I already posted Part I of 1406 Moonlanding Drive which can be read at: Moon Landing One. The following is the second part of this comprehensive work. In 1991 with the help of Institute for Perennial Studies co-founder, Carl Klemaier, we wrote an essay that attempted to explain some of the lessons we had learned about modernism using concrete examples drawn from society. The result was the following piece which is a combination of taped conversations sewn together with commentary.
In Part I we tried to provide some context by using a brief look at the “planned obsolescence” of post WW-II America as an introduction to a broader look at cultural history. Exploring the hype associated with the products that filled out the modernist’s pantheon we set the stage for and expanded critique of a weltanschauung that has given us the junk-pile as metaphor for the modern world.
By including political history in Part II we use the perennialist view to analyze liberal and conservative showing their complicity and cooperation. Interestingly we threw down a challenge to contemporary conservatives of 1991 to live up to their historical rhetoric and today we see that up to now they have failed. We also pointed out the role of environmentalism in politics and cautioned that it could be co-opted by neo-Marxism; foreshadowing the Green Party and its spin-offs. In fact the failure of the conservative movement to acknowledge the “deep conservatism” manifested by a significant segment of the so-called “60’s revolution” is exactly why the Republican Party is in turmoil today; namely the inability to pick through media driven accounts of the sexual libertine exploits by some and the underlying spiritual longings of the majority.
One can draw a close parallel between the rebellious conservatism of the 1960’s spawned by Barry Goldwater and the Ron Paul faction of the Republican Party. Furthermore, the rejection of the Paul bloc today is a continuation of policy by statists within the Republican Party to preserve scientific secular modernism as the official view of the Party. Yet both Parties cling to the National Security Act of 1947 as their unofficial manifesto which absolves government from responsibility in the name of self preservation for the State; a masterpiece of secular scholarship.
As the feast of consumerism draws to an end in America fueled by the spoils of WW II squandered on the national security state, a sort of hangover of self loathing has set in. While economic elites bail out and set sail for the Orient the average citizen of the United States is left to clean up the revelry as best we can. With Asian materialism on one horizon and Islam on the other, America must find a way to survive. Although perennialism is not necessarily limited to any particular religion it is the Christian perennialist like the so-called Southern Agrarians and others,
http://dsreif.blogspot.com/2008/12/southern-agrarians-or-southern.html, that needs to be studied to find answers to this dangerous predicament. -DSR-
1406 Moonlanding Drive Part II
A Meditation on the Decline of Materialism
Carl Klemaier and David S. Reif (June 1991)
“Progress is our most important product”. General Electric Slogan
“Better Living through chemistry.” Dow Chemical Company Slogan
Carl Klemaier: “The story of modernism is an expression of these slogans. As I grew up in the 1950’s these slogans became as familiar to me as the prayers I was learning in Catholic school. And like prayers, those slogans became the cornerstone of my hope in a better world, both here and hereafter. In this world progress would bring the worldly equivalent to heaven—heaven on earth. Anything newer and faster, brighter and shinier, like aluminum, brought us closer to the heaven at the end of history, just as each bead of the rosary brought us closer to the heaven at the end of life. And just as the priest mediated between God and I, so did the scientist, ‘Dr. Science’, would carry out the earthly ceremonies of progress.”
Underlying Dr. Science was a secular ideology based on a belief that humans need not have limits and by using the right method, the scientific method, the world could be transformed. This came to mean that whatever scientists could do, usually for the military, the corporations, or the State, they should do.
This secular ideology, termed, ‘modernism’, was the result of a 200 year erosion of traditional values caused by the rise of the cult of positivism and the industrial revolution. These two factors caused extreme change in Europe. It was a time of fortunes being made by the new rich, and old institutions being eclipsed, and rural populations being uprooted as they struggled in the overpopulated industrial cities.
The new religion of science as described by French philosopher Auguste Comte (3), having obtained a foothold, now began to evolve a bureaucracy funded by those who benefited from the changing world. Lewis Mumford, in his book, The Myth of the Machine, puts it this way: “the new scientific philosophy took over…As mechanical power increased and as scientific theory itself, through further experimental verification, became more adequate, the new method enlarged its domain…Those who created the mechanical world picture foresaw many actual inventions and discoveries, and were passionately eager to bring them about; but they could not even speculatively, anticipate the dismaying social outcomes of their efforts.”
CK: “As the 1960’s began with Kennedy’s optimism, the space program, and the Peace Corps, the promises seemed justified. In the intellectual circles there was even a debate that the need for ideology (fundamental assumptions about what life is about) had come to an end. Those who believed this felt that as a society the United States had, or was well on its way to achieving, the society at the end of history. Republicans and Democrats really had nothing to argue about, given the affluence of post WW II society.”
