Manifesto: Continuing the Enlightenment

Wim Rietdijk, D.Sci.


1. Most thinking people feel pessimistically about the world. Literature, postmodernism and nihilistic relativism reflect this.
      Very few have the idea that they can do anything about it.

2. I suspect the main cause to be our socio-cultural leaders' lacking both moral conviction and a coherent theory or intuition on society and the meaning of life.
      For the rest, we should not forget that in history most people actually having them were simply in error, much cruelty being the result.
      Still, we should realize that - in spite of our less-than-fantastic human nature - some deep laws led the human race from caves and old Jericho to the Sermon on the Mount and the Genome Project.
      My proposal is our carefully, hopefully and - more than anything else - in a scientific spirit joining in with such evolutionary forces.

3. My central thesis is that the eighteenth- and nineteenth-centuries' controversy between on the one side the Enlightenment and the techno-industrial revolution and, on the other, opposing and restraining convention, nobility and the clergy, is a mere prototypical specimen of the dynamics of socio-cultural evolution and progress at all, in our own era and culture as well as in others. In such process - the "red thread in history" -, we see a fundamental chasm: man seeking happiness by reason, by moral enlightenment and action, and by emotional awakening, as he is confronted by vested interests and their ideological instruments that shield irrational power and privilege - especially by being very un-enlightened.

4. My books - The Scientifization of Culture and Wetenschap als Bevrijding (in Dutch) -, inter alia, show our main current social and moral problem to be that stupidity and anti-social vested interests now are no longer represented by the relatively well-recognizable Church, nobility and bajonets, but by more subtle ideological manipulation, and by much obscureness in bureaucracy. Think here of established powers in business, unions, politics, the intelligentsia (ideology) and the media, whose main interest is their own position, and which instinctively (unconsciously) play into each others hands. (This is not a conspiracy, but amounts to the fact that many among its members collectively sense what serves the establishment best. Similarly, old clergy sensed massive feelings of guilt to serve its interests, and for similar purposes, jointly with others, "invented" the divine right of kings.) Reason, rational morals and emotional awakening - which makes manipulation more difficult - are their ultimate enemies, just as in Voltaire's time. For this reason, they are against clarity, open honesty and the primacy of reason in many vital socio-cultural domains. In the arts, they push the "abstract" and incomprehensible, as to sex, they used to prefer repression (though this can be less and less enforced in modern society), in education, they are against stressing the intellectual and judging quality. In the judicial domain, they prefer formalism rather than emphasizing finding the truth and justice, and in the moral domain they smooth over badness and failure by relativism and explaining them by "social" factors. Needless to say, in philosophy and general outlook on life they are fond of Heidegger, Foucault and the idea of man being irrational and the world a coincidence rather than functioning according to deep coherent laws. And, of course, they are against using lie-detectors in politics... In all, they are not eager to continue along the red thread of evolving reason, more openness, and emotional awakening and catharsis that very roughly characterizes historical evolution.

5. Many complain that a cultural lag exists: progress in the moral and emotional domains lags behind that in the techno-scientific and economic ones; they correctly suspect that this causes many among our woes. Small wonder, if far more emotional energy and strivings go to sports, royalty and fashions of many kinds than to serious ideas, moral problems and fighting subtle manipulation. Small wonder too, if our intelligentsia affirms defeatist irrationalism such as Wittgenstein's dictum: "We sense that even if all possible scientific questions have been answered, our problems of life have not yet even been touched".
      Quite to the contrary, it is the core of substantial progressive thought that human misery, frustration and error have concrete and scientifically understandable causes which can be removed by reason and moral enlightenment and action.
      Small wonder, again, that the gist of all philosophies shielding the anti-enlightened, vested interests and corruption is denying this very thesis.

6. The essential source of - moral and material - woes in both our own past and the Third World is that so many problems were not experienced and formulated in rational (techno-scientific) and enlightened moral terms. Well, we ourselves are far from having overcome such primitivism: the cultural lag and Wittgenstein's pronouncement demonstrate this. For, he - as well as most current (anti-rationalistic) philosophy and incoherent "abstract" art that suggest chaos - precisely maintains that "life" is far beyond science and reason. Dominant relativism adds that moral action is rather irrelevant (powerless) too, viz. by not even having an objective basis, while emotional enlightenment and awakening - and human quality at all - have not much priority either in a climate of uncertainty, subjectivism, and pushing the idea that the world is a coincidence and chaos. Egalitarianism joins in by implying that "man cannot be improved in principle", since it even taboos discriminating between high-quality and lower-quality individuals - let alone our speaking about genetic engineering or eugenics.

