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How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World

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The notion of Francis Wheen's book How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World (2002) may be found in the introductory chapter named Dare to know:

The purpose of the Encyclopédie, Diderot said, was to 'change the general way of thinking'; and it succeeded. The Enlightenment had many critics, but its illuminating influence and achievements were apparent in the history of the next two centuries – the waning of absolutism and superstition, the rise of secular democracy, the understanding of the natural world, the transformation of historical and scientific study, the new political resonance of notions such as 'progress', 'rights' and 'freedom'.

Adversatively or contrasting such a post-renaissance statement is Wheen's description of positions and attitudes of the latter day [la] "trahison des clercs":

We have now reached the point of at which a British prime minister who styles himself as a progressive moderniser (and recites the mantra 'education, education, education') can defend the teaching of creationism rather than evolution in school biology classes, with no apparent shame or embarrasement. Even intellectuals who respect Enlightenment values often seem reluctant to defend them publicly, fearful of being identified as 'liberal imperialists' or worse.

So, there we are, this is a view the counter-revolution of the eighties and nineties which suddenly is dawning upon Western minds. Post-war history lesson:

Since God, in his infinite wisdom, presumably had similar influence over those who control the White House, he must have changed his mind during the middle decades of the twentieth century: from Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal of 1933, which laid the foundations of a rudimentary welfare state, through Harry Truman's 'Fair Deal' to Lyndon Jonson's 'Great Society', the consensus was that even a prosperous capitalist nation should protect its weaker citizens – and its natural resources – against the depredations of the rich. To Thatcher this may have seemed tantamount to Communism, but it was also accepted by many conservatives.

In Norway there might be a common belief that the now crumling welfare system was built by social democrats in opposition to a right-winged laissez-faire policy. Wheen declares how conservatives and liberal historically have contributed to create a welfare-ish state. Verbosely he continues with another theme: Unfavourable stories about former prime minister Thatcher and how wrong free enterprise may go. A grand example is the "South Sea Bubble of 1720":

[as] investors hurled their money into any new venture, however weird its prospectus: 'For extracting of Silver from Lead'; 'For trading in Human Hair'; 'For a Wheel of Perpetual Motion'; and, most gloriously, 'a Company for carrying on an Undertaking of Great Advantage, but Nobody to know what it is'. Similarly, some of Wall Street's best-performing stocks in 1987 were enterprises that had neither profits not products ...

Nontheless, the stock curve of such firms seemed to be a Stairway to Heaven. Though we got used to 'corrections in the market' the mumbo-jumbo did offer us Enron and the likes later on. Maybe it was nothing but optimism which grew right into the skies above?

It's not only the faith in money Wheen is occupied by, the faith in Lord Almi'ty is also of concern. The West seem to be among the more medieval areas of the US:

... some wags wondered if the Kansas board had decided to solve the Y2K problem by turning the clock back to Y1K. 'In one pan of the scales,' Salman Rushdie wrote in the Toronto Globe and Mail, 'we now have General Relativity, the Hubble telescope and all the imperfect but painstakingly accumulated learning of the human race, and, in the other, the Book of Genesis. In Kansas, the scales balance.'

The message seems to be: If you don't understand evolution why not turn to creationism? Or is this change caused by loyalty to a God which no longer provides safety within one breed and perpetual economic growth? I wouldn't know (and, by the way, there's a lot of old Norse blood out there on the Plaines). But I'm not alone not wondering, Wheen quotes Alexander Cockburn for writing:

'The United States retains, unusually for an advanced industrial society, about the same per capita level of religious superstition as Bangladesh. What one of Jimmy Carter's aides once referred to as the "abracadabra vote" is ample ... [Reagan] has been nurtured in the same rich loam of folk ignorance, historical figment and paranormal intellectual constructs as millions of his fellow citizens.'

What an insult to Bangla people, I say. Let's not harass the third world but take a closer look at our own navel:

'Keep an open mind!' broadcasters pleaded when they screened the bogus Roswell video. The Daily Telegraph, one of the few newspapers which spotted the film as fake from the outset, had the best riposte: 'If you open your mind too much, your brain may fall out.'

Let us hop back in history one more time:

Fantastical, perhaps, but hardly new: The Illuminati – so named because they wanted to illumine the world with rational enlightenment – were founded in 1776 by Adam Weishaupt, a law professor at the University of Ingoldstadt who believed that 'princes and nations will disappear without violence from the earth, the human race will become one family and the world the abode of reasonable men'. Generations of conspiracy theorists have fingered the Illuminati as the evil masterminds behind the French Revolution and the subsequent Terror, and although there isn't a shred of evidence to support the case this is regarded merely as confirmation of how devilishly clever the plotters were at covering their tracks. By the end of the eighteenth century, Gothic novelists were already using the Illuminati to represent all the sinister forces that were scheming to undermine civilisation ...

