Thursday, June 23, 2016

Postmodernism: A Realm Beyond Renaissance Humanism

Hillary Clinton and Benazir Bhutto.
There is a marked difference between scientism, or the scientific worldview, which is an ideology and the empirically-proven science. Karl Popper addressed the demarcation problem between a scientific worldview and science proper (empirical and verifiable science.) When it comes to verifiability, I agree, that Popperian falsifiability inadequately addresses the problem, but that doesn’t means that every unscientific hypothesis should be given the credibility which has been reserved only for science proper.

Take biological evolution for instance: natural selection is a scientific fact; it can be said about speciation that it is a logical extension of natural selection; but how can we designate ‘primordial hot soup theory’ regarding the origins of life as science? There are obvious shortcomings in the scientific worldview (ideology), and instead of humbly accepting those shortcomings the hegemonic scientism wants to muzzle all dissenting voices.

I won’t get into the whole Big Bang science fiction because humans haven’t yet set foot out of the solar system, not even on Alpha Centauri which is our nearest star, and we are pontificating about the origins of the universe. What is dark matter and dark energy which comprises over 95% of the total mass of the universe? What are quarks made up of, packets of energy or photons maybe? From the infinite to the infinitesimal, we don’t have a slightest clue that how does nature works. Just by reverse engineering some of the wonders of nature, we like to think that science has reached the zenith of knowledge.

Let’s get to the easier questions of biology instead: the scientists biggest achievement so far have been the formation of organic matter from inorganic matter (urea.) The difference between organic and inorganic compounds is inconsequential; the real challenge for science is to address the difference between organic matter and the formation of first protein (amino acid), DNA and more importantly a living organism (a cell) with all of its myriads of structural and physiological wonders.

Notwithstanding, how does science explains human consciousness? So far, the scientists have not been able to overcome the astounding mind-brain dichotomy, which has created an unbridgeable gulf between cognitive science and neurological science. Neurology is a part of medical science while psychology is an indefinable sphinx between biological and social sciences. The mind does the thinking while the brain gets infected by Alzheimer’s and Parkinsonism: that is, the syllabus of neurology as a branch of medical science.

Teaching biological evolution in the public schools, without teaching the valid criticism on the theory of evolution and its corollary, the scientism, is like brain-washing the children: “Teach a child a religion and you indoctrinate him, teach him many and you inoculate him.”

Coming back to the topic, postmodernism is a belief in the subjectivity of existence; a post-human condition; and a context-based empirical, as opposed to ideological, approach to the social and moral issues.

All the latest moral theories like virtue ethics emphasize the importance of affect/emotion over reason. It is unfortunate that liberalism derives its moral inspiration exclusively from rationalism. Utilitarian maxima for instance: the greatest happiness for the greatest numbers. But it reductively defines ‘happiness’ in simplistic pleasure-pain equations.

Virtue ethics posits that morality is based neither on consequentialism nor on any deontological principle. More than the consequences of an action, it concerns itself with how that action reflects on the ‘moral character’ of the individual?

Human beings are moral beings, which means that they have a hard-wired sense of justice. I won’t get into the nature-nurture debate. By nature human beings are merely tabula rasa. It’s our nurture and culture which makes us moral. And the most important social institution which infuses morality into an individual is the institution of family.

Like I have said earlier, morality is based less on reason and more on affect/emotion. Reason falls well short, the best it can come up with is: reciprocal altruism, which by definition isn’t ‘altruism’ at all, since altruism implies self-sacrifice and without it, it is merely selfish reciprocity. Hence the importance of affect/emotion.

All morality is based on love, compassion and empathy. And what is the fountainhead of love? It is the institution of family which infuses love in its members: love between parents and children and siblings; and this love then transcends the immediate family and encompasses the entire mankind.

Liberals aren’t immoral people per se, but the reductive rationalist-materialist approach which they take towards morality is highly fallacious. And the erosion of the institution of the family and its values is one such example.

Liberalism, as an ideology, was an outcome of industrialization and the consequent urbanization. Conservative values are closer to the agricultural era values of a rural-agrarian milieu. Both conservative and liberal values have their pros and cons, but separately neither of them offers us a comprehensive system of morality. Therefore post-modernism strives to blend both traditional and liberal values to weave a new moral fabric which can address all of human needs and aspirations.

Notwithstanding, until we put the theory to the test of practical life, we cannot be certain of its practicality; and I believe that this defect has primarily been the undoing of liberalism, because its values are more theoretical than practical, as such. Regarding the blending of modern and traditional values, however, we do not have to invent anything new, we only need to integrate the older time-tested elements into the new model of morality.

Since the Renaissance Humanism onwards, we have taken an essentialist approach towards these issues: that all traditional values are bad and all modern values are good; a rationalistic hegemony which derives everything from deduction and rarely from induction and observation.

There are two kinds of traditionalisms: unconscious traditionalism and deliberate traditionalism. Deliberate traditions were a set of values which were devised during the agricultural phase of social evolution for the wellbeing of the individual and for the social cohesion of the group. While unconscious traditions were certain beliefs and superstitions which developed spontaneously without any conscious design and they were more harmful than beneficial, as such.

