened sacrifice of Americans to the needs of others.

The Truman Doctrine.  An American M2 foreign policy.

Not the first, mind you.  And, if Leonard Peikoff is right, not the last.

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In his book, The DIM Hypothesis, philosopher-historian Leonard Peikoff states that America has essentially embodied two modes in its cultural history.

America started as an “I” (Integrated) culture, as embodied by the Aristotelian-Newtonian outlook of the Founding Fathers.

Then, over some period not explicitly defined by Peikoff, in a development he did not deem it necessary to elaborate upon, it gradually shifted from its “I” mode into the “D” (Dis-integrated) mode unleashed by Immanual Kant upon the world, and embodied in the thinking of American philosophers John Dewey and William James, among others.

From a DIM Perspective, Peikoff seems to be saying, the key is thus the “big picture” that shows that America was “I” and then switched to “D.” And, drawing upon his analysis of modal transitions and the evolving state of American culture, he now anticipates a shift to M2–the crucial aspect of which will be religious totalitarianism in politics.

Although my own professional studies of history corroborate Peikoff’s overall analysis, and I thus do anticipate the daunting outcome of religious fascism in America, I have been drawn into a more intensive analysis of cultural modes, in American history in particular, in order to map with a greater precision what modes have been active in American culture over time, how they have interacted, and what the consequences are for us here and now, as our “culture war” unfolds, and those of us who are willing and able try to defend and promote the “I” mode.

As I undertook my analysis, it became evident that modes exist in a continual interrelated flux. That is to say: every available mode is always accepted and promoted by some group in society at all times. Since the rise of Immanuel Kant’s philosophy, that has meant that every Western culture has been an admixture of “I” (Aristotelian), “M2” (Platonic or Marxist), “M1” (Cartesian), “D2” (Kantian) and “D1” (Utilitarian) modes of thought, with each mode at times ascendant in certain areas, dominating particular institutions, with its practitioners attempting to reclaim overall primacy.

Among the many questions this raises in my mind is: How does the advocacy of a mode in a particular area by a certain proponent interact with its complex modal milieu in “parallel” (as it impacts other institutions), and in “series” as it shapes the trajectory of that particular domain, and in the aggregate in shaping the overall modal trajectory of a culture?

This personally matters to me a great deal, as an “I” advocate in history and education. One thing I would like to know is: how much of an impact can I have? And how? And what obstacles will I face? How does one mode penetrate and defeat another in any specific domain, such as mine? As I watch advocates of reason try to defend “I” positions in a variety of areas, such as freedom of choice in medicine, fair taxation, deregulation, and the return to a gold standard, I am struck by how generally ineffective “I” advocates seem to be at present. Something is missing. A pro-I modal revolution is certainly not as simple as making more copies of Atlas Shrugged available, nor even training more philosophy students for academia. And I am highly skeptical of the overall value of the efforts of most “I” activists operating in separate cultural compartments. I want to know what the formula for a modal takeover is, and I want to help “I” win by finding out how to apply the formula and providing that insight as a transfusion to fellow “I” intellectuals and activists.

It’s a huge quest, to be sure. But I am also sure that if “I” intellectuals like me don’t take DIM seriously, we will lose.

So where to begin?

I am inclined to begin with what I know best, and to branch out from there.

Having just completed a “History of American Government” with my very advanced high school students, I decided that that seemed like the best place. (The course, by the way, is the best course I have ever given, and it is available in both MP3 audio and MP4 video screencast formats as podcast recordings. If you’re interested in understanding the trajectory of American Government, I honestly believe there is no better analysis available.)

Turning my attention there, I decided to apply my “modoscope” to the foreign policy of American presidents, to see if I could detect the modes involved. I was ecstatic to see that not only were the modes visible, they were glaringly obvious! They leaped out of the text! Thus I decided this would indeed be a productive avenue for exploring DIM.

In the first segment of the series, I am going to begin with the Truman Doctrine.

It is an easy one! Here is a link to the exact speech Harry Truman gave.

I invite you to read it and see if you can detect the mode.

My analysis should follow in a matter of days, so stay tuned! I hope you’ll enjoy this series as much as I’m enjoying producing it.

