Thursday, August 04, 2011

War Against the West or War Against the Rest?

To speak of an Islamic war against the West, as many do, is to miss the greater truth of our time. Islam is only one front of a larger war, the war of fundamentalism against post-modernity; What Christian, Hindu, Muslim, and Jewish fundamentalisms have in common is a modernist obsession with answers cast in affirmations of pre-modern theologies.

Fundamentalism is all about answers, and their primary enemies are reason, free thought, and the scientific method, all of which are rooted in questions. When their answers are questioned they become afraid; when they become afraid they become aggressive; and when they become aggressive they become violent.

How do we who side with the reason, science, and freethinking win this war? I don’t know if we can. Indeed it may already be lost. Look at our debt ceiling “debate.” No matter what the facts there will be members of Congress (both Tea Party and Progressive) who will vote against raising the debt limit believing either than the country will not crash, or that it is preferable to crash than to borrow. This is a martyrology common to fundamentalisms. It is better to die for one’s faith than question it.

The same mentality is at play in the “debates” over evolution and climate change. According to fundamentalists science is simply a matter of opinion; facts have nothing to do with it. Facts are simply what we say they are, and truth is measured in decibels rather than empirical evidence. The louder you scream your “facts” the more “true” they become. This is true on the right and the left, and the middle—if there is still middle—has been silenced by all the screaming.

Vice President Cheney was wrong to deride the “reality based community,” and right to point out its growing irrelevance. “Reality is what we [meaning the Bush administration] say it is,” he said. And he was right. In a world where reality is spin spun loudly, can reason prevail? I doubt it.

Humanity is too young to know if this is a pattern or not. But we may eventually discover that there is a cycle to human civilization: we move from pre-modern superstition to modern science/reason to post-modern questioning of everything and then become so frightened by existential absurdity and the possibility of nihilism that we reject reality and take refuge in fundamentalist sureties. This leads to a long period of scientific and economic decline that results in on-going religious wars among competing sureties that eventually exhausts people to the point where they are willing to give reason a shot once more. Unfortunately rationalism in turn collapses into nihilism and the cycle continues.

My guess is we may be on the verge of a return to pre-modern religious wars and the violence such madness entails. I hope I am wrong, but I doubt it.

My guess? There is a war. And we have already lost.


Josh Conescu said...

I've been wondering along similar lines - what if the actions of 9/11 were not the 'beginning' of a war, but the end of it - the final shot. The West has been going through death thralls for the past 10 years - a cycle of wars and economic turmoil being fed by each other. So horribly sad to think this way, but...

Mike Smoot said...

Fundamentalism is all about answers .... they become violent." Well stated Rabbi. So many excellent points in this post. While recent trends are alarming, I wonder if it is simply more of the same with history repeating itself, cycles aside. There have always been screamers, radicals and all those over the top. Technological advances have given us cause for greater concern as zealots have demonstrated a willingness to employ it for destructive purposes. (Then again, I guess we all have, haven't we?)

Nonetheless, I have a more optomistic view, believing the majority desires freedom and will denounce oppression and that God has the ultimate say in how things turn out.