7. It is one of our core theses that the above - Wittgenstein's dictum and our cultural establishment's not even formulating essential problems of life and society in scientific and moral terms - constitutes precisely the modern successor of the anti-rational ideologies of the Church, convention, nationalism etc. that in former periods served or shielded establishments, abuses and irrational power and privilege.
      Concretely, it created a socio-cultural climate - an ideology - in which it does not fit to remove the cultural lag and address vital problems of life in rational and moral ways.
      Some specimens:
(a) Those many who believe in life after death, should propose a NASA of parapsychology, with a budget of billions of dollars; this problem is not less important than bringing man on the moon;
(b) Those many who rightly deplore so many politicians and bureaucrats to lack sufficient moral integrity should translate such feeling in rational action: clamour for the application of technological lie-detection in the relevant domains;
(c) Those seriously considering sexual problems should realize the core ones to be a psycho-biological scarcity of "attractive qualities" - eventually to be removed by genetic engineering - and the primitivity of the "sexual market". The latter is far too small in scale, too irrational - not allowing one, e.g., to compare many thousands of videos and data sets of pre-selected potential partners whose preferences are also roughly known - and too dependent on coincidence. (Of course, the mere evolution of Internet will eventually rationalize this situation.)
      It is precisely vigorously rejecting, or declaring irrelevant, the ways of thinking and solutions as given above that characterizes current anti-rational - unenlightened - thinking and ideology, as they follow naturally from former ones that considered man (and much more) to be "beyond the realm of science and natural law". Think of the sexual taboos, religious orthodoxy, convention, "dying for your country" and the divine right of kings. Once one saw censorship, irrational convention and the Church limiting or counteracting rational thinking, ethic (values) and solutions, now we see postmodernism, moral relativism, incoherent art and the cults of "the poly-interpretable", subjectivism and fundamental uncertainty doing so. (In the same vein, old-time subordinating the individual to conventional social groups was succeeded by Riesman's other-directedness as a means of conforming people.) All of them boil down to keeping many waters troubled in antagonizing the scientific method in typically "human" domains.

8. Within the above scope, it is not the error of liberalism and socialism that they imply society to be highly makable, but their degeneracy from this to the position of pressure group on behalf of moral and/or genetic rearguards such as underclasses, anti-socials, educational problem cases and the "helping bureaucracies". The latter will have a vested interest in the relevant problems not being solved at all, and act against such solution by means of a permissive ideology (about "the disadvantaged") rather than fostering law and order, performance ethic and eugenics.
      That is, the left "institutionalized" into egalitarianism and political correctness, which constitute the latest orthodoxy.
      Mind in this context that the latter is a mere variant of a more general modern anti-progress ideology that as such partly succeeded old-time conservatism. Viz. relativistic nihilism disguised in pervasive slogans - gratifying the masses and mediocrity - such as: "All people are of equal value" (that is: human quality is not so relevant). Or, to the same effect: "Genetic engineering and eugenics cannot `improve' man" (with quotation marks). Or: "Art needs neither to be beautiful nor make impressively perceptible to the senses some moving truth" (that is: we are far from being on our way to something objectively valuable). Or: "For the most part, the essential things in life are subjective or coincidental" (that is, neither truth nor our fundamental purposes are within the realm of objective science and criteria; human existence and destiny as a whole are incoherent).
      It is more difficult to contend with such subtle manipulation than doing so with conservatism of the old brand. Still, both accommodate to massive demand for "security by solidarity and myth of our own free choice".

9. Adding to the confusion is that "leftist" and "rightist" ideas became so incoherently muddled that at least progressiveness lost resilience and even its substance, which is pursuing progress. Such muddling, besides being brought about by the factor discussed in 8., more generally stems from well-organized group interests eclipsing general enthousiasm for progress and moral indignation about injustice, inferior quality and stagnation.