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

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American freedom is dying. The defenders of freedom are losing. It is hard not to take a dim view of the world.

However, that is exactly what we must do; but not a “dim” view—a DIM view.

In The DIM Hypothesis philosopher-historian Leonard Peikoff has provided an inestimably valuable guide to cultural history as a guide to life in America today, including a daunting prediction about the near term prospects for America.

“Religious totalitarianism in America—that is my prediction,” writes Peikoff.

Twenty years ago almost no one could have taken such a thesis seriously. America had overcome the Soviet Union in the Cold War. The “free world” was victorious! The exciting potential of the nascent computing industry to unleash a new era of productivity was becoming apparent. We seemed to be entering into an era of peace and prosperity. Any doomsayer then, no matter how erudite, would have been laughed at or ignored.

Today there is little to laugh about, and we can’t afford to ignore Peikoff’s warning.

We don’t have peace. The unfinished Gulf War and America’s refusal to confront the true state sponsors of terrorism led to 9-11 and the “War on Terror,” which spawned the Patriot Act, TSA groping and NSA snooping.

And we don’t have prosperity. The Dot-com bubble was followed by the housing bubble, which spawned the financial crisis, the so-called “jobless recovery” and the long emergency of the world’s central banks flooding the world with digital fiat, and governments everywhere implementing austerity measures,  “bail-outs” and “bail-ins.”  You don’t have to be one of nearly fifty million Americans on food stamps to pierce the fog of modern journalism and sense that the Greater Depression is just getting started. When someone predicts “doom” today, we can’t dismiss them. Instead, we find ourselves asking: how much worse can it get?!

Religious totalitarianism, says Peikoff.

Is it true?

Those who have undertaken to study Peikoff’s book know that, despite every effort by the author to render the thesis accessible through the most painstaking essentialization, the end result is so vast an integration that it is almost impossible to follow. The prediction is clear enough, but the basis for that prediction is so elaborate that when one tries to trace its logic, one becomes hopelessly entangled in a plethora of historical abstraction.

Peikoff himself anticipates this difficulty. He warns that The DIM Hypothesis covers five different “modes” in four different cultural areas during six different Western periods, using a method based on Objectivism, and especially Objectivist epistemology. To truly grasp the thesis thus means that the reader must be capable of shuttling back and forth between and interconnecting in his mind the philosophies of Plato, Aristotle, and Immanuel Kant, along with the lesser thinkers who intermixed their approaches—the literary, scientific, educational, and political products of the cultural creators of the various eras whose work reflected the “modes” of thought the philosophers taught—through the various phases of Western history which succeed each other from ancient Greece through to modern America, while applying as a psycho-epistemological “given” the method of Ayn Rand’s thought.

Nobody—except Leonard Peikoff himself, I suspect—can actually do that!

As a professional historian and student of Objectivism for some twenty years, I can’t quite do it.

The difference, I suspect, between me and other DIM readers, is that I know with a high degree of precision where the exact bounds of my understanding are and what to do about it.  DIM does not make me feel like Socrates–thinking that I know only that I know nothing!–but more like we’ve all felt when reading Ayn Rand’s fiction.   It inspires me to reach for the mountaintop that has become so much more clearly visible to me now.

I do know history inside out, so that’s a start. I can shuttle back and forth between the Peloponnesian War and the “War on Terror.” I can talk about Themistocles and Teddy Roosevelt (and Barack Obama, if I have to) in the same sentence. (Teddy started the “D” mode in foreign policy, by the way. More on that in a follow-up series available on this blog.) I do know, with equal ease, what was going on in 776 BC and 1776 AD.

(So when Leonard Peikoff encounters a serious challenge in type-casting the Renaissance in a DIM framework, I actually know why. In fact, possibly better than he does! The problem lies in an as of yet unknown sub-domain of applied epistemology called “abstract particulars,” of which the specific problem of historical periodization is but one instance. The “Renaissance” as a cultural period, is not equivalent to any of the other periods Peikoff would have us survey, which is basically why it does not exhibit a consistent “mode.” “The Renaissance,” proposed in a preliminary way as a hopeful interpretation of cultural history by modern historians, is in fact an exceptionally abstract integration that I designate, borrowing from a formulation of Ayn Rand’s, as a “periodization from periodizations.” Importantly, this does not invalidate The DIM Hypothesis, in my mind. But it does mean that it still needs work, by someone.)