A better socio-moral model should retain the time-tested and empirically-proven deliberate traditions and eliminate the harmful traditions. Obviously preferences change over time in the light of new discoveries; some of the deliberate traditions may also not meet the requirements of the modern times. But while devising a new model, it should be kept in mind that an empirically-proven fact must always take precedence over any theoretically-derived reform: the onus lies on the reformer to prove beyond doubt that the suggested reform is an improvement on the original tradition as it is.

Regardless, it is also a fact that most social/moral values are basically ‘survival instincts’ but here we must keep in mind that they are the survival instincts of social groups, not individuals. Human beings are by nature social beings. Throughout our history we lived in social groups. During our nomado-pastoral phase, we survived not because of our physical superiority over all other species, but because of our intelligence and social cohesion. We were pack-hunters who were far more innovative than any other known specie, which gave us a comparative advantage in the race for survival.

All I am trying to say is that an individual is important but he is only secondary to the group, and ‘collective survival instincts’ which includes empathy and altruism for the fellow beings, must be an integral part of the comprehensive new system of morality.

Here let me clarify that I  am not against individual autonomy; it’s only when the individual self-interest collides with the collective interest that we face a dilemma. In such a scenario, in my opinion, collective interest must prevail over individual interest. But how does ‘collective interest’ is interpreted entails different approaches. A democratic collective interest, that reflects the aspirations of the masses, is essentially different from how it is interpreted in the autocracies. Supposed “collectivism” under autocracies have made it such a slur that people now shy away from using the term in their discourse.

In the light of my limited online experience with the Western culture I have come to realize that a fully functional family is hard to find in the Western societies; they are more of an exception than norm. Most Western women with whom I have interacted are generally divorced, single mothers who are raising their children all by themselves; while the men folks either don’t get married at all, or even if they do get married under some momentary impulse or infatuation, they tend to leave their wives and kids behind them and either run away with their newfound girlfriends or they are otherwise non-committal in their relationships.

Unlike the Eastern societies which are family-centric the Western societies are mostly individual-centric. Reductive individualism and berserk hedonism is all fine but this unnatural state of affairs cannot last for long; the birth rates all over the Western world are dwindling and in some countries the population growth rate is negative. Only thing that is sustaining their population growth rate is not their natural birth rates, but the immigration of skilled work force from the traditional Eastern societies to the modern Western countries.

The institution of a fully functional family is the cornerstone of a healthy society and if the social environment is not conducive to the development of that fundamental institution, then there is something seriously wrong with our social axioms.

Regarding the civil unions and domestic partnerships, whether or not they are arranged under the title of “marriage,” that’s just the difference of semantics, not the substance. My contention relates to the longevity of such relationships and the reciprocal rights and duties of the conjugal partners. A marriage is a civil contract meant for the purpose of raising children and family; if one of the partners leaves the other midstream, it creates an unmanageable burden on the other partner to raise the children single-handedly.

Although, I don’t have statistics but my assumption is that in the Eastern societies the divorce rates are less than 10% while in the supposedly advanced Western societies they are well in excess of 50%. Sweeping such serious issues under the rug, that affect every individual and family on a personal level, by taking an evasive approach of “see no evil, hear no evil” will further exacerbate the problem.

Notwithstanding, individualists generally believe that an individual holds a central position in the society; the way I see it, however, being “human” is inextricably interlinked with the institution of family. Only things that separates humans from the rest of the animals is their innate potential to acquire knowledge, but knowledge alone is not sufficient for our collective survival due to excessive and manifest intra-special violence; unless we have social cohesion which comes through love, compassion and empathy, we are likely to self-destruct as a specie.

The aforementioned empathy and altruism, however, is imparted by the institution of family within which spouses love each other and their children, and in return children love their parents and siblings. That familial love then transcends the immediate environs of the family and encompasses the entire humanity, thus, without the institution of family there is going to be no humanity, or individual, in the long run.

Although, the family life in the Eastern societies isn’t as perfect as some of us would like to believe, but those are traditional societies that are based on agriculture era value systems; industrialization and consequent urbanization is the order of the day, those rural societies will eventually evolve into their urban counterparts. My primary concern is that the utopian paradigm that we have conjured up is far from perfect in which the divorce rates are very high and generally mothers are left alone to fend for themselves and raise their children giving rise to a dysfunctional familial and social arrangement.

Additionally, some social scientists draw our attention to the supposed “unnaturalness” of the institution of family and polyamory etc. in the primitive societies, but if we take a cursory look at the history of mankind there are two distinct phases of cultural development: the pre-Renaissance social evolution and the post-Renaissance cultural evolution.

Most of our cultural, scientific and technological accomplishments are attributed to the latter phase that has only lasted for a few centuries, and the institution of family has played a pivotal role in the social advancement of that era. Empirically speaking, we must base our scientific assumptions on the proven and visible evidence and not some cock and bull Amazonian fairy tales.

Regarding the erosion of the institution of family, I am of the opinion, that it is primarily the fault of the mass entertainment media that has caused an unnatural obsession with glamor and the consequent sexualization of the modern societies.

To sum it up, techno-scientific progress alone cannot ensure the survival and well-being of individuals in the long run; unless we are able to rear individuals who, along with intelligence and knowledge, also possess love, compassion and empathy; and such sentiments cannot be taught in schools and academies, which makes family an indispensable social institution which is necessary for our collective survival and progress.

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