Yes. It's derivatives all the way down.
Classical liberalism is a luxury. As a political idea it only has potential when times are good and the population at large believes times will remain good. We can get behind liberalism as a unifying idea only when most everyone believes they are not slipping behind in their material conditions.
So liberalism served well as a political theory to justify (rationalize) the social changes that came with colonial wealth in Europe and it was the perfect political theory for the new nation of the USA.
But productive capitalism has been unable to provide the growth needed in many Western countries in recent decades. Paul Volcker and others helped switch the USA to finance capitalism. The UK tried to do the same but with less success. And now with the war in Europe income from production is slowing even more it's looking like the end for growth in the real economy.
So what does a nation of liberals (in the classical sense) do when times are bad and they look to be going to continue that way? Liberalism is useless when you can't adequately feed and house your family or provision and secure your household.
The contrast between the West and the East (defined broadly) that I can never forget is the way Orwell and Dostoevsky reacted to 2+2 (or, 2x2 in the latter). Orwell thought the notion that 2+2=4 is so obvious and natural that it took torture to force through 2+2 = 5. Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor (telling title of the character), on the other hand, would say "2x2 = 4 is mathematics. Try arguing with that," implying that freedom lies in being able to successfully fight the "rationalist" mindset. This didn't make any sense to me when I was young. Now, I'm struck by how naive even Orwell was in his blithe acceptance of the West as the norm.
The first half of your essay defines the problem convincingly, but the second half relies on some poppycock analytic lenses. Left brain dominant! We’re a different species from Homer! Reminds me of phrenology or even Zola’s naturalist determinism in that they and you proffer a “sciencey” reading of tea leaves. Is your argument exhibiting some of the past-“extractive” trends you see in the west generally?
Without reaching unconvincingly for anatomical and psychological explanations, it’s easy to see the root: financialization and abstraction, whereas in the “civilization states” much of life remains materially productive and concrete.
I disagree with your claim that the horizon of progress has receded in the west, leaving behind malaise. It’s not that progress has faded but rather that it’s also become dematerialized. Everywhere I look, I find the mantra of transhuman progress, wherein all will achieve immortality and a sort of omniscience once converted into digital simulacra stored on a cloud computer.
It’s the progress of being converted from a thing to a symbol orchestrated with other symbols into a transcendental oversoul finally harmonized by machine learning systems. Since the data stream in modern capitalism is increasingly seen as the pulse of profit, this progress means people give up their “mortal coil” (more Shakespeare!) and transform once and for all into money.
This is not merely the ideological hobbyhorse of the elite. I hear it often preached by the normies I encounter in the American Midwest. Transhumanism sounds very appealing to their ears, not least because it echos Christian promises of paradise in the hereafter but also because it jibes with American gee-whiz technologism and offers a release from bodies they’re primed by the media and the medical complex to despise and to suspect.
Finally, it’s hard for me not to count transhumanism as something new; though it has its antecedents in Christian theology and in science fiction, it seems not merely extractive of them but “inspired” by them.
> It is a problem of modern, western Liberal societies
I do not think it is about "western" or "liberal". Personally i call it "nomadic" mindset. Or "pirate" mindset. Or "fisherman" one. Or, well, thalassocracy mindset.
The foundation of it is the belief in the infinite world around the "actor".
"There's a sucker born every minute", or in bandit-Russian slang "Loch is not a mammoth, loch isn't going to get extinct"
Guess, it can be traced to Adam Smith style "micro-economy", and to "slash-and-burn agriculture". So, at some stage of society development it was experienced by every nation, east or west.
A fisherman can spit or defecate into a sea, liek a bird in flight, - the sea is huge, and it is ever flowing, the feces would be moved away and dilluted. He would never step into consequences of it.
A pirate can plunder and raise any village without remorse, tomorrow there would be some other village to repeat it, there always would be.
A sea empire like Britain or Belgium can ethnocide 75% of aborigines, neither grim pictures, nor diseases, nor avengers, nor beggars would ever reach metropoly.
A family grocery shop should only think about outcompeting another fmily shop down the street. Whatever it does the effects are too minuscule to cause any effect upon city-wide exonomy, less so nation-wide one.