10. Also, many among modern society's problems stem from its intelligentsia's being integrated into the establishment and most intellectuals being too conformed (and too indolent) for substantial independent thinking on them. Hence, a mere few innovators aspire to explaining and exposing the subtle ideological manipulations, repressions and taboos that - as more complicated successors of censorship, convention and the Church - shield the modern analogues of nobility and other privileged in-crowds and groups having an interest in stagnation, inefficiency or injustice.
      Influential (unconscious) preferences for pushing anti-red thread ideas in order to shield immoral and irrational interests (see also 3., 4., 7. and 8.) do not constitute the only psychological force favouring stagnation. Another one is an "innate" tendency of the majority - even among intellectuals - to experience "the group", its values, conventions, idols and cult figures - from royalty to sports stars to great names in the arts or philosophy - as a support and orientation in life. As formerly the nation, religion and convention, now such group etc., to which one will adjust, is a "defense mechanism" and source of security. This causes the "heretic" to have to fight an uphill struggle: the (disinterested) majority tends to take sides with the "safe status quo", from the queen and received ideas to (partly) the establishment as such. That is, it will be dangerous to accuse the powers that be too radically and concretely, the more so if one invites people to seriously think about truth, good and evil, rather than sociably engaging in group life and enjoying the regards of one's neighbours, colleagues and peer group. It will be psychologically risky to distance yourself from all of these by implicitly declaring them in default in your seriously and concretely accusing social abuses and the orthodoxy shielding them. In a way, they, and "the group" in general, embody present-day religion, fatherland and tradition as a psychological "safe heaven". Actually, a major ultimate cause of social evil is the majority's deriving security, purpose and hope from the group and conventional ideas (as the just-meant secularized versions of God and orthodoxy) rather than doing so from truth, reason, the idea of a rational moral order in the world and scientific knowledge and progress referring to them. (This will be one more motive for most in-crowds' relativizing or undermining such truth, reason etc.!)

11. Progressiveness should actually boil down to points such as:
(a) Stimulating "red-thread" evolution, which generally means applying reason and an enlightened ethic of integrity and compassion to all imaginable problems and sectors of life, and fostering emotional awakening and coherence;
(b) Advancing progress also as to developments in lie-detection, genetic engineering, subtle means of "measuring man", electronic markets and other broadenings of scope and technologies allowing man to emancipate from ignorance, deceit and manipulation (e.g., in the political domain). And also from coincidence, arbitrariness, convention and the limitations of direct social interactions (think of finding mates, jobs etc.);
(c) Applying science and reason in general, as well as rational morals, to exposing everything in society which has something to do with (ideological) manipulation, bureaucratic inefficiency, virtual oligopolies and cartellization, or other group interests prejudicing the public one. Such interests contain educational establishments cherishing problem groups rather than quality and performance, a hypertrophized judiciary in which truth and moral justice are less than first and foremost, the above-mentioned "helping professions" that thrive on the "deprivileged" increasing in number, unions and business stifling efficiency by various work rules, etc.


Some more Vital and Intriguing Questions:

12. How could so nonsensical and boring philosophies like postmodernism and Foucault's - "science is a mere option; truth, good and evil are merely conventional" - get so much attention if no unconscious interest-based motive is pushing them: undermining reason and moral criticism like it was formerly done by censorship and bajonets? A similar question could be asked with respect to incomprehensible "modern art" such as Rauschenberg's and Corneille's, and as Pinter absurdism.

13. More generally: What else than the circumstance that present-day anti-enlightened forces will be much more subtly ideologically and bureaucratically hidden than their predecessors in former ages, could be responsible for the general intellectual skepticism as regards human capacity to improve the world, such defeatism simply being a disguised variant of conservatism? Who among our cultural leaders realizes and exposes this and such forces as indicated in 12. and 8. above, or even brings coherence into socio-cultural thinking by seeing the importance of red-thread evolution and counterforces as indicated?

14. Who shows a way out of nihilistic pessimism, inter alia, by proposing more emphasis on, and allocating more money to, scientific parapsychology as a means of finding more facts about any possible phenomena such as reincarnation, nonlocal coherence in human existence and (other) super-individual phenomena such as any collective unconscious? Who draws attention to the connections such phenomena may have with nonlocal phenomena as recently found in microphysics? (Think of the paradox of Einstein, Podolsky and Rosen, the Bohm-Aharonov effect, and the like. In the two earlier-mentioned books the above problems too are elaborated.)
      How many scientists, finally, seriously try to build a bridge between science and religion by considering the latter, at least in essence, as a pre-scientific, "heuristic", way of approaching some deep questions of human destiny which - if, eventually, it would appear to have factual substance - might be integrated into enlightened thinking?

15. Is it a coincidence that, in discussing The Scientifization of Culture and Wetenschap als bevrijding, opponents conspicuously concentrate on side issues, on the idea of progress and the makability of society in general, or on the motives of the author, but will not go into their substantial content, which is explanations, theories and the analysis of abuses? Could this be one of current methods of humouring taboo: still keeping out of discussion precisely the essence of nonconformism: dangerous arguments leading to exposures and dangerous alternatives to orthodoxy and mental fog?

