Tuesday, July 31, 2018

What We Know

Image result for robert musil
The problem for these critics of Enlightenment rationalism, as Robert Musil defined it, was not that we 'have too much intellect and too little soul', but that we have 'too little intellect in matters of the soul'.
That is from Indian writer Pankaj Mishra's frustrating 2016 essay, 'Welcome to the Age of Anger',* later a book under the title 'Age of Anger: a History of the Present'.
- What's frustrating about it?
- Terrorism and the return of fascism in our times are seen as the result of the failure of capitalism to deliver its promised increased equality and prosperity and its inferiority, even if it did, to the traditional ways of life it replaces. Because Mishra includes himself among the critics of the enlightenment who have too little intellect in matters of the soul and have no solution to offer, the powers that be can hail the book and think themselves virtuously self-critical and feel comfortable about changing nothing.
- You think then we do have some intellect in matters of the soul?
- Yes. Over the years we've talked over the ideas of geographers that nations last longest when more people are in charge, where resources are not easily monopolized, or where people can be re-establish themselves across a frontier or up in the hills.
- Monopoly is the enemy of both democratic politics and free-market economics.
- Yes. We educate ourselves in matters of the soul by being intelligent about physical things such as water supply and mountain barriers. We've talked about the related idea of anthropologists that equality is replaced by hierarchy in the sedentary life of agriculture where there is nowhere to escape to and resources readily monopolized, forcing the majority of people into dependence and slavery.
- How is a geographic origin of inequality a matter of the soul?
- The resurgence of fascism we are now seeing is a willing submission to authority.
- And that comes about in geographic conditions of masses of people subject to monopoly who are unable to escape across borders.
- Yes. Leaders are loved for their instituting rituals in which the victims of monopoly and enclosure can recover from their sense of weakness in the collective blaming of enemies, internal or external, standing in the way of their past and again to be future power.** Something to be done then is known: place obstacles in the way of monopoly.
- How do we do that?
- We understand that both democracy and capitalism are not themselves conditions of progress: both left to themselves tend towards monopoly, democracy to fascism and capitalism to corporate capture of the government.
- Then what?
- We are intelligent enough about the soul to create conditions where fascism and corporate capture of government are less likely.
- Which are?
- Very obvious: outlawing both employment for hire,*** the institutionalizing of the master/slave relation, and hoarding, the ownership of unused property.
- And that would save democracy and capitalism? Or are you looking ahead to alternatives to representative government and free markets?
- Isn't it something that we can say we have made progress, are not completely stupid in matters of the soul? Or would you want to claim to know enough to make predictions about the future of humanity?
- Not me!

Further Reading:
Why Nations Fail
Freedom Rising & Falling
Why We Can't Let You Go
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* Welcome to the Age of Anger
** In ritual, the reality or lack thereof, a story of mythical gods or Mexican rapists, in the conditions acted out is completely irrelevant. Consider this week's Trump rally in Florida where the president explained that ID cards for voters to prevent fraudulent voting is not such an outlandish idea since law already requires a photo ID to buy groceries. This statement of a man who apparently always has had people shop for him and has never in his life entered a market is let pass without protest or disturbance in the general spirit of acclaim by his audience. To the president's supporters reality or lack thereof clearly was of no account in the activity of repetitive submission to their leader they were participating in.
*** As opposed to self-employment or partnership.