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The Decline of Western Democracy

  1. Aug 23, 2008 #1
    The Decline of Western Democracy

    “The decay of decency in the modern age, the rebellion against law and good faith, the treatment of human beings as things, as the mere instruments of power and ambition, is without a doubt the consequence of the decay of the belief in man as something more than an animal animated by highly conditioned reflexes and chemical reactions. For, unless man is something more than that, he has no rights that anyone is bound to respect, and there are no limitations upon his conduct which he is bound to obey.” Walter Lippmann

    Western democracies have invested in a concentrated effort to establish a ‘confidence in reason’ because it is assumed by many that reasoning is the principal factor that makes humans different in kind from other animals.

    The attempt to seek knowledge presupposes that the world unfolds in a systematic pattern and that we can gain knowledge of that unfolding. We assume many things because our ‘gut’ tells us that: 1) the world makes systematic sense, and we can gain knowledge of it: 2) every particular thing is a kind of thing; 3) every entity has an “essence” or “nature,” that is, a collection of properties that makes it the kind of thing it is and that is the causal source of its natural behavior.

    We may not want our friends to know this fact but we are all metaphysicians. We, in fact, assume that things have a nature thereby we are led by the metaphysical impulse to seek knowledge at various levels of reality.

    Now back to ‘confidence in reason’. I guess the Greeks were the first to systematize our belief that reason can be an important factor in making life better; that reason can provide us with a means to convince others that this particular way is the better way of reaching the desired goal; a mutual confidence in reason becomes one of life’s most important goals.

    Why a ‘mutual confidence in reason’ becomes one of life’s most important goals? Because of the disaster to all of us that is derived from an intellectual distrust of reason. I think that one of the important duties we all have is to help others formulate a confidence in reason.

    I think that we can find in our self many times when a confidence in reason is displaced by a belief that is not grounded in reason. Examples might be faith in charismatic leaders, faith in ‘authority’, faith in some social group, faith in our ‘gut’, faith in fate, faith in technology, faith in unanalyzed experience, faith in someone because s/he is a successful maker of money, etc.

    I picture myself as a member of a small group of riders trying desperately to turn the stampeding herd before that herd reaches the cliffs.

    The herd is humanity. My fellow riders are the few who, like me, think they have been enlightened and wish to stop an impending catastrophe. The skeptical reader is, of course, correct that the riders may be idiots and that the herd is just seeking better pastures. The consoling thought for the riders is that if they, the riders, are wrong it is of little consequence because they are so few; while the herd, if wrong, will probably destroy the human species and perhaps even the planet and all life.

    The riders, like me, think that there is a fundamental issue, that if resolved, will reposition the herd into a more perceptive and reasonable mode and thus the human species will live happily ever after.

    The fundamental issue that concerns the riders is that the herd makes very poor decisions. For this reason the riders think that if the herd became Critical Thinkers and self-learners matters would improve.

    A rider from a past generation, Walter Lippmann, who is responsible for the opening paragraph of this post, seems to agree with my analysis.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 23, 2008 #2


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    Staff: Mentor

    I see very little point to that post, beyond the opening quote. That quote is surprisingly archaic for someone who lived through most of the 20th century. It quite simply ignores the philosophy of Locke and Hobbes, on which much of modern government is founded.

    Quite simply: we don't need to believe we are more than just animals, we choose to be more.

    Oh, and his opening line asserts as reality that a decay is actually going on. That was probably easier to believe in the first half of the 20th century (and basically the whole of human history before), when the major powers of the world were perpetually at war with each other. For the past 60, despite the fears of the cold war, that has changed.

    You can, of course, find signs of decay if you look in the right places. But you can also, if you choose to be more objective, find signs that overall, western civilization is very much still on the rise.
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2008
  4. Aug 23, 2008 #3
    The quoted person is assuming things to have been better in the past than they are in the presence - mainly the state of decency, law and respect; there is an old idiom "the grass is always greener on the other side".

    As for the fundamental issue of poor decisions - so be it. Learn from your mistakes, forgive and forget.
  5. Aug 28, 2008 #4
    Nice of you to share it with us.

    "Why a ‘mutual confidence in reason’ becomes one of life’s most important goals? Because of the disaster to all of us that is derived from an intellectual distrust of reason. I think that one of the important duties we all have is to help others formulate a confidence in reason."

    Sorry to tell you, but the less educated a person is, the less he will be using reason.

    Nice to be a member of this small group, but the problem is that people worldwide are becoming more "stupid."
    Because education is declining
    Because politicians decide so
    Because they want more freedom and democracy is the people overseeing the government
    And stupid people are bad at this and easier to govern.

    I don't claim it's some kind of conspiracy. It's just how it appears to me (the reasonable format of a claim, how I see it ;) )
  6. Sep 11, 2008 #5
    Not only am I disgusted by the demagogic politicians but also the cadre of educators that affords them more ability.

    I think we "ought" to make a collection or particular history of the of all the systems of ideas that are opposed to reason, and their key features, so they can be easily recognized:

    --object of external perception consists of ideas
    --thesis antithesis form synthesis
    *the mantra of holism
    --irreducibly complex
    --can know without knowing how we know
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