Archives for category: Social Theory

Explaining religion is not necessarily a simple matter.

I grew up taught to believe that the stories of my religion were true. But as I grew older, certain inconsistencies and antinomies weighed upon my mind, and I found myself incredulous about the whole matter, so I gave up on the beliefs and the rites.

But, if not literally true, is religion — or all religions, or some — figuratively true? Supremely useful? Something else?

The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world were all considered by the people as equally true; by the philosopher as equally false; and by the magistrate as equally useful.

Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. I, Ch. II

I was taught to regard the religion I was born into as true, literally so, and all others as false, with a faint chance that shadow meaning sometimes figuratively refracting the truth — but more likely “of the Devil.” Converting out of the religion, it was easy to treat my youthful theological stance as Atheism With One Exception, making actual atheism merely a final step.

But I did understand a discordant note to this secular triumphalism: henotheism. It was clear that Judaism began with a polytheism-in-fact but monotheism-in-practice: “thou shalt have no other gods before Me” more than implied a multiplicity of deities. Yahweh was good, all others were bad — or, even less strong a position: Yahweh was ours and all others were theirs. The Chosen People idea seemed to imply one of many gods choosing and nurturing a bloodline of people to serve His agenda. But this idea, while clear in my head, I somehow never took all that seriously.

What did I take seriously? The “ghost theory” and exaptation. These ideas can be found in the sociology of Herbert Spencer, and the latter has been greatly expanded by contemporary evolutionary psychology. Beliefs in the gods arose from memories of dead leaders echoing in human brains and showing up in dreams. And hallucinations. That is the irritant that starts the pearl that is religion. But then something else happens: religious belief and practice is discovered to be useful.

To all sorts of people. For good and ill.

But one use we fell into. It turns out that when we less-than-well-tempered hominids — Hominoids — even contemplate a putatively divine being or concept, or even any “transcendent object” or priniple, we think and behave less like selfish, short-sighted apes. We begin to behave morally.

And thus the transcendent notion, whatever it is, can serve as a social signal that can encourage others to see our intent to coöperate, not engage in harm. Whatever religious idea we hold can gain a lot of traction when folks come to rely on such signalling.

Thus, the gods.

A simple story, this secular account, and it can be filed under the heading Exaptation — a thing that originated for one reason surviving for other reasons. It was as if adapted for a new purpose, but as naturally selected, sort of adapting itself.

A meme — a replicable habit — spread for reasons independent of its explicit rationale.

Great story.

It may even be true.

Almost certainly it is true.

But it is not the whole story: we still have that initial irritant. The “ghosts.” Which though inconvenient after the religion becomes a memetic hit, still persist.

And there is an outside possibility that some of those irritants in the oyster of our imaginations are, themselves, Not What They Seem.

They may be neither dreams nor hallucinations nor memories.

They might be aliens.

In a fascinating dcumentary about a man who paints his alleged encounters with aliens, some of whom with which he engages in sexual acts, Love and Saucers, we learn about an odd variety of religious experience, the sexual extraterrestrial encounter. Philosopher Jeffrey Kripal, quoted in the movie, tells us that religious experiences with a sexual component are common in the literature. He also sees alien encounter and abduction stories as not dissimilar from past religious tales. What they interpreted as angels we, in a more scientific age, interpret as extraterrestrials.

And such experiences are not uncommon.

So, do we have these experiences because of some quirk of our psychologies, as evolved from the distant past?

Or is it something more direct?

I do not know.

I have never had an encounter as described by the painter in Love and Saucers. It would be easy to mock him. That is something I am sure my “skeptic” friends online would be inclined to do.

But I no longer do such things. If David Huggins, the subject of the documentary, is conjuring these “memories” by confabulation, that is almost as astounding as the events he describes.

And then there is the wider context. Do we have certainty that encounters with “aliens” do not happen? I do not have that certainty of conviction, of dismissive incredulity. I do not have enough faith to dismiss out of hand the UFO context.

