Thursday, April 9, 2015

How Modernity Fell Out of Favour With "Social Justice"

In part one of this series, I explored the nature and the ongoing crisis of modernity. The crisis took the form of the conflict between camps referred to as the revolution (who preferred to rely upon empirical evidence) and the counter-revolution (who preferred to rely upon dogmas and doctrines).

The conflict could never be permanently resolved. Periodic detentes were achieved through a mediating force: Cartesian reason. But those detentes were few and far between. I refer to the ongoing process of attempting to mediate between the two Cartesian modernity.

Cartesian modernity was a successful enough project that for centuries it prevented Europe from completely destroying itself.

But as fate would have it, Cartesian modernity -- and with it, objective reason as its central mediating force -- would fall out of favour with powerful ideologues.

Why did this happen?

It happened when ideologues linked Renaissance-era modernity to imperialism and Eurocentrism. The world was quickly changing.  The old world, so to speak, was stumbling upon new ones, and discovering new ways to assert itself in others. As Hardt and Negri explain:

"The internal conflict of European modernity was also reflected simultaneously on a global scale as an external conflict. The development of Renaissance thought coincided both with the European discovery of the Americas and with the beginnings of European dominance over the rest of the world. Europe had discovered its outside. 'If the period of the Renaissance marks a qualitative break in the history of humanity,' writes Samir Amin, 'it is precisely because, from that time on, Europeans become conscious of the idea that the conquest of the world by their civilization is henceforth a possible objective ... From this moment on, and not before, Eurocentrism crystallizes.'"

European incursions into Asia, Africa and the Americas opened new fronts on which the philosophical adherents of the revolution and the counter-revolution could compete.

While the resources and the infrastructure of the revolution (universities, primarily) were immobile, the prime resources of the counter-revolution were not. The counter-revolution could send missionaries and militant forces into these lands and obtain relatively-instant gratification. Universities of the European standard didn't exactly sprout from the soil overnight.

But even as the counter-revolution gained an edge on these fronts, it appropriated reason, or at least what it could pass off as reason. In order to do this it had to appropriate many of the tools of the revolution.

The counter-revolution asserted that European domination over these lands was justified by the technological superiority and (what they deemed to be) intellectual superiority of European modernity.

So missionaries carried Bibles into the depths of Africa, Asia and the Americas. But instead of simply lecturing about Christianity, as European priests had with their flocks, missionaries taught their flocks how to read for themselves. In time, the Bible was even translated into those languages.

This was an under-appreciated lesson that the counter-revolution had taken away from the Renaissance. The refusal of the Catholic Church to permit the Bible to be translated into languages other than Latin -- which only the clergy spoke -- had opened a front within Christianity which turned far more ugly than perhaps anyone could have expected, with rivers of blood flowing.

This was just one way in which the counter-revolution appropriated the methods of the revolution. In short, the counter-revolution cloaked itself in the form of Cartesian modernity. And it was under this guise that it spread itself across the globe while the revolution remained rooted mostly in Europe.

It's with this in mind that perhaps it's easy for people such as Hardt and Negri to mistake the counter-revolution for Cartesian modernity itself. But make no mistake about it. For the counter-revolution, Cartesian Modernity very much was a problem. Even Hardt and Negri have it as such:

"On the one hand, Renaissance humanism initiated a revolutionary notion of human equality,of singularity and community, cooperation and multitude, that resonated with forces and desires extending horizontally across the globe,redoubled by the discovery of other populations and territories. On the other hand, however, the same counter-revolutionary power that sought to control the constituent and subversive forces within Europe also began to realize the possibility and necessity of subordinating other populations to European domination. Eurocentrism was born as a reaction to the potentiality of a new found human equality; it was the counter-revolution on a global scale."

Interestingly enough, this belief in "new found human equality" is the preserve of neither the revolution nor the counter-revolution. but rather the result of Cartesian reason.

Contrary to what one may be tempted to think, it wasn't a result of mediation of the two sides' views. In both revolution and counter-revolution can be found the seeds of Eurocentrism. For the counter-revolution, the lands into which Europeans had incurred were full of heathens, not yet uplifted by Christianity. For the revolution, (most of) these lands were filled with technologically- and scientifically-deficient peoples. In each case, the conclusion was that Europeans were superior,

A mediation between these views obviously does not produce a belief in the essential equality of humankind. Rather, this belief was a spontaneous product of Cartesian reason, but one that would require centuries before it would convincingly take hold.

The position of the counter-revolution was clearly rooted in subjective and self-serving thought. It could have been based on nothing else. But it's not difficult to look at the comparative states of these civilizations and see how one could presume the conclusion of European superiority was based on objective reason.

Speaking strictly for myself, I don't believe that presumption would fail the tests of virtue epistemics, particularly virtue reliabalism. It's my personal opinion that the locus of the conclusion of European superiority was as much, if more so, internal as it was external. In short: ego. It's not at all difficult to understand how someone may have made the comparison between the civilizations and simply wanted to conclude they were superior.

But the appropriation of Cartesian reason for the purpose of drawing this conclusion has, in the minds of many, linked it indivisibly to Eurocentrism and by extension to imperialism.

People who subscribe to social justice ideologies don't care for imperialism very much.

So they were confronted by the need for tools not tainted by Eurocentrism and imperialism. They stumbled upon a rather curious alternative: subjective reason. Thusly, postmodernity was born.

They found that subjective reason had advantages that objective reason did not. Objective reason required that one reason strictly according to empirical evidence -- material evidence which could be observed. But many of the arguments that the champions of postmodernity wished to make could not be made on the basis of empirical evidence, or at least not on empirical evidence alone.

To do this they would colonize the primary intellectual infrastructure of the revolution: the academy. And in doing so they would create entire new fields of study with loose evidentiary standards, and effectively non-existent tools of internal inquiry.

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