Tuesday, September 18, 2012

New Hopes for a Changing World, Chapter One

“Current Perplexities,” pages 3-11

We see that we are drifting into a calamitous nuclear war. “But although our reason tells us we ought to shudder at such a prospect, there is another part of us that enjoys it, and so we have no firm will to avert misfortune, and there is a deep division in our souls between the sane and the insane parts [p. 3].” Many people become risk seekers, or consume rather than invest, on the grounds that the shadow of war suggests a brief lifespan. The misery of such an uncertain existence feeds upon itself, by changing attitudes towards the rivals who are thought to be the cause of the uncertainty; the worsened relations help to stoke the possibility of war, rationalizing the pessimism.

The issues facing us are complex, and will not be solved by the outdated, simple-minded strategies of conquest favored by MacArthur and Stalin. But that doesn’t mean that uncertainty and despair are the fates of the intelligent observer. This book intends to offer an achievable path of hope, one that can be taken with confidence.

Westerners looked at the East with a good-natured curiosity and approbation, until the Japanese developed into rivals. The Japanese subsequently were defeated, but their militaristic challenge to the West has spread to other parts of Asia. Westerners now recognize that the economic development of Asia is necessary to restrain Soviet influence. Development is complex, because Asia still dwells in the Malthusian trap, where improvements in living standards are countered by increased populations.

The undesirable elements of the Western life and outlook are easily transferred. “But what is best in the West – the spirit of free inquiry, the understanding of the conditions of general prosperity, and emancipation from superstition – these things powerful forces in the West prevent the East from acquiring [p. 7].” Russia, under its current system of government, will stoke the negative, militaristic features of a rising Asia.

Africa’s economic development also is constrained by population pressures – and as with Asia, birth control policies are necessary. Africans naturally attribute their plight to colonial exploitation, though that general charge is no longer sustainable. The end of colonial administration before a functional domestic civil service is brought into existence will be a setback, as Haiti demonstrates. Civilization is not inherently stable against other forces.

Freedom is a new condition for the Western mind, and its manifold benefits are accompanied, due to its novelty, with uneasiness. When the spirit is oppressed, the dogmas of Rome or of Moscow beckon, but they must be resisted in favor of the uncertainty that freedom foments and requires. “The free man, full grown, shall be full of joy and vigor and mental health, but in the meantime he suffers [p. 8].”

Private as well as public life needs new virtues, and the disposal of some old supposed virtues. The traditional notion of sin, a negative and judgmental doctrine, has already been supplanted in most people’s allegiance, even if they have not explicitly developed a full-fledged alternative philosophy.

Russell offers the outline of such an alternative philosophy, one that reflects his established views towards happiness. First, the concept of sin must be rejected entirely, and not just at surface levels; otherwise, feelings of guilt will continually arise, and undermine contentment. But it is in being happy that we will be led to be good, as happy people are curious, happy people avoid envy and intoxication. “What I should put in the place of an ethic in the old sense is encouragement and opportunity for all the impulses that are creative and expansive [p. 11].” We must understand that our own happiness requires the happiness of others, that we must live in harmony. If people were really to feel this truth, both personal and political problems would evaporate. By letting out our inner demons, we can be subsumed by the world’s beauty.

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