Now, I understand, that wider context and the evidence for it may be peculiar in the extreme, sure — but it is vast. The number of documents leaked from governments, and the hundreds — the thousands — of seemingly earnest testimonies from military personnel and government contractors, airline passengers, and workers about encounters with bizarre flying and submersible crafts is huge. And these crafts — in government documents and reports as well as in reams of testimony, apparently run according to principles nothing like the technology we know, which is based on aerodynamics and hydrodynamics, and on the many types of internal combustion engines . . . well, the number and weight of the testimony is almost disturbing.

Further, there appears to be an ongoing government disclosure of information about these encounters, around the world, and even — belatedly, with a great lag — from the biggest, most UFOey government of them all, the United States of Military Industrial Complex.

I do not know what to make of all this. Not with anything approaching certainty. And were it not for the Cato Institute, I might not be thinking about it at all.

A number of years ago the libertaran think tank fired one of its consulting scholars, economist Dom Armentano — removed him from their honor roll, so to speak. Why? Because he had come out for UFO disclosure.

Think about this. The retired professor merely expressed a support for transparency in government on an issue of public interest. But the “heroic” Cato management could not even be associated with something as tame as that.

When I heard this, I experienced something like shock. I had thought I understood the cultism of the cultural center, its proneness to shaming and shunning and marginalization . . . perpetrated to keep the hierarchy of the in-group secure against all comers. But Cato is libertarian. Do Cato-ites think their propinquity to power, geographically, makes them in the in-group? If any tribe on the planet has reason to understand the corrosive nature of in-group intellectual regimentation, it would be libertarians. And if any group should be prone to resist such nonsense, then it must be libertarians, right?

Apparently not. Cato was so eager for respectability, and so unimaginative that an illustrious economist had to be purged.

This is when I realized the astounding extent of ideological cultism in America, and its corrupting powers. And, once you realize how powerful that propensity is, then you can see how it could be manipulated.

By a conspiracy. At a power center.

For, alas, it seems likely that some conspiracy is involved. Either a cabal within the Deep State is conspiring to keep some dread secret from the world and from the citizens that the government putatively serves, or a big if ragtag group of military personel, domestic pilots, seamen, and a great number of civilians are perpetrating and perhaps coördinating a huge fraud.

About two years ago, I began to think the latter the less likely.

Further, I surmise, if I were in the Deep State and saw all these rumors swirl around me, I would regard them as a destabilizing force, as undermining governance by decreasing trust in basic institutions. I would earnestly support public research into and educational efforts about the phenomena, the better to thoroughly explain and debunk paranormal accounts and tall tales about UFOs and “aliens.” But, on the other hand, had I a secret to keep, a big one, letting the testimonies and photographs and rumors and urban legends spread while giving lukewarm and even preposterous counter-explanations might just work — to keep the secret. After all, I could count on all the little Catos out there, doing my work for me, keeping “the nuts” marginalized.

This does not mean that painter David Huggins is not some kind of a nut. There is room for psychological confabulation along the margins. But it sure looks like something strange is going on. The planet and its history may be stranger than we thought.

Indeed, “the gods” at the start of religions may not have been mere mirages and dreams and “visions.” Perhaps the Anunnaki and Quinametzin and Viracocha and that crowd really did help start our civilization, and that they seemed “gods” to us barely higher apes. And maybe they had some connection to the phenomena that we call “religious” — and maybe they have something to do with “aliens.”

In any case, Love and Saucers is a fascinating documentary.

And religion remains something of a mystery.

twv

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The idea that we cannot have good things without taxpayer subsidy and political-bureaucratic management is implausible on the face of it. But long habits of doing and thinking one way can prevent seeing the advantages of doing and thinking in another.

A number of basic government policies have distorted civilization away from the paths that it would “spontaneously” have taken.

  • Medicare hornswaggled people into investing more wealth on the last years of their lives than they would have rationally chosen;
  • “Public education” forced people into devoting more wealth (and less attention) to the education of their (and their neighbors’) children than may likely have chosen sans government schools;
  • State roadwork systems funnelled wealth to the creation and maintenance of roads that, had folks been made to bear those costs more directly and consciously, they would have been unlikely to have opted for.