16. More specifially: why everybody keeps mum about massive abuses such as
(a) defendants being acquitted on a technicality,
(b) education very often lacking substance and discipline,
(c) politicians lying frequently while lie-detection could attain near-100% reliability by their interviewing each other in groups,
(d) governments not applying an available method to control inflation without restraining growth by increasing interest rates,
(e) the interest-based reasons why egalitarian permissiveness speaks of "disadvantaged" also in the case of people hanging around at street corners rather than making homework, and further generally refuses to consider failure as regards moral conduct and/or intelligence as a question of moral and/or genetic low quality rather than one's being victim of his social environment, and
(f) most people's being afraid of violating "political correctness"?
      Why not even vigorous minority opposition appears against most of the above situations? And why nobody asks for the interests behind relevant ideologies and behind earlier-mentioned incomprehensible or even absurdistic or inane "art"? Is our thinking far less free than it is purported everywhere?

17. Why so many extol "uncertainty", "chance", problems being "beyond scientific knowledge", "mystery", "alienation", the "poly-interpretable", the "basic subjectivity" of values and even truth? Why so many definitely like the troubled waters inherent to such uncertainty, chance, etc.?

18. Is it possible that you could easily be manipulated into uncertainty, "the poly-interpretable" and "alienation" by fashionable ideology (egalitarianism, political correctness, relativism,...)? Viz. because your vital instincts (self-preservation, sexuality,...), your conscience and sense of the moving and the sublime, and finally your reason (intelligence) are hardly mutually integrated into a coherent and autonomous personality? Could such non-integration, in turn, be manipulatively induced too, via means going from sexual taboos to relativism and your dependence on "the group"?
      Do you really translate your frustrations into a longing for new ideas undermining parts of the status quo, on a scientifically sound basis? Could a negative answer possibly explain why your thinking about life, good, evil and progress is conformistic, "other-directed" or even a mess?
      Please end mindlessly investing strivings and emotion in empty images: sports results, philosophical verbiage or conventional status symbols (such as "modern art" or other fashions), and start being really interested in how the world and society work; isn't this a far more sound source of hope and self-confidence than "the group", its orthodoxy and "games people play"?

19. Did you realize the inconsistency of "progressiveness" not aspiring to progress as to man, human quality, too (also by genetic engineering and eugenics), but feeling much sympathy for those causing their fellow-men much trouble by being anti-social, by not working hard at school, or by being addicted? Did you also realize that the perennial problem of drug addiction could indeed be solved if the cult of the "disadvantaged" did not prevent the authorities from interning the addicted, who can much easier be found than the dealers?
      Generally, in modern democracies evil is less manifest in cruelty and gross exploitation than in subtly and disguisedly humouring vested interests in inefficiency, dishonesty, inferiority, troubled waters and privilege. For, what possible alternative (unconscious) motive could explain ideological aversion towards, and/or bureaucratic obstruction of, more competition, lie-detection, eugenics, violation of "privacy" and the enforcement of integrity by all available means? Within this context, isn't it revealing as to the impact of egalitarian extremism that even the sterilization of mentally handicapped is widely condemned, especially by "progressives"?

20. The Scientifization of Culture and Wetenschap als bevrijding give explanations of many hushed-up socio-cultural phenomena like those indicated above, and result in integrating them into a coherent and transparent general social theory. In it, contrary to - for the rest, rare - others, values and (genetic and other) human quality also figure prominently. It inspires to our linking up with fundamental laws of progress in which a "red thread" of advance in reason, values and human quality in general constitutes the core of social evolution. This, on the other hand, is often partly and temporarily frustrated by anti-enlightened forces serving vested interests, and by the troubled waters such interests will be shielded by and thrive on...
      Edmund Burke said: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing". Mind in this spirit that in refusing to seriously think the above things over - rather than investing much energy in sports, royalty, political correctness and one-line thinking adjusted to the tv commercial - you are co-responsible for present-day's cultural lag and, therewith, for most current woes and social abuses. Then you belong to the inertial mass which made it so particularly difficult for past enlighteners to fight convention, the Church and stupid privilege... Actually, you are then precisely the kind of (wo)man preferred by the negative forces in society: disinterestly contenting yourself with "pane et circenses", bread and games.
      What I tried here was indeed reducing the cultural lag by partly summarizing a concrete, clear and coherent enlightened social theory and program enunciated in the earlier mentioned two books. These aspire to embodying a continuation of the ways of thinking and action characteristic of the Enlightenment, but now extended and deepened according to the progress in socio-cultural knowledge, and also in view of the more complicated problems and ways of disguising unconscious ideological manipulation (frustration of reason and moral and emotional enlightenment) that developed since Louis XVI and the divine rights of kings...

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