It has been a torturous process to reach this level of historical literacy.  Along the way, it has become one of my professional aims to try to understand why history in general has been so inaccessible to modern students, and to correct the problem.

I believe I have solved the puzzle of history’s disintegration, and I will try to help readers understand it in further blog posts by means of a DIM history of history.  But, more importantly, in my forthcoming book “History is Dead. Long Live History!”—the first chapter of which is now available as a PDF and podcast at: http://www.powellhistory.com/historyisdead — I believe I have provided the first dose of an antidote that can be applied on a cultural scale.

If history can be made accessible and deployable, then The DIM Hypothesis can become a weapon of mass creation, and there is a chance that the course of modern cultural history can be reversed.

In teaching the History At Our House program I have seen how powerful an effect the proper study of history can have on the minds of young children. I also know how it has affected me. I still wonder just how much it could enhance the abilities of all of the advocates of reason and rights out there, if I could just help them wrap their minds around it. And I dream of the possibility of an America where millions of students are actually taught history properly.

Perhaps, with this very blog post, a new and significant cultural process will have begun. Starting with History is Dead, a new generation of historically literate and historically-minded activists will arise, much more powerful than those of previous generations.

Within the short span of this particular article, and in subsequent articles on history, education, and DIM theory, it is my hope to indicate, in some small way, what is at stake, and how pressing the problem is.

We are running out of time.

Freedom is waning at a frightening pace.

It may not be long before the monitoring of every communication by every American becomes the modification of any communication. Why could an NSA, using a hive supercomputer not do that? Imagine the methods of digital disinformation that the government could conjure. Imagine the possibilities for digital entrapment. Leonard Peikoff has long warned that freedom of speech is the key issue in protecting a free society. Once we cannot communicate freely, the game is up. Since the Internet is near to being transformed from a mechanism of freedom into the ultimate weapon for control, a turn-key totalitarian state is almost available.

Barack Obama may not intend to do it.  Tracing the “ominous parallels” between America and Weimar Germany, I would say that he is more of a Gustav Stresemann than a Hitler. But Stresemann and Hitler were but a few short chancellorships (presidencies) apart, America.  It’s not enough to think of America’s political trajectory as a rear-guard action from presidential election to election. We don’t have the luxury of thinking in such a limited manner. We need to start thinking about our cultural path in a more integrated way, using history as a guide.

For one, American nationalism, as German nationalism once was, is on the rise. American socialism is on the rise as well. The merger of the two has a historical name that should fill us with terror. How long will it be before Americans ask the government to relieve them of the “burden” of their freedom? How many already have already begged for that release? How many already would embrace the transformation of America into a selfless army, perhaps to rid the world of Islam?

So what did you do today to stop the collapse of America?

I’m not talking about the modern concept of community service. I’m not asking about “what you can do for your country.” I’m asking about what the other George did and would do. When George Washington dreamed of freedom, he didn’t retire to his country home in frustration because it was so hard to secure. As he retreated into Pennsylvania late in 1776, Washington wrote to his brother: “I think the game is pretty near up…You can form no idea of the perplexity of my situation. No man, I believe, ever had a greater choice of difficulties and less means to extricate himself from them.”

And yet, extricate himself, he did. At this very moment, ours is an intellectual Battle of Trenton, and we can win it too. We must “cross the Delaware” and then we can go on to win the war for the hearts and minds of Americans, if we have the daring and the perseverance of a Washington.

In upcoming posts in this blog, I will be undertaking to facilitate such a campaign.

I hope you will enjoy and be empowered by these writings. I hope you will take full personal advantage of the possibilities they promise, or at least sponsor my work from afar by helping to make the History is Dead. Long Live History! course a success. (There are many attendance and sponsorship options at: http://powellhistory.com/historyisdead/?page_id=51 ) Please consider contributing, if not attending.

As Patrick Henry said, “millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as we possess, are invincible by any force.”

To overcome the odds we face, there is only one course for us to take. Please join me in this quest.

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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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