In each of these these cases people’s incentives were changed by policy and program. Their behavior changed, and civilization was channelled from some paths to others.

We commonly assume that this redirection of effort was all to the good, made us better people, and that government proved its ability to solve “public goods” problems — market failures — efficiently.

This strikes me as not very convincing.

Just consider, first, the opportunities forgone. Some opportunity costs of these three popular and quite bedrock policies include startling innovations that we are, socially and politically, now trying to resuscitate:

  • By channelling wealth into old-age medical care, the wealth taken could not be spent on other valued uses, including health maintenance, illness prevention, and private savings and insurance.
  • By channelling wealth into schools for children, the opportunities forgone include non-schooling means of education from apprenticeship programs to home learning systems and ma-and-pop tutoring programs — all at a fraction of the cost of governmental, union-approved kludge.
  • By setting up a system of roadways, alternate means of travel were quite obviously scuttled, from railway and waterway transit to personal methods not requiring heavy investments in infrastructure, like personal air travel.

But it is worse that the few examples listed above, which barely scratch the surface. Government external economies and market failures abound in the three examples I have chosen — despite (or because of) ostensible state efforts to solve problems of market failure.

  • By reducing personal costs of imprudence, subsidized medical care subtlely encourages folly, especially medical folly — and we have several generations of corpulent diabetics to prove it.
  • By reducing the personal costs of raising their children, parents are tempted to devote less wisdom and care towards their children, even towards education generally — and we have generations of near illiterates who know almost nothing of history . . . and think of “socialism” as savvy policy.
  • By reducing some of our direct costs on driving, and enticing us onto a vast network of roadways which we naturally treat as a new commons, cities sprawled, wildlife habitats were undermined in the hinterlands, and the amount of pollutants people individually put into the atmosphere increased by many orders of magnitude.

All three of these policies, by the way, encouraged us to think of consumption as separate from production. And that is my definition of “consumerism.” In a free market, we largely consume according to the amount of our production. This, because trade is two-way. But when government gets involved, we increasingly think we have rights to wealth and resources that require little or no effort on our part to achieve. We become recipients foremost, not cooperators.

All of taxpaying society becomes a commons, and we are encouraged by government involvement to extract as many resources out of the system as we can, and place into it as little as we can.

Of the three government-run systems I have mentioned — Medicare, public schooling, and roadworks — it is the road system that is most tightly constructed to avoid the tragedy of the commons, for roadways have been largely (though, alas, not solely) funded by fuel taxes and vehicle licensing. But with the rise of electric cars, fuel tax system is already breaking down.

The opposite of consumerism is producerism, of course, and in traditional Puritanism and in protectionism we can see elements of that philosophy.

But both philosophies are out of balance. They are, in truth, examples of government splitting the whole person into two, according to functions. An individualist would encourage each person to think of himself or herself as both producer and consumer. Consumerism works against that, and corrupts our culture because of it.

Other isms jump on board, too.

Feminism, for example, has pried the natural division of labor by household apart, working mightily to transform that division by running it through the institutions of the administrative/redistributive state. In so doing, the feminine consumer function — of mothers managing resources for their families — has been taken as a consumerist standard of “social justice” while the masculine producer function has been targeted as the source of wealth to be resistributed by the “benevolent” mommy state.

Individualism strikes me as very different from these other distributional paradigms. But by seeing all adult individuals as united producer-consumers unless contractually relegated to half-roles (by marriage or job, usually), a whole lot of responsibility gets shouldered by indvidual persons.

And people tend not to take on more responsibilities than they have to.

Which is why they so often turn to governments to solve all their problems.