This is really bad news for any Anarchist out there seeking the roots of liberal og free socialism, which – of course – leads us to the Evil Umpire of Soviet:

As the historian Frances Stonor Saunders points out, it was only during the Cold War that 'America discovered how useful the invocation of the highest hosanna could be'. President Truman announced that 'the issue which confronts the world today' – tyranny versus freedom – was also a crusade against atheism, since 'Communism denies the very existence of God'. Congress added the words 'one nation under God' to the pledge of allegiance in 1954; 'In God we trust' became the nation's official motto two years later. No wonder the inquisitorial antics of Senator Joe McCarthy were so often described as a witch-hunt. The preacher Billy Graham warned that 'Communism is inspired, directed and motivated by the Devil himself ... Will we turn to the left-wingers and atheists, or will we turn to the right and embrace the cross?'

Oh là là!, those good ol' days when right was right and wrong was left – or black! The child-like naïve post-war days, how I miss the easy way out! The following excerpt referres to the incident in Tokyo in 1995, as the Aum Shinrikyo cult released a nerve gas in the subway system:

Bruce Hoffman, the author of Inside Terrorism, argues that this marked a return to an old tradition that had been only briefly interrupted by modern secularism. Until the late nineteenth century all terrorism was essentially religious, bent on annihilation of infidels. The leaders of Hezbollah and al-Qaeda thus had far more in common with Christian fanatics of modern Europe than with their immediate predecessors such as Abu Nidal or Carlos the Jackal – as some Christians, at least, appeared to recognise. Two days after the 11 September attacks in 2001 the Rev. Pat Robertson and the Rev. Jerry Falwell, America's best-known TV evangelists, appeared on The 700 Club, a religious chat-show. 'What we saw on Tuesday, as terrible as it is, could be miniscule if, in fact, God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve,' Falwell opined. The carnage was an expression of God's wrath at 'the pagans and the abotionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians ... the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union], People for the American Way, all of them who try to secularise America'. To which Robertson replied: 'I totally concur.'

So, what's this segregation thang?

'When America, the Negro countries, the Spice Islands, the Cape and so forth were discovered,' Kant wrote in Towards Perpetual Peace,* 'they were, to [the Europeans], countries belonging to no one, since they counted the inhabitants as nothing.' For those authors, moral universalism was not incommensurate with cultural pluralism. Quite the opposite: an insistence on universal standards of morality, freedom and human dignity was what inspired their defence of indigenous peoples against invaders who trashed 'inferior' cultures. As Diderot complained, 'the Spaniard, the first to be thrown up by the waves on to the shores of the New World, thought he had no duty to people who did not share his colour, customs or religion'.
No doubt the Enlightenment's give-and-take with other cultures was sometimes tainted by what is now called Orientalism – a fondness for exotic stereotypes – even if these were usually positive rather than negative. One thinks of Voltaire's reverence for the wisdom and decency of Confusian civilisation ('the best that the world has ever seen'), or the sarcastic observations on Parisians and their strange customs from the sophisticated Persian travellers Usbek and Rica in Montesquieu's novel Persian Letters. ('This king [Louis XV] is a great magician ... If there are only a million crowns in the exchequer, and he needs two million, all he need to do is persuade them that one crown is worth two, and they believe it.') But in contrast with the eighteenth century, as the historian Robert Darnton has pointed out, other ages were all take and no give:

Byron and Kipling, Delacroix and Ingres, Verdi and Puccini outdid the artists of the eighteenth century by far in creating exotic Orientals. Moreover, the exoticising began long before the Enlightenment, and it often took the form of demonising.Cruel Saracens, Oriental despots, and 'têtes de Turcs' have proliferated in the Western imagination since the early wars against the Ottoman Empire. Older prejudices date from the Crusades. They developed over centuries, accompanied, it must be said, bye Eastern prejudices against the West ... To pin Orientalism on the Enlightenment is to confuse the thought of a few intellectuals in the eighteenth century with the entire course of Western cicilisation.

