Taking the long view of geopolitical developments

In the two and a half years of silence that passed since my last post, I engaged with two colleagues (Marielle Kronberg and my wife Vivian Freyre Zoakos) in a comprehensive, ongoing study of what we believe to be certain critical philosophical problems on whose eventual treatment will hinge the future evolution of Western civilization.  We decided to begin with those of Plato’s dialogues that ought to be regarded, for reasons that will be elaborated in future posts, as the founding documents of western science: the Parmenides, Theaetetus, Sophist and Timaeus. The result of our work thus far has been a new translation of the Parmenides, to be made available on these pages as soon as the supporting footnotes and commentary are completed.

Physics not Political Philosophy drive long-term political evolution

The day to day developments in world politics during these two and a half years of silence validate the view that a colossal civilizational transition is in progress, or rather has been in progress for quite a while and has now reached a critical phase with the processes that have been unleashed in the United States since the 2016 presidential election campaign.

Contrary to the dominant views and practices of modern academia, what drives the longterm political and cultural behavior of a civilization is not the ideological narrative or the political philosophy behind it. Instead, the ultimate driver is that mental image of the physical world that the physical sciences of the civilization impart – by teaching and by osmosis – to that civilization’s general population. Populations understand their lives by situating themselves in a physical world, but they understand that physical world according to what physical science teaches about it. Their judgments and their actions are based on these understandings. Continue reading

Debt and Civilization – Part 1 (An Overview)

“There is simply too much debt in the world today.”

Jaime Caruana, General Manager, Bank for International Settlements

June 27, 2014

One year ago, when total global debt had reached its highest level in human history both in absolute terms ($199 trillion) and as percent of global output (286%), the Bank for International Settlements (BIS – the global economy’s central bank of central banks) concluded that “there is simply too much debt in the world today,” warning that the global economy is more vulnerable to collapse now than it was prior to the 2008 failure of Lehman Brothers.

Remarkably, the BIS had also warned as early as 2003 that the global debt of financial institutions and households was becoming “too much”, predicting that if not curbed it would lead to financial crisis. When BIS warnings went unheeded and the predicted crisis finally arrived in 2008, a complete meltdown of the global economy was barely avoided through massive new debt issuance when governments borrowed trillions to bail out private financial institutions.

The result has been that the original debt crisis of 2008 has grown to be a much greater menace to the world economy today. The size of the crisis has reduced the world’s private financial industry to an impotent dependent on government subsidies, as these taxpayer-funded subsidies to private financial institutions resulted in an explosion of government debt from $33 trillion in the beginning of 2008 to nearly $60 trillion today.

The world responded to the private debt crisis of 2008 with a tsunami of government indebtedness that has nearly doubled global sovereign debt, leaving governments enfeebled by over- indebtedness and weakened revenue raising capacity, unable to generate effective policies, and running out of time, money and legitimacy.

The colossal size of global debt makes today’s debt crisis a crisis of civilization. It is a crisis that can neither be understood nor addressed effectively without a comprehensive inquiry into the links between debt and civilization as these have unfolded from the dawn of history. Continue reading

Western Civilization as Perennial Tension

Civilization is described in many different ways involving language, history, religion, culture and self-identity that human groupings may share, but it can only be defined as a comprehensive, self-sustaining, meaning-conferring mode of existence of such groupings in history. For a collective subject such as a civilization to confer meaning to its constituent members it must imbue them with or propose to them, explicitly or implicitly, a grand purpose or aim – a final cause – around which life is organized.

Western Civilization is an entity far more encompassing than the European Enlightenment, even though most people tend to identify Western Civilization with the Enlightenment culture that emerged in Western Europe in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.

Continue reading

The Impact of Physics on Character Formation

The following is a reflection on a 2003 lecture On Aristotelian, Classical and Quantum Physics by Dr. Richard F. Hassing, an Associate Professor and my former teacher at the School of Philosophy of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

  1. Character, according to Aristotle, is shaped by choices, or at least entails choices[i].
  2. Choice differs from desire in that the objects of choice are achievable and possible but the objects of desire also include the untenable and impossible[ii].
  3. In other words, the limits of our powers — i.e., what is possible for us as a society and, hence, as individuals — determine the gap between desire and choice. The smaller our powers, the greater the gap between what we desire and what we choose; and when our powers are perceived as limitless, the gap between what we desire and what we choose evaporates — the very operation of choice is cancelled.
  4. Different theories of physical science entail different subjective understandings of what is possible for society as a whole and for the individuals in it.
  5. Different physical theories therefore shape different worldviews that are communicated beyond the science community to society as a whole. These generally shared worldviews, in turn, entail different schemes for individuals’ choices and thus different procedures of individual persons’ character formation.
  6. If a physical theory (i.e., superstring theory) professes that the existence of nearly infinite (10500) universes (multiverses) is a necessary corollary of its mathematics, and if this theory becomes hegemonic in the scientific community, then the conception of infinite possibilities (“everything is possible”) will eventually spread to the broader society, thereby eliminating the distinction between choice and desire.
  7. Whereas the technological advances of the present period construct and propose near-infinite choices, events in the domain of theoretical physics that endeavor to underpin and perpetuate these technological advances ironically undermine the very function of choice. The theoretical worldview that purports to be the foundation of our practical technology cancels the function of choice which our technology is intended to serve and replaces this function of choice with chaotic, incontinent desire.
  8. Without the habitual, repetitive exercise of choices, the formation of any type of habit or virtue and of any type of character is unattainable. Without character there is no individual human subject.
  9. This raises the question: is a collective human subject — a human society of any type — possible without the existence of individual human subject?

[i] “The virtues are choices or involve choices”, Aristotle Nicomachean Ethics II 11106a4

[ii] “Those who say that desire or passion or wish or opinion are the same do not think right; for choice is not found in irrational creatures …choice is not about impossible things … but desire is about impossible things”, Op. cit. III 1111b3-8