The chief cost of consumerism might seem to be best expressed in taxes or social welfare functions. But it is really in terms of your soul.

twv

Gustave de Molinari

The economist must not confound interest with selfishness, still less with the satisfaction of such needs as are purely material. It signifies rather the sum of the requirements of human nature, material as well as moral. A man does not impose upon himself the sufferings which are inseparable from effort, nor abstain from enjoying the fruits of his toil, for the sole purpose of satisfying selfish wants, whether present or future. Altruistic intention is a frequent and often the more powerful factor in determining labours or abstentions. Altruism includes the love of family and the race, of truth and justice; and its scope is only limited by that of the moral sentiment. Under its spur men have died for each other, a cause, even a cherished idea. There is no real warrant for the opposition between interest and duty, a contradiction that has been too often reiterated. Duty is no more than the obligation to act in conformity with justice, the criterion of which is the general and permanent interest of the species. The sense of justice — in other words the moral sense — naturally predisposes us to conform action to duty. This sense is, no doubt, distributed most unequally. Certain individuals find that obedience to its dictates yields a joy which outweighs any pain, and such men pursue duty at all costs and in face of every obstacle; others are less conscious of the stimulus. A sense of obligation is often disobeyed, but every lapse is followed by that feeling of pain which is called remorse. Finally, there are many persons whose moral sense, the sense of justice, is quite rudimentary; they commit every kind of injustice or immorality to satisfy their passions or vices, and are a menace to society and the race. Mere self-defence compels society to supplement such enfeebled sense of the obligations. It therefore imposes penalties, regulating their incidence in such a way that the amount of pleasure obtained by comitting an injustice is more than neutralised by the punishment which follows.

Society’s first duty is, therefore, to foster the sense of justice — the moral sense. And it is equally imperative to define the distinction between just and unjust, moral and immoral, since the hurt or benefit of society and the species is bound up with the opposition between these two ideas. The interests of the individual and the species are, in their regard, identical.

Gustave de Molinari

The Society of To-morrow: A Forecast of Its Political and Economic Organisation (1904)

from the Preface, third footnote (to the passage in the title on this page)

Is there systemic racism and systemic sexism in America today?

as answered on Quora:

Yes. But ask the next question: which system are you talking about?

There are many social systems. Do the race and sex isms affect families and clans and communities and churches and schools and businesses and law enforcement and legal adjudication?

Yes.

Equally?

No.

And there are many forms of racism and sexism. Some of them may be benign. (Sometimes it matters how you define the terms. It always matters how you define the terms that define these terms.) Several are corrosive.

Then ask the questions after that: how much does discrimination on irrelevant racial or sexual grounds (which is racism and sexism by accepted definitions — until recently) affect outcomes? Can people withstand irrelevant criteria used against them, or hatred or distaste based on group identification dissuading normal commerce? How would you determine percentages?

What if some people can withstand invidious discrimination better than others? Dare we ask if there be any way to extend the ability to withstand that discrimination?

And we know the above implied situation to be true: Chinese and Japanese have a long history of race-hatred against them in America, but by the stats they do better, wealth-wise, than whites in America. They are doing something right, even if some whites continue to do something wrong against them. Does anyone care to consider what these minority groups are doing right? And emulate those habits and folkways and philosophies?

Indian-Americans also do better than African-Americans of slave descent. And certainly better than Native Indian populations. They even do better than us Caucasians, on average. And yet, I’m told, that not a few Indian-Americans get the “go back to your own country!” shouts all too regularly.

So how do they do it? What do they do right? Or is it “just an accident”? Cannot what they do be mimicked and adopted by Native Indians on reservations or African-Americans in inner city ghettoes and housing projects?

Oh-ho: we just got somewhere.

You should have reservations about Reservations, and “Indian Affairs” in general. And perhaps also express dubiety about the claims made for the welfare state that leaves so many American blacks — and increasing numbers of whites — in poverty.* In Great Britain, where the problems of inner-city and rural poverty are mainly concentrated amongst whites, the same behaviors endemic amongst American inner-city minority populations is exhibited among whites on the dole — “the chavs.”

What if what these folks are hampered by is . . . “being ‘helped’”?

Is that unhelpful “help” racist? Probably not by intent. Not most of the time.

Or is it racist to object to the very question, and immediately lash out at those who raise the question and worry about the possibility?

I suspect that this particular reaction is a kind of racism — an ideological anti-racist racism — that leads folks, chiefly on the left, to dismiss this possibility that state aid can be unhelpful, and to call scholars like Thomas Sowell, who have demonstrated how this awful dynamic has affected society, “Uncle Toms.”