In energy terms, the operational area is "open system", and the external universe is so large and inertial as to be considered infinite. Sure, one specific place can be spent, one slashed-burned area can be degraded - but the wile European forrest is infinite. Vikings would always find another village to plunder, etc.
The opposite, i think, is macroeconomy, The view where the worls is not so huge anymore and your actions do come back to you via changing your local world. Kill all the peasants - and there are no one left. Slash all the trees - and nothing to burn there next year. Ethnocide aborigines across the border - and the desperate mobs would flee across towards your homeland.
...monopolize the market, and there is nothing left to conquer and squeeze dry.
I believe this mindset was behind the Syria and Ukraine affair. While "suckers" would exhaust themselves extinguishing fires - "smart guys" = egoists would profit and prosper. I remember the angry American voices, when Russia was finishing "white helmets" in Syria, the pseudo-fighters designed to come out of the hide when Syria and Russia would exhaust Daesh, and collect the spoils without investing, like America did in 1944 Europe. I remember angry European voices when Russia froze the credit line after EuroMaidan coup and asked EuroUnian to prove their promises by providing the same amount of loans to their clients, they demanded form Russia, 50%/50%.
It was always the same trick, set the neighbor's house on fire, and plunder him while he is busy, and then blame him for being reckless and clumsy during that crisis.
Btut the best, for me, moment was when Team Trump and Team Killary started throwing stones in the American glass house in 2016. Both parties expected others to hold the failing card house together, and were sincerely insulted and offended when the other party instead threw stones too. "Whad'ya think you're doing!!! Who would build back this house??? How do you think we would live on if you do not fix it???" They both were so entitles - and so naked in their burning feeling of entitlement - this was surreal, cringy and gratifying at the same time.
Both parties genuinely believe that freedom of remorseless destruction is what makes them privileged, compared to mindless instincts-driven ants, and that suckers burdened with "chimera of conscience" would conveniently resume uphill rebuilding.
But the world shrunk, or those globo-entitlees grew too powerfule, and this time minute after miute - no new suckers came. Only their own clones, equally free and privileged, were destroying America and the world for a tiny tactical advancements.
It was bitter, it was satisfying
The issue is power and control.
In order to exert it, one needs to slice and dice and atomize, in order to liquefy any potential resistence.
I think the Gordian Knot is finding (inventing, re-inventing, re-discovering and adapting) mechanisms that nip in the bud the manifestations of the Iron Law of Oligarchy and its subsidiary, the Iron Law of Bureaucracy. One such mechanism is elections via sortition. I haven't figured out yet how to deal with bureaucracy and the so called technocrats.
David Graeber brings forth a world of potentialities (more than one) in his book The Dawn of Everything - A New History of Humanity. In the past, people would vote with their feet and leave areas "ruled" by those abusing power. Where would the West go nowadays? The only conclusion is that not only those in power must go, but that the existing structures need to be modified in order to forestall any re-emergence of the present situation.
Simone Weil has made the case on the dissolution of political parties quite a while ago (1943):
Regardless of the outcome of the war on Ukraine, the West will more and more resemble a glorified Brazil, albeit with worse weather, less attractive females, and a more hyperbelligerent foreign policy.
Add in modern art music, which increasingly is written by academics, for academics and is only listened to by other academics *as part of their jobs*.
You've hit the nail on the head, for a long time now, at least 10-20 years, I've felt Western society has lost what I would call ''Hope for the Future''. We used to look UP to the stars and dreamed of a brighter Future, now we stare at the tiny screens in our hands looking eternally Downwards. The Stars, and the future, now seem reserved only for the rich, the modern Kings of our crypto-feudalist age.
I am reminded strongly by this of Heideggers essay "Off the beaten path" or something of that ring, but it regarded the technico-productionist Weltanschauung which uses the factory ground plan to reduce everything, and in the process losing the ability to see the glimmer of Being-there.
I am not sure that you are completely up to date regarding academic philosophy. I think the trend today is ethics, business ethics, global ethics, stuff like that. PPE:
Academic philosophers of today aspire to be the priesthood of the rules based order, the most successful ones cater to powerful players, corporations, politicians. They can tell you what is right and wrong. Much the same as what mass media tell you but more sophisticated. They are authorized legitimizers with peer reviewed credentials.
