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Ah, Sweet Enlightened Reason

By       Message Derryl Hermanutz     Permalink
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Ah, Sweet Enlightened Reason

From 0177-5 Log cabin, Pioneer settlement, Swan Hill
0177-5 Log cabin, Pioneer settlement, Swan Hill
(image by GSofV)
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The 18th century European Enlightenment was our intellectual ancestors' assertion of their human ability to rationally analyze and critique the authoritative pronouncements of people who dogmatically claimed to "know". At the time, the authorities were religious and claimed their certain knowledge came from God. If you wanted proof that God really said all that stuff, you could just look it up in the Bible. We're just the messengers, said the authorities. The message is written down right there in the book. God wrote it in there. Not men. Certainly not us.

Fast forward 250 years. We still believe in the authoritative pronouncements of people who dogmatically claim to "know". But now they call themselves "free market economists" rather than "Christian priests". And they claim their certainties come from faith in the beneficent workings of an invisible hand, not from faith in the written word of a beneficent God.

The Christian worldview believed in the real existence of God, heaven and our eternal souls. None of these realities could be visibly "seen". But most everybody believed in them, and acted as if they were very real. The priesthood were the experts who spent their lives studying the book and interpreting the Word of God to Christian civilization. Christians were to "obey" the Word of God, as interpreted by the priesthood.

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So who is responsible for what happens here on Earth: God or us?

Some Christians believed we are moral agents with free will who are personally responsible for our own salvation. It is up to us to see the effects our choices produce, and adapt our beliefs, values and behavior to produce good outcomes. "You will know them by their works." Our "good beliefs and values" must be empirically demonstrated in our "good works".

Other Christians believed Jesus Christ atoned for all our sins, so we are not responsible for what we do and for the consequences of our actions. "Justification by faith alone!" Our "faith" is divorced from our "works". What we claim to believe in and value is divorced from our real world behavior. Beliefs are divorced from evidence. 'Values' are divorced from choices and behavior.

By divorcing faith from behavior, hypocrisy freed itself from evidence-based critique. Hypocrisy liberates behavior from evidence, from reason, from morality, allowing ego-ambition to drive behavior while maintaining firm faith in one's own selfless virtue. "The reality of 'me' is what I believe it is and what I say it is. What I am visibly doing has nothing to do with the 'real' me. I am good, and nothing can convince me otherwise."

The Enlightenment shook faith in religious certainties to their core. But new certainties were waiting in the wings to replace them. Faith in the capitalist free market system to produce material goods, replaced faith in the Christian religion to produce spiritual goods.

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The capitalist worldview believes in the real existence of a self-regulating free market whose beneficent workings are guided by an invisible hand. The hand "optimizes" social and economic outcomes. And if real world social and economic outcomes appear to be very much sub-optimal, we must believe that any direct human attempt to "improve" outcomes will just make matters worse, not better. We must blindly submit our fate into the optimizing arms of the invisible hand of the marketplace.

We cannot visibly "see" markets and invisible hands. What we "see" is people using money to buy up ownership of the Earth; then operating the planet as their private property; in order to get even more money as "profits"; which they use to buy up even more of the Earth. But in the spirit of Enlightened reason, we do not believe in the intensifying dystopia that we see with our eyes. We believe in the luminous utopia that we see inside our capitalist free market worldview.

Or did I get that backwards? Does Enlightened reason believe what it sees instead of believing what some priestly ideology tells it to see? If all we "see" is some guys buying up the world with money, and managing the planet as their "private property" -- to the visible detriment of humanity and the Earth -- then as people of Enlightened reason, shouldn't we believe that what we see is what is really happening?

Rather than believe these consequences of unfettered greed are optimal and inevitable, beyond human wisdom and human power to alter?

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I spent my working life as an independent small business owner/operator. My academic background is in philosophy and political economy. I began studying monetary systems and monetary history after the 1982 banking crash that was precipitated by (more...)

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