But more importantly than racism or sexism, is the underlying ism: statism. The love of the state above and beyond all reason. The attachment to power, and dreams of concentrated power.

To believe that The State can solve all our problems is an ism worse than racism and sexism. Statism is a scourge upon modern society. It devastates those groups with the least moral capital. And it infects us all with crippling memes of victimhood and blame and desperation.

It sometimes seems that the Last Man of our times can only rise above nihilism by obsessing about and protesting racism, collapsing on clichés in private life, or else hypocrisy.

But the Last Man is also a feminist, obsessed with making Woman equal to Man — but using as a standard of judgment only the successes of the most esteemed men. Today’s feminists notoriously insist that the numbers of women should equal the numbers of men in roles of political and corporate leadership, and as workers in STEM fields, and the like. But somehow they never complain about the ratio of men to women in homelessness, suicides, or in dangerous, grisly jobs. Do feminists thereby make of their anti-sexism another form of sexism? Maybe. And their agenda may, like the statism that keeps some populations away from responsibility and progress, be, indeed, systemic.

What it is, really, though?

A form of classism.

Feminists only look to match the successes of the alpha males, and impute to alphas and betas invidious discrimination, all the while scorning the failures among men, the low-status men, the daily workers and get-byers — the gammas; the “neckbeards”; the “deplorables” — and carrying on the old class hierarchies of “patriarchy” into their brave new world of welfare-state gynocracy.

In complaining about systemic sexism, and racism, the modern intersectionalist progressive advances systemic classism. These progressives/socialists/social engineers abandon any attempt at establishing a general, universalizable rule of conduct, instead demanding that the State engineer “just the right” consequences in terms of ratios by race (which they get to define) and by “gender” (which they cannot help but misdefine) — making a systemic form of discrimination that is worse, I think, than what we find in an open society.

Perhaps they are well-intentioned. But I am, increasingly, failing to see the good intentions. When they have so much opportunity to look at the actual numbers and trends and evidence (as well as logic) of human interaction, instead always pushing the same sort of class-based, group-indexed agenda, and, further, deflecting when evidence is brought against their ideas —

  • by Thomas Sowell, for example;
  • by Charles Murray, for another;
  • by Christina Hoff Sommers, for a third;
  • by a host of others

— then I think the question to ask is: are the biggest proponents of systemic discrimination the social engineers themselves?

The answer is yes.

And their favored forms of systemic racism and sexism are blighting more and more lives every year, male and female, white as well as all the darker shades. These isms create new class structures. Indeed, the class structures are well in place. It is the old rule: insiders and their protected groups versus the outsiders. And it should surprise no one that the most enthusiastic supporters of intersectionalist progressivism can be found in the most pampered and “privileged” of institutions, the Academy, and in the cheerleader corps of journalism, as well.

The only sure response to this is establishing a rule of law. That is, encourage a refined individualism that judges everybody by their actions, not their skin color or sex organs. Judge people by themselves, the “content of their character” and the fruits of their deeds, not by whatever group they happen to belong to.


* It is worth noting that the trend lines for poverty in America were in steep decline in America . . . but leveled out only a few years after LBJ’s much-vaunted, much-promoted “Great Society” welfare system kicked in.

To believe that “deficits don’t matter” and “public debt is no problem” requires one to believe that government, and government alone, has solved the problem of scarcity.

Furthermore, governments have mastered this magic by doing the one thing that politicians most like doing: bestowing benefits on some constituents without immediately raising taxes on others.

Suspicious. Stretches the credulity, if you ask me. I have never been shown the mechanism how this could possibly work.

Most defenses of deficit spending are Keynesian, and Keynesian fiscal prescriptions only make sense on their own terms when counter-cyclical, that is, when deficit spending is parlayed in bad times to be offset by budget surpluses used to pay off debt in good times. But that no longer ever happens. If it ever did.

Politicians just get too few rewards from paying down debt.

So, as near as I can make out, the modern State’s “solving” of the “problem of scarcity” is not a solution at all, but is, instead, a con job. It depends wholly upon misdirection. As is so often the case, we come back to Bastiat’s “the seen and the unseen.”