The theoretical philosophers, on the other hand, that you describe, are second rate people in relation to the ethics professors. Their disciplines are carried and legitimized by the latter, though. The language and literature disciplines, in turn, are far below in status, but trying their best to do philosophy and RBO ethics and politics to remain "relevant".
Another thing. For many of us who saw Star Wars first time at age 9 or something (BetaMax at my friend's house), it defined our existence. I have come to understand that educated people of older generations cannot appreciate it, but still as a young adult, I could watch the trilogy as antidepressant when severely hung over. Star Wars is not where the rot began. Stealing, borrowing and adapting with love and some understanding, or with creative misunderstanding, however silly it may seem to the educated, is what culture and tradition is about. That is what "Shakespeare" was about. There is such a thing as Renaissance.
The rot began when the stealing was done by people who just didn't care or frankly hated and despised the sources that they stole from. Not tradition, nor renaissance, but deconstruction, deliberate sepsis. The Lord of the Rings films are rot, J J Abrams is rot, most of the stuff from the nineties and later is rot. Tarantino did his best in this culture of rot, and he could have done better, but the producers decide for him.
Thank you, this is quite synchronous with my thoughts lately. Started McGlichrists Master&Emissary a while ago, not quite halfway through, yet. He makes a pretty convincing argument about the imbalance we carry in our civilization. But I await how he suggests integrating the right brain - would it be the Jungian unconscious - I am not not sufficiently far in the text to know. But for Jung, as for anyone, at this late moment of left-brain hegemony, the integration can be a rough ride. And we have come quite a bit downwards from Jungs' times. Or maybe not, Jung knew and saw what the development in Germany before the war meant. He said entire nations can descend into psychosis, and here we are, again. Now only a lot wider than one nation, though. An internet wisdom says: walk slowly away from the crazyperson. Sane advice, but how to do that when whole civilization is having a psychotic episode? It is not possible to argue the crazyperson into their senses, much less an entire civilization. Jung tells about an elderly lady quite far into madness, a resident in his mental hospital. She was into religion, so he asked her to learn bible and recite it to him from memory. This supported her remaining connection to reality. What verses could keep this civilization afloat? Maybe the endless rehashing is a search for some life-saver, symbolizing those better times when things made more sense.
In the spring I happened to see Wagners Tannhäuser, and the story felt very timely. We are stuck in Venusberg, endless pleasures without any meaning, just like Tannhäuser. There is a fond memory of true love to Elizabeth that awakens Tannhäuser, but redemption comes too late, Elizabeth has died of sorrow and Tannhäuser dies, too. So the idealistic love that was invented around the same time as crusades were going on, was too big a challenge for Tannhäuser, just like it is for us. Our culture/civilization has some core wound that generates all sorts of misery while keeping us well embedded in a cocoon of earthly pleasures. A weird place to be. Driving comfortably in my nice car, listening to favourite books or music, while the insects are splatting against the windshield, roadsides filled with roadkill. The price of my comfort is very high, and to me, it hurts in a way that makes even the comfort feel worthless.
Nice. I could articulate this article in theological language either Christian or Hindu, but that would be superfluous.
Were I to divine the metamessage of this post -- albeit probably not in its author's direct consciousness -- it would be this: how many US military personnel are going to redeploy in boxes consequent upon NATO thrusts east of the Bug and the Dnieper, and how many "decision-making centers" (Capitol buildings, Intel and C4ISR HQs) west of the Bug and the Vistula -- to include London -- and west of the US eastern littoral, will undergo "deconstruction" before NATO-EU's left-brained elites dangle from light-posts and power lines, so to speak, or commence involuntary residence at Happy Acres-type facilities deep in the Mohave or Alaska Wilderness, producing license plates or lace doilies.
Integration of Indian, Russian, and American sensibilities has been underway for some time now. Restoring self-confidence among the nations is sufficient remedy for our common ills. This too is underway, by divine initiative.
A theological addendum I would add is this (and another way of articulating the left-brained vs. right-brained metaphor): The Western Church (Latin, left-brained, female, function) remedies the problem of sin. The Eastern Church (Greek-Russian, right-brained, male, form) remedies the problem of time. Together they comprise The Church, a spiritual community of the type E Pluribus Unum, who solve the problem of freedom, which is also the problem of authority. The real new world order, if one may call it that, relies on the method of correlation rather than the method of competition.
economists: government can print $$ until it can’t
pentagon: spend 4% of gdp bc we own the government, and everyone else ignore waste and denied better uses.
greenies: 17th century energy usage is just fine
between all that they need a nero
" we plant the seed, nature grows the seed, then we eat the seed".