“But as nuclear weapons multiplied, and assassinations erupted, and Vietnam became fouled by napalm burning the flesh of children, a growing sense began to emerge that something was fundamentally wrong. I began to doubt the presuppositions with which I was raised.”
A critique began to surface, issuing forth from the anti-war/counterculture movement. While at the time, opponents labeled them “leftists” because they were questioning, sometimes aggressively, the political, economic, educational and social foundations of the country. In reality, however, at their root these movements were perennialist (deeply conservative) in their motivation.
Michael Novak, writing in 1968, hinted at this radical conservatism when discussing young people. “One would have thought, a few years ago, that the age of ideology was at an end. But now young people have discovered that pragmatism, too, has the characteristics and effects of an ideology. They have observed in particular, its low resistance to a new toughened strain of tyranny. Technological progress, they recognize, demands stability and unity over periods of time log enough to bring plans and projections to fulfillment; it depends upon control over natural resources, industrial facilities, future human desires, and conditions. Any government dedicated to the use of advanced technology finds it in the national interest to produce and enforce stability on a worldwide scale…”(4) The political movements of the 1960’s saw militant corporate capitalism, Communism, and fascism as bureaucratic tyranny set upon world domination. The Cold War was a battle not between ideologies, but between materialistic worldviews set on dominating people and manipulating nature.
The “deep conservative” movement was an expression of a profound alienation created by a change of emphasis from a healthy individualism to the grandiose egotism of the post-WWII super-power state. The “self” became a prison of loneliness. Michael Novak comments on the worldview that led to this impasse. He continues, “The radicals recognized that the rugged individualism of Ayn Rand, the inner directed personality imagined by David Riesman, and the natural, atomic individual imagined by John Stuart Mill and the English empirical tradition are now viable models of human behavior.” Unfortunately, this model was full of unintended consequences not the least of which was individual feasting on the spoils from the recent World War.
The perennialist movement was interested in interconnection and “whole systems” more than atomistic individualism; a conservatism rooted in the deep past of Pythagoras and Siddhartha Gautama rather than new comers like Hobbes and Rand. The hippies were interested in communes but not Communism. They were interested in connections of people to the land, as naïve as that might have seemed. As a line in the song “Woodstock” states’ “I want to get back to the land and set my soul free”. Longing for meaning in a consumer driven, junk product world was the underlying message here.
This “deep conservative” emphasis on the interconnection between community, family, people, land, God, and values cuts across contemporary ideological lines in such a way as to nearly rend them completely. In the 1980’s, the family and spiritual issues of the Republican Right come from the same piece as cloth of the ecological and “mother earth” agenda. They both stress the connection of ideology and non-measurable, intangible values based in spiritual wisdom…and area inaccessible to positivist science and technology. Unfortunately, this potential cross-pollination has already been recognized as a battleground by the avant-garde of the Left in the disguise of the so-called “greens” lurking on the fringe of European politics. Whether the Republican Right is up to the challenge is an open question.
Regarding the notion of interconnection philosopher, David Fideler, states it best when he comments on interconnection in a classical sense. “Pythagoras correctly observed that all things are linked together proportionately, by justice, harmony----call it what you will. By cultivating an awareness of harmonic forming principles and working within the bounds set by necessity, Mankind possesses the potential to become a sacred steward of the earth and a co-creator with nature; but the inevitable corollary is that humanity also has every power to create and inhabit a hell of its own making. The simple fact remains that the scales of justice are inexorable---it is a principle of nature, and not merely of human morals, that each should receive his due. If we poison our rivers, we poison ourselves; if we act in stupidity, it is only appropriate that we suffer the consequences. If there is a moral to the story, it is simply that individuals and societies are far less likely to run into trouble should they posses an awareness of these principles and relationships. And if one would like to cultivate the innate human ability to see things as they are, in whole-part relations, there is scarcely a better guide than the Pythagorean sciences.”(5) In other words “the wisdom of the ages”.
Today conservatism is supposed to be on the rise and liberalism is a dirty word. In reality, there is little difference. Pragmatic secularism or modernism, carried out by scientific, corporate, and State bureaucracies are still telling us that progress is ‘new and shiny products’ that are in reality designed to turn into junk, developed by chemists and computer programmers working for the same entities. Liberals and conservatives are locked into a positivist paradigm. They are equal in their wholehearted support of the unexamined concept of Progress.
