Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Smash the Cathedral!

Last week I suggested that we can't just go out and change America, and that's why Speaker Boehner and the House Republicans couldn't just vote against increasing the debt ceiling and stop the spending.  First they have to win the battle of ideas.  Here's how I put it:
First of all, opinion leaders in the academy and the media must have their come-to-Jesus moment.  (I know: Dream on). They see that for over a century they have been brutalizing and betraying the little people with their rational plans and their race and class politics.  Then purveyors of conventional wisdom like Ron Fournier have to get the message.  Then NYT readers and NPR listeners must start mouthing the new catchphrases.  Then liberal activists and Democratic politicians must be shamed out of their race baiting and class warfare.  Then the rank-and-file entitlement beneficiaries get reeducated.  Then we get to reform the welfare state.
By "opinion leaders in the academy and the media" I mean, of course, the folks that "Mencius Moldbug" calls The Cathedral.  And those folks are not going to have a come-to-Jesus moment without a lot of encouragement.

Now Moldbug suggests that the path to the future is through a kind of national bankruptcy that he calls the "Reset" that turns the US into a kind of limited-liability corporation.  But in real life the US probably turns into Brazil, as Brazil turns into Argentina, as Argentina turns into Venezuela, and Venezuela turns into Zimbabwe.   Because politics is not the same as bankruptcy.

No, I suspect that the way to end the rule of the Cathedral is through a Reformation rather than a Reset.

The proximate cause of the Reformation was Martin Luther's Ninety-five Theses against indulgences.  But the bigger picture was the printing revolution had permitted the middle class to get and read their own Bibles, got to be more engaged in their faith and the exegesis of the Bible, and so, as Wikipedia puts it,
[H]is publication of his objections was paradigmatic of the resultant shift from internal to extramural debate on matters that had previously been taken as given.
In our terms, the availability of printed books increased the bandwidth of public participation in religion and discussion of life, the universe, and everything.  People weren't content to leave the exegesis of religion up to the Church.  They wanted in on the discussion.

Could our time, with its own increase in bandwidth through the information revolution, see a similar revolution?  Could a burgeoning Long Tail of engaged citizens dislodge the current ruling class of the Cathedral, the academics and the journalists that have controlled public debate over the last two centuries?  Or will the Cathedral manage to maintain control of the moral-cultural sector and continue its hegemony over the political sector and the economic sector?

The comparison with the Reformation is chilling.  There  were many failed attempts to reform the old Cathedral, from the Waldensians to John Wycliffe to Jan Hus.  And they were all put down. Until Martin Luther came along.

So we should expect that the way to a better world, a world that has emerged from under the hegemony of today's ruling class, will not be easy or swift.

But there is hope.  There is hope because world is full of people of good will that want to participate in their own moral development and take responsibility for themselves and build communities of cooperation and faith.  There is also hope in the fact that every cultural elite eventually decays into hypocrisy and the pursuit of power for the sake of power.  It loses its moral authority in the cesspool of its own corruption and cruelty, and then with its moral authority gone its physical authority collapses.  Surely our elite is well on the path to self-destruction.

The only thing to do is to have the courage to tell truth and shame the Devil.  And have faith that in the end good will prevail.

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