'Neil' from ' The Young Ones'.
We have been shown by science/logic etc a description of what and how; one perspective, angle, on the unfathomable, the reason or meaning for what something is. It seems naming things puts them safely in a box.
But it seems no description gets us any closer to the why. Have we separated ourselves so far from nature that we can no longer appreciate it, accept that we might never know. Is our hubris so great that we just sidestep the mysterious because it is irrelevant to our ego fermentation?
Thankyou for your writing. It gives me hope that some people are still interested in life and mystery.
To my mind, most of Aurelian's analysis is cogently argued - therefore persuasive,
However, I do note the repetition of what seems to be becoming a recurring theme of his, a bee in his bonnet if you will. Namely, that any idea that the chain of events which led up to the war in Ukraine could conceivably have been engendered by conscious, rational (no matter how misguided) planning aimed at the destruction and dismemberment of Russia, on the part of what for want of any better description can be called a cabal. He insists that any such notion must ipso facto be mistaken because modern western society is so intrinsically chaotic and complicated as to be incompatible with the conception (in such terms) or execution of any such programmed and systematic project. Instead, the bringing-on of catastrophic outcomes can result only from chance, from operation of the law of unintended consequences. He doesn't (so far as I know) cite WW I as an analogous case (In Margaret Macmillan's memorable phrase "sleepwalking into war"), but he might just as well.
Taken as the encapsulation of a multiplicity of cross-currents, accidents and sheer bad luck I do think that that is indeed an apt description - for that war. I disagree strongly that it and the events of the three decades leading up to the war in Ukraine are in any significant way analogous.
Moreover, I don't think that Aurelian even bothers to support that inference with any arguments. He just assumes it as a given, because it is dictated by his prior assumptions.
To me, there is no reasonable doubt that the war in Ukraine was caused, more - far more - than by any other factors, by the activities of a certain number of specific individuals acting in loose alliance with one another in pursuit of a common aim - which moreover they assiduously documented and proseletysed-for over a considerable period, never at any time seeking to obscure or cloak their intentions. It seems to me to be facile, and cavalier with the known facts, to dismiss all the copious evidence for that having been the case on the basis that (my words) "life just isn't like that".
This snippet, "... if our societies are to survive, our current rulers will have to go." was buttressed by your outstanding essay! The diminution of the right hemisphere in thought seems to me to be the simplest explanation of the crazy direction and policy decisions of our Western political classes.
The question remaining is where will the future rulers come from and what will be their priorities in managing the festering problems of climate, COVID, and capitalism?
For now, I see little hope for any sane evolution in policies of the United States of America.
Ukraine is a perfect example of the point at which derivatives fail to be profitable because it is no longer possible to hide the fact that the 'product' is not good, or doesn't exist. Liberal audiences educated to believe that whatever our system creates has intrinsic value simply because our system created it and our system creates profit, truly are losing their minds as they invent ever-greater conspiracies to explain the creeping reality that they have been supporting a corrupt and evil regime that hates its people, and the supposed bogeyman is actually the one fighting that evil.
It reminds me of the collapse in value of online advertising (because I saw it first hand): Real Time Bidding technology promised to give advertisers unheard-of ROI as they could target adverts to users with amazing granularity, but in reality practically no one clicks on online ads, so the value of the tech was shown to be a fraction of what it had been billed as. The people who made the tech made lots of money though, off advertisers who'd believed the RTB hype.
When evidence starts to surface that the corporate media has been lying about everything, the value of the media will collapse too. Besides advertising they rely on subscribers and subsidies - if subs leave and the government can't afford to keep them afloat, they might just cease to exist. Then there might be a 'moral reckoning' regarding other things they've been pushing, as the spell is broken and people realise that things like the green agenda and 'trans rights' are actually very harmful too, as they never served any purpose other than to create markets for solar panels and elective medical procedures respectively. Of course, if things get that bad then culture war nonsense may well be the least of our troubles.