For Ken and Rob
There is a bit of a debate going on here
over the Iraq war, utilitarianism and morality in the OZ blog world. Here is my irreverent contribution.
This morning, whilst driving through the city, after dropping the dogs off at the poodle parlour, I noticed an old placard, lying up again the fence of a private girls school. It said 'Enlightenment Rules, Eject Saddam'. Or at least that is what I thought it said. It only caught my eye and the traffic was heavy. Everyone was eagerly rushing to work to take on the challenges and tackle the opportunities that would present themselves.
Morning certainly brings a sloughing off of our dreams.
I recalled what I had learned in the liberal university about the Enlightenment--well, picked up the code because it was never really taught. It was the big duality: enlightenment versus irrationalism. Enlightenment was identified with progress; irrationalism with Romanticism; progress with Anglo-America; reaction with Germany. The former was good and the latter was bad.
Recognize the cultural code in the present; the way it maps the war with Iraq? America (+ Britain & Australia) as the bearers of enlightenment, progress and goodness versus Germany as the bearers of irrationalism, reaction and evil.
And the French? Well that were once the good guys cos they believed in rationality and science. But they were 'sus ' cos they were rationalists not empiricists, according to the official history of philosophy as it was written by the English analytic philosophers. Being 'sus' became wobbly, then the fall with existentialism and the embrace of absurdity. So they had effectively decamped. Sided with the Germans.
What was never recognized by the defenders of civilization in the liberal university was that their much vaunted reason had, with the automation of the Enlightenment, been transformed into a purely instrumental reason that was based on subjective morality. They were proud utilitarians and so were blind to the deep connection of an unleashed subjective instrumental rationality of desire and the tendency to totalitarianism.
Aaah, but the romantics did, even though were supposed to have retreated to the Middle Ages. They recognized the fairy tales and myths about an enlightening reason; they saw the cult of the given; they put the finger on the gathering barbarism of a liberal culture; they saw the destructive violence of reason and its indifference to the road kill from progress.
I know that my two bobs worth won't help the debate between Rob and Ken, but I thought that they needed a little nudge about the nihilism inherent in their beloved utilitarianism.