Modernism, then, becomes a wholesale assault on the old worldview of interconnection between Man, God, and values; the ultimate in whole systems. The desire to “conserve” what is old and longing for “renewal” through the perennial wisdom become the targets of technology and positivist science. Given this situation the question arises: Can the various peoples of the world hold onto their traditions and the worldviews that underlie them in the face of the secular modernist attack carried on in the name of progress?
The assault on tradition is obviously an expression of great arrogance. Drawings from the Bible and other timeless books true conservatives have questioned human pride. This includes the creation of vast schemes that call for comprehensive planning which are favored by leftists but have also tantalized conservatives who have come under the spell of the modern age.
Russell Kirk, in his classic study of American conservatism, The Conservative Mind, lists six fundamentals of conservatism. 1. Belief in a transcendent order or body of natural law which rules society as well as conscience. 2. Affection for the variety and mystery of human existence…a sense that life is worth living. 3. A conviction that civilized society requires orders and classes against the notion of classless society. 4. The belief that freedom and property are closely linked…Economic leveling is not economic progress. 5. The belief that custom and convention are checks upon man’s anarchic impulse and upon the innovators’ lust for power; a distrust of sophists and economists who would reconstruct society upon abstract designs. 6. The recognition that change may be a devouring conflagration, rather than a torch of progress.
Yet, this no longer acts as a model for conservatism. It is nearly its antithesis in the light of recent history. The “devouring conflagration” of innovation from aluminum tumblers and “trailer houses” that are designed to crumble, through junk bonds and the Pentagon’s “Star-War” schemes are now the banner of both conservative and liberal.
Saving tradition may not be bringing back high button shoes, whalebone corsets, and rigid religious orthodoxy. However, it does mean reviving a traditional worldview that emphasizes whole systems to operate culture and individual freedom to operate society; a true pluralism where nations instead of ideologies rule people.
Breaking with the recent past of technological “progress” and industrialized productivity may cause panic in the faint hearted. Yet continuing the dizzying ascent to scientific heaven, with only second-hand military technology, medical experimentation, and 19th century resource exploitation as the foundations of modernism to guide us, seems far more frightening than a re-examination of a perennial wisdom to see us through a transition to sanity.
The hype driven economics and philosophy that moves our worldview are based on a Western idealism gone mad. Morris Berman states it well when he writes, “Scientific consciousness is alienated consciousness: there is no ecstatic merge with nature, but rather total separation from it. Subject and object are always seen in opposition to each other. I am not my experiences, and thus not really a part of the world around me. The logical end point of this worldview is a feeling of total reification everything is an object, alien, not-me; and I am ultimately an object too, an alienated ‘thing’ in a world of other equally meaningless things. This world is not of my own making; the cosmos cares nothing for me; and I do not really feel a sense of belonging to it. What I feel, in fact, is a sickness in the soul.”
“Translated into everyday life, what does this disenchantment mean? It means that the modern landscape has become a scenario of ‘mass administration and blatant violence’, a state of affairs now clearly perceived by the man in the street. The alienation and futility that characterized the perceptions of a handful of intellectuals at the beginning of the century have come to characterize the consciousness of the common man at its end. Jobs are stupefying, relationships vapid and transient, the arena of politics absurd. In the vacuum created by the collapse of traditional values, we have hysterical evangelical revivals, mass conversions to the Church of Reverend Moon, and a general retreat into the oblivion provided by drugs, television, and tranquilizers. We also have a desperate search for therapy, by now a national obsession, as millions of Americans try to reconstruct their lives amidst a pervasive feeling of anomie and cultural disintegration. An age in which depression is a norm is a grim one indeed.” (6)
Few can argue with this position. The linkage between scientific pragmatism and politics is manifested in its by-products. We see the outcome in Big Science bureaucracies; consumer junk piling up on landfills; and moldering “trailer houses”, cars, and refrigerators decaying in the countryside. These combine with the larger issues of toxic waste, plutocracy, weapons of mass destruction, ecological degradation, and an alienated culture which produces dependent poorly adjusted people.
Given this, then the mobile home, with its grid coordinate address on a street named after a technological accomplishment, decaying after its short lifetime of use becomes a metaphor for much of our lives---lives which make us begin to wonder what happened to the future we long to remember.
3) Auguste Comte—(1798-1857), French philosopher who founded positivism and believed that the final stag in the evolution of human thought was when science discovered “positive truth” through observation. He believed in the “religion of science” with himself and other scientists as the priesthood for this cult.
4) The End of Ideology Debate, ed. Chaiml Waxman, (Simon and Schuster 1968), pp. 389-397.
5) Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library, ed. David Fideler, (Phanes Press 1987), p. 45.
6) The Re-Enchantment of the World, Morris Berman, (Bantam Press1984, p.3.
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