Tuesday, May 10, 2005

One Common Faith, paragraphs 8-9

8
The most obvious cause of these re-evaluations has been the bankruptcy of the materialist enterprise itself. For well over a hundred years, the idea of progress was identified with economic development and with its capacity to motivate and shape social improvement. Those differences of opinion that existed did not challenge this world view, but only conceptions as to how its goals might best be attained. Its most extreme form, the iron dogma of "scientific materialism", sought to reinterpret every aspect of history and human behaviour in its own narrow terms. Whatever humanitarian ideals may have inspired some of its early proponents, the universal consequence was to produce regimes of totalitarian control prepared to use any means of coercion in regulating the lives of hapless populations subjected to them. The goal held up as justification of such abuses was the creation of a new kind of society that would ensure not only freedom from want but fulfilment for the human spirit. At the end, after eight decades of mounting folly and brutality, the movement collapsed as a credible guide to the world's future.


I think there are few people left who would disagree with this.

9
Other systems of social experimentation, while repudiating recourse to inhumane methods, nevertheless derived their moral and intellectual thrust from the same limited conception of reality. The view took root that, since people were essentially self-interested actors in matters pertaining to their economic well-being, the building of just and prosperous societies could be ensured by one or another scheme of what was described as modernization.


People *are*, for the most part, "self-interested actors" when it comes to economics, which is one reason communism didn't work. People just don't spend or invest money out of concern for the common welfare. The only limit on "self-interest" here is that people will sometimes forgo economic opportunities for other types of advantage i.e. for their family's well-being (e.g. career women who follow "the Mommy track") or for reasons of personal self-fulfillment or even personal ethics. I'm not sure that "modernization" could really be called a "scheme", though, except in instances where the government did some deliberate planning, e.g. the rural electrification projects back in the 30s and 40s. A lot of it has to do with technological advances. I'm sitting here at a computer, not because anybody had a "scheme", but because a combination of creative minds and economic forces made it possible. Sure, Bill Gates could be said to have had a "scheme" to write software, but that's like saying I had a "scheme" to be a teacher.

It also strikes me as odd to see a capitalist economic system as "social experiementation"; it's simply what happens when the government refrains from interference with individual economic decisions -- and there's virtually no such thing as a purely laissez-faire system anyway. I would be very curious to see exactly what sort of economic model the UHJ would approve of.

The closing decades of the twentieth century, however, sagged under a mounting burden of evidence to the contrary: the breakdown of family life, soaring crime, dysfunctional educational systems, and a catalogue of other social pathologies that bring to mind the sombre words of Bahá'u'lláh's warning about the impending condition of human society: "Such shall be its plight, that to disclose it now would not be meet and seemly."2


The "social pathologies" discussed here pretty much peaked in the 1970s, but through the 1980s, there was a conservative backlash -- crime is down, drug use is down, teenage pregnancy is down, educational standards were toughened. Various organizations, including our schools, proclaim "zero tolerance" for a host of ills ranging from violence to drugs to sexual harrassment. For all the troubles that plague us, my children are growing up in a less "pathological" society than I did.

And it's easy to forget the social pathologies that prevailed in the Western world at the beginning of the 20th century, but which have greatly dimininshed, especially where the treatment of women, children, and ethnic minorities are concerned. It's easy to complain about "dysfunction" in education, but at the beginning of this century most children left school at what would now be considered unacceptably young ages in order to work. You can gripe about "family breakdown", but a world in which women were forced to remain in abusive marriages through fear of social disapproval and inability to support themselves had very little to brag about. It does seem, sometimes, that for every advance, there's yet another problem, but that doesn't mean that progress hasn't been made.

4 comments:

Sigmund Effendi said...

Again, everything out of the Baha'i Faith is just cut and paste pabulum. Same old same old. Completely third rate minds.

For every decade of the 20th Century through the 80 year ride here mentioned, we really accomplished absolutely nothing compared to the potential and the anguished human need out there. We WERE and ARE a system that begins in mere words and ends in mere words.

It is just now much easier to maintain this level of functioning of shameless trafficing in words thanks to modern word processing systems. The people at Intel who designed the boolean registers and gates of the Pentium chip and the C++ programmers who wrote the Microsoft Foundation Classes did far more to help the human race then any person who ever held a position in the Baha'i AO anywhere in the world up until now.

Our people will now use their honest engineering handiwork to maintain a religion that begins in words and ends in words. That's us. A religion of people of absolutely zero ability and zero talent. Don't waste your time with any of these messages.

Pray everyday yourself and go out and help somebody on your own. The best you will ever see is a gentlemen "C" on any Baha'i term paper like this from the top. Here is just another one. Ain't good enough to render any new insight to anyone. The real message is to vote everyone out of office into oblivion. Let these folks start reading the want ads for a job.

When we elect people into office who can ACTUALLY DO SOMETHING, people who actually could make a payroll by producing something useful in their previous work careers, the Faith will come alive again.

It is now very far off, but that day will eventually come. The day of deeds not words when our fortune returns to us.

Sigmund

Baquia said...

I recommend to the person(s) who wrote OCF to read Human Action by von Mises.

Or to anyone else truly interested in the topic at hand.

Paul said...

Its most extreme form, the iron dogma of "scientific materialism", sought to reinterpret every aspect of history and human behaviour in its own narrow terms. Whatever humanitarian ideals may have inspired some of its early proponents, the universal consequence was to produce regimes of totalitarian control prepared to use any means of coercion in regulating the lives of hapless populations subjected to them. ... At the end, after eight decades of mounting folly and brutality, the movement collapsed as a credible guide to the world's future.

Karen commented:
I think there are few people left who would disagree with this.

Are you sure? If they are talking only about the history of communist regimes, and the outcome of Marx's ideology in the hands of tyrants such as Lenin, Stalin and Mao then you are right. However, if they are talking about the other materialist philosophy of the twentieth century, Logical Positivism, then that has very little to do with Marxist politics.

Also, this seems to make the mistake of taking communism at its own evaluation - just because communists called their theories "scientific materialism" doesn't mean that it actually *was* scientific, or that the downfall of communism, and the experience of people who suffered under those regimes means that all *other* forms of materialist outlook have also been discredited.

This is logical fallacy on the level of arguing that, because "National Socialism" lead to Hitler's concentration camps and the second world war, this shows that the entire trade union movement, all the changes made by the British and other European democratic Socialist regimes have all somehow been involved in Hitler's failure, just because the Nazi party happen to call themselves "Socialist".

This line of argument is a crock, and as you suggest, any truth that it does contain is on the level of a politician saying "mugging grandmothers is a terrible thing, and our party is against it" - something that no-one could disagree with...

Karen said...

Dear Paul,

The UHJ appears to be operating under the assumption that any ideology "materialist" or no, is somehow a promise to make the world better. Now, Communism certainly did that, but as far as I can tell, logical positivism didn't do anything of the sort. Neither does the capitalism that is denounced in the next paragraph. All capitalism says is that if people are left free, then society will prosper materially -- it doesn't promise utopia. (It doesn't give you one, either, and without some limits, of course, can be very exploitive.) Capitalism isn't about making anybody moral, or making society more just or anything of the sort.

Classical liberalism does, however, hold out the promise of a just society -- because all human beings are held to have certain rights and freedoms to be preserved by law, and all are to have equal justice under that law. Yes, things don't always measure up to that ideal, but I've yet to hear a better one.