19 June 2017

Questioned Foundations

They called it the end of history. 

Liberal, democratic capitalism would be universal. So would human rights. Almost all interactions in society were to be based upon strict, mutual consent revocable at any time except in the most extreme circumstances. Religion incompatible with science in daily practice, if not in principle, would fade away. Equality on the basis of race, national origin, ethnicity and gender would prevail by people sharing a common cosmopolitan culture with regional variation.

The zeitgeist, however, is starting to question, often quietly, these foundational ideas.

Democracy is growing less sacred on both the left and the right. The left is concerned about populist demagogues like Donald Trump, the alt-right, and the emerging far right parties of Europe - the UK Independent Party, the Greek National Socialists, Marie LePen's party in France, and so on. The right admires authoritarianism praising regimes like Putin's Russia and China's regime, and tolerating the regime in Saudi Arabia, although still condemning and deriding North Korea's totalitarian de facto absolute monarchy.

While secularism has almost run its course in much of Europe and the number of non-religious is growing rapidly in the United States, especially among the young, Evangelical Christian and conservative Catholicism are thriving on both sides of the Atlantic, and Muslims have become common in most of Europe achieving a foothold through peaceful immigration what the faith had not managed to secure by force. Meanwhile, mainline Christianity continues to be in free fall and some of those who are abandoning it who do not become non-religious have started to adhere to peaceful threads of Eastern religious thought, neo-paganism and re-imagined religious/philosophical movements like Humanism, new Satanist communities, transhumanism, patnheism, and more.

On the right, equality has been openly disavowed by a growing white supremacist movement, and more opaquely challenged by those who have started to frame their thinking into a focus on national, racial and class based intelligence levels. Even strict opponents of identity based discrimination have become comfortable with the notion that in our meritocracy, lower social class equates with less intelligence and also even with lower worth. On the religious side, the prosperity gospel movement is fundamentally one of class superiority with a religious rather than secular dimension. Notions of a gender blind, color blind world are under attack from both the left and right.

Even consent and choice as fundamental principles are doubted - not so much in public debate, but very much in the brewing cauldron of artistic endeavors. BSDM has become a not infrequent element of the pop music, pulp fiction and video streams of ordinary people. Russia just decriminalized wife beating, while Saudi Arabia offers lessons in wife beating on public television. Liberals are trying to come to terms with the fact that this fundamental tenant of their worldview was not widely followed historically, is not widely followed in much of the world, and is absent even in major institutions like the military. If this idea can be absent in so many places, can it really be so fundamental and necessary?

The end of history may still be coming. But, as it arrives the collective discussion and thoughts of the people he think at all are looking backward and exploring, at least intellectually, the alternatives.


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