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“How to Think”, and How Not to – and How to Grow Up before it’s too late

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In “How to Think” (Common Dreams: Building progressive Community, July 9, 2012) Chris Hedges observes

Cultures that endure carve out a protected space for those who question and challenge national myths. Artists, writers, poets, activists, journalists, philosophers, dancers, musicians, actors, directors and renegades must be tolerated if a culture is to be pulled back from disaster. Members of this intellectual and artistic class, who are usually not welcome in the stultifying halls of academia where mediocrity is triumphant, serve as prophets.

The problem is, in general, these groups are not welcome today because their own messages are just as stale and ineffectual as those of the tenured mediocrities who got there first.

For example, the professor argues in learned journals that ethics is an illusion. There is nothing behind it really but the accidental survival of the naked ape.

But those who “question and challenge national myths” mostly, at bottom, believe what he does. They have no defensible ethical foundation for their demands for the changes they accidentally want. They just seek to impose their will. A drive that the prof can explain.

But the prof and his colleagues got there first. So they impose their will instead.

Welcome to Darwin’s society. The only change worth fighting for would be to dismiss both lots, if possible.

It goes on:

They are dismissed, or labeled by the power elites as subversive, because they do not embrace collective self-worship. …

Oh, let’s stop you right there, Chris Hedges. Anyone familiar with these groups knows quite well that they do believe in, and ostentatiously practice, collective self-worship. They know, beyond any earthly certainty, that they are better than the rest of us. Darwin’s followers can explain how ancestors’ selfish genes enabled that belief, just as they do in today’s descendants. Some of Darwin’s followers even claim that there is a liberal gene. (There is also supposedly a conservative gene.)

When they fail, as all idols do – it is hard to put this point with the requisite charity – it’s not the feet of clay, it’s the heads of clay that turn most people off.

They offer the possibility of a life of meaning and the capacity for transformation.

Transformation to what, clay? Many such movements offered that opportunity to millions upon millions of people in the twentieth century. Most of us are well warned against it now.

It’s not that the Common Dreams folk don’t have topics for criticism, but that they don’t have a philosophical position from which criticism could be meaningful or morally compelling.

They would do to the university what the Occupiers did to a public park in downtown Toronto, depriving locals who were starved for green space of their favourite free beauty spot – and ruining it as well.

So there is no clear case for not leaving the current deadheads in charge of the university for now. They at least don’t turn fine horticulture into a muddy mess or commit street crimes.

What we need is Uncommon Dreams.

Hat tip: Pos-Darwinista

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Mahuna, I assume this reply is wasted on you. You sound like a classic Darwinist. Ethics and free will are an illusion, right? But for non-Darwinists who may be reading: The Westminster system of government ENSHRINES dissent. In Canada, serious dissent is called, "Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition." (People waving picket signs are not necessarily serious dissent. They could just be ruining a local public park.) Seriously, the party that elects the most members from the regional ridings is the government. The party's leader is the Prime Minister. The second party past the post is the Loyal Opposition. Each side gets a fancy house in Ottawa. Stone, hardwood, fur, etc. For entertaining diplomats. The Loyal Opposition is free to trash all policies of the Prime Minister's party, but under no circumstances to advocate insurrection, rebellion, revolution, or crime. Just wait till the next election ... ! Nations that are governed this way have lasted for centuries, and tend to be considered world leaders, irrespective of small population size. News
Does the article give any example of an enduring society that encourages anti-establishment groups? I read a lot of history, and a sure sign that the society is on its last legs is the appearance, and acceptance, of protestors and complainers. The example that springs immediately to mind is Japan. Japanese society "endured" virtually unchanged for well over 1,000 years, really up until the surrender and occupation in 1945 forced changes. The more classic example is Rome, which spent several centuries trying to collapse after the elites abandoned traditional Roman culture and morality. Remeber that Rome had already "endured" for more than 3 centuries when Caesar attacked the Gauls in 58 BC. Social scientists love inventing theories of "never was" societies. I'm not sure why. Perhaps it's because if they simply describe real societies, they're just writing History. mahuna
Mr. Hedges would do well to read Blaise Pascal's 'Pensees' before he tells any one of us 'How to Think'. Mankind's thinking 'problems' are old as the human race. Possibly connecting a little (or a freight-load) with a transcendent intelligence would do all of us a lot of good. However, that wouldn't be in the materialists thinking, would it? Thomas Peters

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