The populace? Blind to it. But politicians and their pet economists? They squeak and take their politic soundings for mastery of flight.

Batty.

Cultic behavior is not limited to marginal groups.

Indeed, it has become increasingly clear in recent years that the social controls we associate with cults are the prime drivers (with interesting differences) of almost all center-dominant cultural organizations, institutions and movements.

Most people adopt center-dominant beliefs not because of the beliefs’ truth-values, but for pragmatic reasons and for signalling. Think of it as “innocence by association.”

We should expect nothing else.

And it is for this reason that whole cultures can lurch into extremely perverse directions, whether they be Aztec mass sacrifice, communist political centralism, or even dietetic “science” and eating habits.

My favorite modern example is usually deficit spending by governments and debt accumulation — often excused by half-adopted, half-assessed Keynesianism while being driven by very different but very obvious Public Choice factors.

twv

I asked a question about Menippean satire and the works of Jack Vance, in a Facebook discussion group, and in the conversation that followed I encountered this:

What is remarkable about this passage from a fellow Vancian is how easy it would be to satirize, in Menippean fashion.

But instead of doing so, I will just explain: the truth of the matter is almost precisely the opposite of the notions for which my interlocutor expresses certainty.

“We” do not destroy the environment to enrich the “1 percent.” This “1 percent” works mightily to fulfil our desires, and in the course of the process some damage is done to the “environment.” Trendy progressives — by which I mean “trendy anti-progress doomsayers” — never seem to understand how the world works. They seem to think that if the 1 percent goes about enriching themselves, we allow them to do that because we are suckers. Not quite. We allow them to invest, and to build businesses, so that those businesses can increase the quality of our lives. The dreaded Greenhouse gases do not come, primarily, from the recreational activities of the very rich. They come from all of our driving in automobiles, heating our domiciles, and eating meat. Sure, many people get rich providing us with cars and fuel, electricity and natural gas, and raising beef animals that fart up methane. It is because we engage in consumption that production is developed, and some people — serving vast hordes of consumers — get very rich.

Capitalism is mass production for the masses.

It is a defect of leftist thought that what leftists object to is the great successes of the most productive, not the real drivers of the market system, consumers.

I find it hysterical coming from folks who readily parrot Keynesian doctrine, since Keynesians fixate almost wholly on consumer spending as the driver of market activity. I think the actual implementation of capital is way more complicated than Keynesians think, but nevertheless I more than acknowledge the consumer sovereignty idea embedded (perhaps precariously) within Keynesian dogma.

But leftists and environmentalists and other responsibility-evaders must always shift blame for unfortunate social patterns away from themselves and onto the dreaded Rich.

I guess this allows them to justify their lust to tear away at other people. And because they do not see the integral role of entrepreneurs in markets, or recognize the symbiotic relationship of all market participants, including between “classes,” they eagerly attack one sector, in vulgar fashion, while inflicting harm more generally.

Then, of course, they blame the rich for not being more productive.

This general attitude is what I think of as a satirizable — and is satirized in some of the character types to be found in many of Vance’s best work, such as Wyst and Emphyrio.

It is not just the attitude that is bothersome, however. Also latent in my interlocutor’s sort of complaint is lack of recognition of a fairly basic truth: it is only the comparatively rich societies that find ways to make industry cleaner. America and Europe developed strategies for cleaning up industrial excess only after a level of wealth was reached, far in advance of what big polluters in India and China now possess.

This may be a sad truth, but it is a truth regardless.

Environmentalists so rarely recognize it.

And yet they often do so tacitly, by focusing their ire on First World polluters more than in China and Africa, for instance.

Pure comedy gold.

twv

Mind your business

Why should we care about freedom of the press when most media companies are already owned by billionaires with their own political agendas?

As Answered on Quora

The freedom of the press is not just for big media companies. It is for you and me, with our blogs and videos and the like. A “press” is just a means to distribute “speech” beyond the sound of our voices in distinct places.