But the Enlightenment stands accused of even more heinous crimes than Orientalism: its cavalry charge against mystification and unreason is said to have led to the fanaticism of the French revolutionary terror, the Nazi gas-chambers and the Soviet Gulag. In their celebrated work on 'the dialectic of Enlightenment', Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer argue that, by replacing myth with science and treating the natural world as an object to be dominated and exploited, modernist thinkers created a system of power relations, uninhibited by any external morality, in which man himself acquired the characteristics of God. They cite the Marquis de Sade as a typical specimen of 'the bourgeoise individual freed from tutelage', revelling in barbarism and cruelty. The merciless tendency exemplified by de Sade, and later celebrated in Nietsche's worship of the will-to-power and the super-man, reached its logical culmination in Adolf Hitler. Thus, by a 'negative dialectic', the supposedly progressive Enlightenment gave birth to genocidal tyranny.
One should make allowance for the fact that Adorno and Horkheimer were refugees from Nazi Germany, but their dialectic is so outrageously flawed that polite disagreement is impossible. Nietsche was indeed Hitler's favourite philosopher, but he was not a philosopher of Enlightenment: he belonged to the Romantic tradition, a reaction against demythologising rationalism. Hitler was a fanatical nationalist, a man of blood and soil – whereas the philosophes, in Robert Darnton's words, 'lived in a Republic of Letters that was truly cosmopolitan. It had neither borders nor police.'

Where is this leading us? (Anybody still following?)

Herder, another figurehead of the early Counter-Enlightenment, once said that 'I am not here to think, but to be, feel, live.' The common portrayal of Enlightenment thinkers as cold, bloodless rationalists who wished to strip the universe of colour and passion is a grotesque caricature: the historian Peter Gay has pointed out that this generalisation would hold 'only if we disregarded the philosophes' defence of imagination, their pioneering analysis of passion, their bold creation of literary forms, and their almost unanimous infatuation with [Samuel] Richardson's sensibility'.

These guys seem to have other connections and synapses than myself. Anyway, there are several different animals on this planet and quite a few possible patterns of thinking. I do my best to try to accept the differencess among my fellow beings but sometimes it all seems hopeless encountering humans who has "as much intellectual rigour as Bambi." Wheen also seems to lack respect for ...

... the new economic orthodoxy – the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the World Trade organisation – have been created and directed, with minimal public scrutiny or accountability, by a small elite conclave of capitalist cardinals.

Uh-oh, here goes the Marxist:

... the problem is not globalisation per se, but the fact that the rules of the game have been set by the winning side – which, while enforcing them elsewhere, feels no obligation to apply them to its own conduct. Upholders of the 'Washington Consensus', which argues that governments should play a minimal role in economic management and regulation, maintain that they are merely applying principles which have created prosperity in the United States. For all its justified reputation as one of the least statist industrial democracies, however, America has accepted the need for official intervention and supervision ever since the great globalisation of the mid-nineteenth century.

After some rather convincing examples of US government economical intervention i favour of local business, or****national, Wheen proceeds:

By imposing world governance without world government America is essentially demanding rights without responsibilities, promoting a global market while refusing to accept the political consequences. It imposes the New World Order on rogue states, yet opts out of its own international obligations elsewhere – the land mine treaty, the international criminal court and the Kyoto protocol on global warming, all of which have been denounced in Washington as intolerable infringements of America's souvereign powers.

Concerning the minor 9/11 incident – New York, autumn of 2001 – it is written:

Professor Charles O. Jones [**] added that it wasn't only conservatives who should need to question their traditional assumptions after 11 September: 'Ideologies are based on long-standing understandings, and that's not the case here. There is no precedent for what has happened, so everyone is cut loose from their moorings.'
As TV crews interviewed bystanders amid the dust and rubble of Manhattan in September 2001, one question was heard again and again from baffled New Yorkers: 'Why? Why do they hate us?'

And this tuesday morning history certainly was cut loose from its moorings and many of us were taken by surprise. A Brit wrote:

'It has become painfully clear that most Americans simply don't get it,' an exasperated Seumas Milne*** wrote in the Guardian, less than forty-eight hours later. 'Perhaps it is too much to hope that, as rescue workers struggle to pull firefighters from the rubble, any but a small minority might make the connection between what has been visited upon them and what their government has visited upon large parts of the world. But make that connection they must ...' According to Milne, it was the US's 'unabashed national egotism and arrogance' that 'drives anti-Americanism among swaths of the world's population'. With the al-Qaeda attack on the Twin Towers, 'the Americans are once again reaping a dragon's teeth harvest they themselves sowed'.

This is most interesting, and in a prior life I would tend to agree.

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