Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Roots of My Disdain for Plato and Aristotle

RE's recent post at the Doomstead Diner reminded me of something I wrote awhile ago.  So, I looked it up and found a trilogy of posts from June 2011 that laid the foundation of my disdain for Plato and Aristotle.  At the time I wrote these posts, I had not read much Plato or Aristotle, and I had yet to delve into the politics and morality of Athenian society and their response to it:

Why I See a New Dark Age and Not Merely A Greater Depression
To me, the Dark Ages are "dark" because of the knowledge that was lost, if not intentionally destroyed. In this sense, I do not view the coming new Dark Age as a return to subsistence farming or involving the complete loss of modern technology, but as the fulfillment of Neoliberalism's mission to engineer a "great forgetting" of classical liberalism and other fruits of the Age of Reason. The ideas of people like John Locke and Thomas Jefferson had a power beyond that which even those two intellectual giants could contain, and they must be destroyed in their raw form and viewed only through the Neoliberal prism. (Note: my thesis is that both Locke and Jefferson crafted their ideas with the aim of controlling the masses, not empowering them.)
The sociopathic dogma of Neoliberalism drives narcissistic institutional values that prevent the masses from thinking beyond themselves, encouraging them instead to embrace selfishness, or "self interest, wrongly understood." The purpose of the coming Dark Age is to forget the classical liberal ideas that resulted in self interest, rightly understood, i.e., self interest that recognizes the good of the community as part of self interest. Mix in the "now-opia" (or is that "now-opiate") of the modern consumer culture, and you have a perfect set of conditions for a new closing of the Western mind.
My next post explained my thesis that people like Locke and Jefferson were not truly on the side the common man or justice:
Explaining My Thesis Re: Locke and Jefferson 
In response to my last post, where I said "my thesis is that both Locke and Jefferson crafted their ideas with the aim of controlling the masses, not empowering them," I was asked to explain how I came to that conclusion. 
The journey to that conclusion has been a long one, but it ultimately comes back to Mark Twain's obervation "History doesn't repeat itself; it rhymes." This is an aspect of what my own half-formed theory on the fractal nature of human cognition, which is based on the basic comparative mechanism by which human beings decide. This mechanism is responsible for the fractal nature of markets observed by Mandelbrot, and for history rhyming with itself. 
In every era, somebody rediscovers the basic mechanism of human decision making and seeks to use it, and the ruling elite invariably seeks to it to its advantage. Knowledge of this mechanism, i.e., the comparing of what is experienced to what was expected (as filtered through cognitive bias), is something that predates cognitive science and behavioral economics by millenia. Plato certainly seemed to understand it . . .
Neoliberalism has been relatively open in its purpose and its means for achieving it. Its break from classical liberalism is marked by Walter Lippmann's The Good Society, which identifies and laments his perception of classical liberalism's shortfalls, which include the mistaken belief that educating the masses makes it easier to govern them. Under Neoliberalism (and its offshoot. neoconservatism), we've seen a concerted dumbing down of the populace. More importantly, however, we've seen the deliberate redefining and demeaning of important, visceral words such as "liberty," "freedom" and "democracy," all to the ends of securing the power of the elite that arose and flourished under classical liberalism. 
When I realized that Neoliberalism merely recasts feudal doctrines of control such as the divine right of kings (the market is God and winners are chosen by God to win) and excommunication (the poor and unemployed have been cast out by God, the market), I recognized the possibility that classical liberalism itself was merely an earlier recasting of the same doctrines of elite control to secure the place of the then elite: the educated oligarchs like Locke and Jefferson. The difference is that the transformation that took place in the Age of Reason was triggered by the Reformation and the realization that the Roman Catholic Church was corrupt, which resulted in classical liberalism focusing on God as man (i.e., Jesus) instead of the disembodied authority figure who will strike you dead if you do something wrong. 
Interestingly enough, however, Locke constructed his "natural law" to protect and preserve the "property" that a person already owned, regardless of how he came by that ownership, even though there is no such thing as property in nature. Locke and Hobbes were merely two sides of the same coin, which requires a state to hold society together. Both sought to achieve the same end of protecting the gains the elite had achieved under the prior system of feudalism. 
One of the reasons that I'm worried about a new Dark Age is the fact that we are moving to completely digital media, which means that documents can be disappeared or altered without anybody being aware of it. At least the Church of the Dark Ages had to go around burning books and killing people to purge the world of knowledge. In another century or so, there will be no permanent record of anything. All knowledge that is publicly available will be subject to censorship and manipulation that nobody can detect, even if they thought to look for it.
I realize that this post has been somewhat stream-of-consciousness, but I hope you get the giste of what I'm saying, which echoes and amplifies what people like Niebuhr and Myrdal have said: the ruling elite define the institutional values that set the baseline of decision making in a society. Those values are only changed consciously in response to a clear an present danger to the elite themselves. Marxism kicked classical liberalism in the head, which would have been fine but for the Great Depression. So the ruling elite kicked things into overdrive to define neoliberalism, and they documented what they did every step of the way.
Completing the trilogy of posts:
Responding to the most recent comment 
Blogger is puking on my attempt to provide a comment, so I'm responding to Mr. Falberg here.
I prefer to not resort to ideas like the "New World Order."
First, to the extent that a New World Order is actually contemplated, it is merely a new new New World Order (at least) meant to secure power in light of society evolving to a point where it wants to take that power away. 
Second, the current NWO theory infuses far too much lifelike detail into what is at best a thumbnail sketch. Indeed, the ruling elite would be stupid to insist on a "one world government" because a key aspect of maintaining control without responsibility is to be behind the scenes and out of sight. The more people there between you and the audience, the less likely they'll be able to see you. The current system is already far more effective than a one world government would ever be. 
And the worst part about it is that a lot of the people who believe in and push the NWO thesis love them their natural law, their John Locke, and their Thomas Jefferson, i.e., they just prefer the old NWO over the one they see coming. 
I care less about the conspiracies and more about the mechanisms that allow us to be duped by them. The only thing we can control is our own actions. I can't stop somebody from trying to dupe me, but I don't have to allow myself to be duped. The problem with the NWO theory is that it assumes its starting worldview is itself valid and true when, in fact, it appears to be just a prior version of the NWO, at least to me.
Based on my further study of the matter, as far as I can tell based on the historical record available to us, Plato and Aristotle were the first to focus on systematically legitimizing the illegitimate. Plato is to Aristotle what Hobbes was to Locke, what Hamilton was to Jefferson, what Romney is to Obama, i.e., two men who agree on the strategy but disagree on the tactics for achieving it.

I apologize for anyone who finds this post to be a shaggy dog story, but I have a day job, and this blog is primarily for jotting down thoughts that I might find useful later.  Still, I felt compelled to respond to some of the shock/concern over my disdain of Plato and Aristotle.  To be clear, my disdain is not a rejection of the truth of everything they wrote but of the falseness of what they wrote as a whole.