Rationality, Objectivity, and Empiricism as the Bedrock of Western Civilization
Knowledge is the perception of the agreement or disagreement of two ideas. —John Locke
Major Phayre endeavored to explain the solar system; but as the Burmese theory is that of a central mountain called Myen-Mo [i.e. Meru], several millions of miles high, around which are firmly fixed four great islands, on the southern of which Asia and Europe are situated, the sun which lights them revolving around the central mountain, the Envoy of course did not succeed in convincing the Minister of the truth of our view of the case….The [Minister] somewhat indignantly said, “It (Myen-Mo) is spoken of in our sacred books, and its height is given, and the inhabitants of each region are known exactly.” —Sir Henry Yule, from A Narrative of the Mission to the Court of Ava in 1855
A knife is neither true nor false. But someone who grasps it by the blade is truly in error. —René Daumal
I intend here to discuss a very important philosophical issue, which is vital to the prosperity or even continuance of western civilization, but which is not discussed enough for most people to be familiar with it. It involves the idea of Western culture’s phenomenal success being based heavily on rationality, objectivity, and empiricism, all three of which are under attack now by various factions of the left—especially those in academia—as “tools of white patriarchal oppression.”
Western civilization has essentially conquered the earth, if not militarily, then technologically, economically, and culturally. Pretty much anywhere in the world now, especially in cities, if one looks around one sees more western technology and culture than anything else. People walk around in western-style clothing and hair styles, ride western-invented vehicles, live in western-style buildings, listen to western-style music on western-invented electronics, talk on western-invented telephones, and on and on. Almost the only obvious differences between one city and another, all over the world, are the ancestry of the population and the languages on the signs.
This virtually universal pervasion of western civilization is based very heavily on a few basic principles pioneered and endorsed especially in Europe, including: the rights of the individual, free enterprise, some semblance of freedom of thought and expression, objectivity, rationality, and empiricism. It is because of all this that the west has predominated in the world, and not, say, the Chinese or sub-Saharan Africans. This ideological strength of the west began way back in ancient Greece, with a bunch of white guys experimenting with democratic and republican forms of government (which were more efficient than most old-fashioned autocratic monarchies), developing innovative art forms, and also of course turning military ass-kicking into a science—not just an art, but a science. And now of course western-style scientific empiricism has replaced prophetic revelation and even rationalist metaphysics as the primary way of explaining reality, and has driven the technology that has people literally flying through the sky, conversing in real time with others thousands of miles away, and obtaining information on almost any topic by making a few clicks on an electronic gadget.
But now postmodernism, with its denial of objective truth and its assertion that “truth” is merely a cultural construct and thereby largely arbitrary, especially when in the hands of the political left, is undermining all that. The rights and liberties of the individual traditionally count for little under a leftist government, especially a far leftist one, as do freedom of thought and expression. The left notoriously prefers its own ideology to empirical facts; in fact, the radical left in particular tries to seize control of narratives like the explanation of the world and reality, and of the human situation in same. This appropriation of narratives applies even to empirical science, with (leftist) ideologues attempting to modify empirical facts to force fit them into harmony with a non-empirical political agenda. The trouble is, of course, that facts don’t give a damn about political agendas any more than about feelings; and if they are changed to fit a narrative they are no longer empirical facts, and the science behind them has degenerated into mere pseudoscience.
A classical example of this, arising in Stalin’s Soviet Union in mid-20th century, is the phenomenon of Lysenkoism. Lysenko, and a lot of Marxists in general, didn’t like the Mendelian and Darwinian idea of genetic codes and inherited traits, and so they preferred something more like Lamarckism, with the idea that acquired traits can be passed onto one’s offspring, and even the ideas (not Lamarckian) that one species, or even one genus, can rapidly transform into another, and that organisms cooperate in nature rather than compete. Presumably the Russian Marxists were ideologically opposed to Darwin’s almost Capitalist theory of Survival of the Fittest, and the notion that inequalities and human nature can be built right into us genetically; also they were fairly desperate to kick-start their agricultural program after the mass murder of the kulak farmers and the ensuing of widespread famine. Genetics was officially denounced in 1948 as a “bourgeois pseudoscience,” and many geneticists and other biologists were sent to gulags or simply shot if they obstinately adhered to principles of classical biology. The result, of course, was that the government of the USSR were unable to compel reality to fit their ideological theories, and so Russian agriculture and genetics were sabotaged from within and profoundly derailed for more than twenty years. Crop yields in the USSR declined under Lysenkoism rather than rose, despite all the authoritative claims of Marxist ideologues.
Another more or less Marxist attempt to commandeer empirical science began even earlier than Lysenko, and continues to this day in western academia, and that is Boasian anthropology. Franz Boas (1858-1942) was also a Marxist who loathed Darwinism’s tenets of survival of the fittest, and the evolution of different human populations to adapt to different environments, implying that inequalities between different ethnicities can be inherent and built-in. He didn’t like genetics either, and opposed its study, particularly with regard to human beings. So he fought against Darwinist interpretations of anthropology; and with many followers and supporters in high places, his theories became, and still are, fashionable and politically correct. But again, trying to deny or change the empirical evidence because it goes against a political attitude degrades science into pseudoscience. It may be expedient politically and socially, but it takes human knowledge farther away from truth and reality. Largely due to the efforts of Boas, the study of Anthropology in many universities has degenerated into little more than a branch of Social Justice and Grievance Studies. Strictly empirical study of the human animal has become virtually taboo.
