Philosophy for Renewing Reason – 37

Philosophy for Renewing Reason – 36
Philosophy for Renewing Reason – 38

An Interim Report has recently been published by Baroness Casey on the state of the Metropolitan Police’s response to misconduct within the force. It says that numbers of Met officers are being sacked for misconduct every year, but also that these numbers are not enough: there are, apparently hundreds of members of the force who should be sacked for misbehaviour, but are not being sacked.

It is evident from this that an inadequate amount of attention is being paid in society to instilling minimal acceptable ethical standards in youth. Young people are not being prepared adequately to be sent out into the world with the necessary deeply rooted, ingrained ethical values and standards. As a result the society is becoming more and more “open” to nasty, toxic, feral and violent tendencies. 

The chief preparers who are responsible for the “up-bringing” of young people  —their families, backed-up by schools— are evidently falling down.  Schools in the distant past used to be associated with ‘high public standards’ which parents could, and did, <<lookup to>>, but since the 1980s “Cognitive Science” —an ideology based ultimately on training animals— has been entrusted with organising schools. This is the root of the problem.   The extraordinary anomaly that young people with palpably deficient ethical dispositions are apparently applying to join the police force —and being accepted— is a sign that the situation has become serious. It is also a “signal” that the situation has become so bad that these would-be applicants and their friends are not even aware that there is a ‘necessary minimal ethical’ standard to be expected, observed and rigorously maintained.

This is not any kind of ‘philosophical’ problem: it is simply a symptom of common-or-garden moral decline… which has led to an outrageously unsatisfactory trend. We can’t afford to sit back and let it drift. It can only be treated as a social problem of the greatest magnitude, which any healthy society would neglect at its peril.

There is, however, a philosophical problem lurking behind it which might be formulated like this: <<How has a once proud society fallen so low into unacceptable ethical decline?>>.

We know the answer perfectly well.  It has happened because the religious beliefs which served broadly to maintain minimal ethical standards for many generations, have latterly almost faded away. This has happened as a consequence, mainly, of unprecedented Affluence plus the Shock of the Four Whammies —the arrival of computers, atomic energy, space travel and DNA after WW2. These Whammies knocked the stuffing out of religion in the advanced countries (e.g. the G20), though some poor societies in the Middle East and Far East remained poor, and their populations were/are unwilling to give up the essential consolations which religion brought in its wake.

The four Whammies were chiefly responsible for this sudden decline in religious belief.  Let’s remember that the religious belief which has now faded … was formerly remarkably resilient. It did successfully survive many centuries of conflict, upheaval, war, pestilence, etc. It even survived the 17th century scientific revolution (and the industrial revolution which resulted), though a lumpen materialism grew out of the industrial revolution and began to co-exist awkwardly with it.  

What made the four Whammies such a disaster for religion? It can only be the sheer universality and mind-boggling unexpectedness of their transformational effect. It was particularly damaging that they were nowhere mentioned, even hinted-at, in scripture. If scripture was a Godlike message transmitted directly from “on high”, how did it fail to carry a premonition of this this inevitable intellectual upheaval?  Why did it not prepare the faithful for this mega-existential shock?

For most intelligent young people in the 1960s the four Whammies seemed to represent a decisive win for science —as a way of understanding the world and the human condition— against religion. But although ‘science’ seemed to have come out on top, the dialogue of science was actually much too vague and ill-focused to offer personal guidance on minimal ethical standards.

Why?  Because the fudged “solutions” adopted in the 1920s and the painful subliminal sense of “scream” which resulted, had subverted intellectual clarity.  There were huge vested interests committed to foggy perspectives and uncritical mindsets in science.   

Once the shock of the four Whammies had been taken-in, it is strange that the thoughtful classes in the advanced democracies did almost nothing to find an alternative way of socialising youth into the minimal ethical standards needed to stabilise an open, liberal, civilised society.  Within the Anglican Church Charles Marnham (1977) and John Irvine (1981) developed their Alpha Courses, peaking in 1998 with more than 10,000 courses in more than 100 countries. But… they were only really a sticking-plaster response to the gravity of the problem, because they stayed firmly within the parameters of religion.

For twenty centuries it had been assumed as being an earnest,  indisputable truth that <<religion is the only way to explain the existence of us and the universe>>. Postulating a ‘God’ as a super-mind, super-creator was seen by generation after generation as the obvious answer. But during the last sixty years we have become more and more aware that mental processes like ‘creation’ can be mimicked to a certain extent by elaborate electronic systems. The human brain, we know, is  much, much more ‘effective’ in quality terms than any computer, but it is pretty obvious that this ‘brainpower’ comes about as a result, somehow, of the amazing neural structure within our brains… 

This two-pronged perspective shift has cemented the effect of the Shock of the Whammies. It throws a lot of cold water onto the historic idea that there must be an infinite ‘super-mind’ responsible for creating the universe. This is because the hypothesis of a super-mind now needs a physical super-brain to deliver it. But there is no sign whatever that anything like this exists in the universe.

The best we can do is to retain the hypothesis that the universe is created in some highly unobvious way by ordinary human minds. But ‘mind’, it has also become clear, is not a transcendental concept. Eather it is a word which we use to envalue high-level thinking, feeling and action… which, in some way we do not yet understand, is the performance of our brains. Our brains are also —let’s remember— brains networked by language (media, discourse, conversation) into what is, effectively, an immense world super-brain. Conclusion: the ordinary human brain is somehow the source of our experience of everything structured in our experience. Kant had this insight 200 years ago. 

Chaos needs no explanation. But striking pattern needs a creative mind to create it and keep it going. Now anti-mathematics has emerged, showing in detail how chaos can be turned into structure by the action of mind. It is offering at last a research programme which allows us to see in an outline way how the universe works.  

CHRISTOPHER ORMELL 1st November 2022