The American Revolution was the background of the founders’ understanding of “the press.” It was a period of pamphleteers. Think tracts, one-sheets, booklets, etc.

All recent judicial perspectives and decision that treat “journalists” and “newspapers” as different from you with your printer and me with my blog are without foundation. Let us get these silly, corporatist notions out of our heads. We are “the press.”

So, it doesn’t matter much, for constitutional interpretation, who owns the major media outlets. The fact that they are owned by billionaires, and all of them technocrats and most left of center, is irrelevant in terms of principle.

Why would anyone think differently? What part of the rule of law is confusing?

IMG_4603


What would happen if the world stopped using money?

As Answered on Quora

Billions of people would die.

Without a medium of exchange and unit of account, coördination of capital would become utterly incoherent, and the established interdependence of the modern age would vanish.

Most people would become useless to others, unrewardable.

And violence would reign supreme, as there would be a scramble to capture existing resources. Economists would utter the words “consumption of capital” before they were placed against the wall and shot en masse.

Mass starvation, rioting, tyranny, and death would follow, and quickly. Progress would not merely halt, regress would set in. We would go back to a stone age. A few technological utopias may survive, but the cost would be extraordinary.

For billions and billions of people would die miserable, horrifying deaths.

And the population would reduce itself to something like twice the population of bears.

In the meantime, certain infrastructure elements, like nuclear power plants, might very well fail and poison the planet . . . that is, if the malign individuals who capture the nuclear arsenal do not usher in nuclear winter, first.

fwnietzsche

Does Philosophy Affect Culture?
What philosophies to you think craft the world today — or do they not matter?

As Answered on Quora

Academic philosophy does not affect culture very much today, except for the far left strains of Marxism, neo-Marxism, structuralism, post-structuralism, and postmodernism. These have had a disastrous influence on our culture. Why? Because bright people are very susceptible to cults, and these philosophies gave blueprints and marching orders for cultic intellectualism and intellectual cultism.

In Greek and Roman times philosophy deeply impacted culture. Then philosophy deeply influenced Christianity, which in turn influenced western culture greatly. There is also evidence that philosophy affected Judaism, which influenced Christianity and Islam. And philosophy was a part of Islam in its fairly early years, until the anti-intellectualism and cultic nature of the religion squashed it.

I think we can say that the Enlightenment had a huge influence on the modern world, and Enlightenment philosophers were big influences upon the English and American Revolutions and the direction of American culture for a long time. Names to remember, here, include Hugo Grotius, John Locke, Francis Hutchinson, who are worth remembering in this regard. At the back of the Enlightenment was not only the Renaissance, with philosophers quite various, but also the discovery of De Rerum Natura, which may have been an inspiration and much more — Epicurean atomism spurring much analysis and the scientific method, too. The Scottish Enlightenment percolated throughout the world, in part under cover of political economy, which hailed (in part) from one of the greats in the Scots tradition, Adam Smith. Then Romanticism was ignited by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, from which flowed the French Revolution and the rise of socialism as a cultural and political force. Other thinkers of Enlightenment France included Denis Diderot, who did much to influence the secular trend now dominant.

John Stuart Mill has certainly had an influence on political and general intellectual culture. But remember: in the 19th century the most popular philosopher was Herbert Spencer, who definitely contributed to the making of the modern world, particularly the English-speaking world, and despite the turn against his thought around the time of his death in 1903. And in the German culture? Feuerbach and others ushered in an onslaught upon Christian dogma and certainty, which Friedrich Nietzsche ramped up to 11.

And we must remember: artists tend to be influenced by philosophy. Arch-individualist Max Stirner had a huge impact on composer Richard Strauss and on a generation of aesthetes and artists in America in the early part of the 20th century; Sartre and Camus and the whole existentialist movement deeply affected popular culture in that century’s third quarter.

And who can deny that William James and pragmatism did not somehow become part of the warp and woof of American culture, as had Transcendentalism earlier? In Italy, the influence of the anti-fascist Benedetto Croce was not insignificant.

Ideas move the world. Philosophers contribute to ideas, no?

Sometimes mightily, sometimes not.