This vitiation of scientific empiricism is is not only not fading out as human knowledge and culture progress, but rather it is increasing to the detriment of human knowledge and culture. The long, patient game of Frankfurt School style cultural Marxism has resulted in radical leftist ideologues gaining control over academia, starting in Humanities and Liberal Arts departments, but now spreading by contagion even into so-called hard science. And with controlling academia and guiding the latest intellectual or pseudo-intellectual fashion trends, radical leftists are publishing their ideological wishful thinking even in the most prestigious scientific journals, including Nature and The Lancet. This incursion into hard science is for the traditional Marxist purpose of controlling the official narrative, and thus the beliefs and attitudes of the populace; but of course at the same time the academic leftists are degrading science to the point that it isn’t really empirical science anymore, and as this situation slowly impinges upon public awareness, science itself becomes discredited and disparaged. Science that has been “doctored” for the sake of a political agenda is most blatant lately with regard to the politics-laden issues of climate science and human sexuality—the latter to the point that even experienced physicians are unable to distinguish between boys and girls. Meanwhile, research physicians are discouraged from examining different ethnicities’ different reactions to the same medications—it may save lives, but it’s RACIST.
For that matter, mathematics, presumably the most rationality-oriented scientific discipline, has also come under attack for being inherently racist. I don’t pretend to understand this fully, although probably most of the people protesting against racist math don’t understand it either. For starters, as already indicated, rational objectivity is viewed as a tool of white patriarchal oppression. But then there is the sad fact that, say, East Asian students do better at math than, say, black students, on average. The left views as a kind of non-empirical axiom the notion that any difference in outcome between different demographic groups must be the result of systemic oppression; so if those Chinese kids are getting higher grades in math class, the system is racist and oppressive. Math may soon degenerate into a new Grievance Studies category, in which difficult problem-solving is abandoned because of its discriminatory, unequal, and racist results among different ethnicities, and replaced by a history of mathematical racism as perpetrated by evil Whitey. I may as well toss in the little morsel of information that using correct English has also been declared to be a racist microaggression now. Spelling correctly, or using proper English grammar, causes foreign immigrants to feel insecure and possibly even offended; therefore we should all do our part and communicate at the same level as the most ignorant and uneducated alley dwellers.
We human beings, being a species of animal, are not entirely rational even at our best; but this systemic decline of what rationality we’ve got pervades western culture now, and is really a serious situation. The west is flinging away with its left hand the very qualities that gave rise to the modern world. Truth has become subjective in the Brave New World. The feminized leftist mind values feelings over objective facts, in fact it may deny the very existence of objective facts, in accordance with the new paradigm of postmodernism. Truth is declared to be merely a cultural construct—and thus a narrative to be manipulated to serve (mainly leftist) political and social ends.
Western civilization, with its advanced technology and its extremely complex societal structures, requires a rather high level of rational objectivity and empiricism to sustain it, just to keep it going. For the prevailing ideology, not only of the masses but of the political and academic establishment, to drift away into unrealistic wishful thinking is, or can be, the beginning of the end of this era in history. Not only daily maintenance, but our innovations too depend upon logic and objectivity, in addition to some non-rational inspiration. Build a bridge, or an economic system, based not upon empirical data but upon emotional wishful thinking, and see how long it remains standing. As the average intelligence and rationality of the population of a society decline, most people’s outward quality of life and the advancement of the society itself will also decline, because intelligence, objectivity, and material prosperity are significantly linked.
Furthermore, there must be some common ground between groups of people, even between groups that disagree vehemently with each other on some rather basic issues. Even to disagree intelligently, there must be some foundation of agreement upon which to base the discussion. In the modern era, which may be coming to a close for all I know, the common ground was objective empiricism, often combined with Enlightenment “liberal” values like human rights. But with all of this thrown into dispute, what becomes the new bedrock for the most fundamental and vital agreements, and even disagreements? Without reason and objectivity, what is the criterion for judging what is right and true? This is an important question. Will we fall back on the old policy of Might Makes Right, with the winner of a war getting to declare what will be true for everyone, and what gods will be worshipped? Or will truth be like early Christianity in the Roman Empire, with not the most reasonable sects rising to predominance, but rather the most hysterical and fanatical ones? It does seem that some radicals are endeavoring to champion some view as Right View by rioting and intimidation; but how valuable is that for determining the factuality of a statement? The most likely scenario for a postmodern ideology for the world would be the one that has a faction that fights dirtiest and most ruthlessly, and which is enough in harmony with the foibles of human nature that it is able to strike traction in society and succeed. But this would be a reversion to pre-modernity; in which case, postmodernism may prove to be a reversion to something like medievalism.
The point is that without acknowledgement of empirical reality, judged by empirical and rational means, the question of What Is Truth becomes very problematic. And with the very essence of truth thrown into raging dispute, with no obvious means of judging the arguments dispassionately, the very foundation of western civilization, and any complex, developed civilization, is greatly weakened, or even ruined.
At any rate, Darwin remains God Emperor, because the strongest ideology produces the strongest system, and the strongest is most likely to prevail, and that is good.