Power Struggle

I sit up and pay attention when Roger Scruton speaks. He recently considered the significance of the worldview evinced in books by Uval Noah Harari, who is a biological determinist in the same vein as Steven Pinker and Richard Dawkins. Harari acknowledges the philosophical consequences of the humanist rejection of transcendent truth. He goes a step further, writing about the future of that humanism into something he called dataism.


Scruton, about Harari’s point of view:


“Harari thinks that rights are fictions—that all moral claims are fictions. But fictions have power, he says, and this is especially true of the fictions propagated in the name of religion. Our gods perform a vital and life-enhancing function. They unite us in larger groups than families and tribes, give beauty and appeal to the sacrifices undertaken in their name, and stand watch over the rites of reproduction.”


So you see, man created God, not the other way around, and that invented God served a socially valid function in the pre-humanist age.


Harari acknowledges the shared cultural memory of people, which Scruton calls “intersubjectivity.” But Scruton believes Harari’s view of that shared cultural memory is flawed, because Harari repudiates subjectivity, and perforce intersubjectivity. Ultimately Harari and his fellow biological determinists cannot explain the subjective “I” perspective of human consciousness, packing it off to a black box of imponderables. Not good enough, Scruton believes, and I quite agree.


The result of Harari’s determinism, according to Scruton:


“Now, though, [according to Harari] it is all out in the open. The myths have been debunked, and the truth that they concealed is exposed to our view. Meaning is a fiction; the reality is power. As Harari puts it, modernity offers us a deal: ‘Give up meaning in exchange for power.’ There is no purpose in the world, only the unending chain of cause and effect. . . . ‘modern life consists of a constant pursuit of power within a universe devoid of meaning.’”


Dataism is superseding humanism, Harari says. As we develop forms of artificial intelligence, we will rapidly find ourselves marginalized. Harari:


‘Once the Internet-of-All-Things is up and running, humans might be reduced from engineers to chips, then to data, and eventually we might dissolve within the torrent of data like a clump of earth within a gushing river.’


What a frolic in the meadow. The article is at City Journal, here.  I mention all this not because I want to bore you with multiple-level quotes about obscure philosophy, but because it illuminates the position you ultimately end up in if you believe there is no God. It necessarily means the sum of both man and mankind is biology, which means there is no purpose or meaning to life, there is only the natural unfolding of an incalculably large but necessarily finite number of material causes and effects.


Those material effects include our thoughts, and our consciousness of the world apart from ourselves. That means there is no external source of right or wrong to guide our actions. We do good and we do bad and believe we choose good and bad only because the sum of physical causes led to these thoughts and actions, not because we actually have power to choose good over evil or evil over good.


That necessarily means our shared mutual awareness is an arena only for the exercise of power. When we advocate for some social goal, we do not appeal to a universally-shared superlative, though we may invoke and then misapply shibboleths like “human rights” when we do so. In fact there is no external ideal to which we appeal. We merely invoke half-remembered and half-understood principles, usually selective bits and pieces of religious principles, but the principles are groundless, in the Godless worldview of naturalism. There is no active principle in play other than power because there is no other meaning or purpose to life.


We can go a step further with this by overlaying an analysis that Rene Girard might have applied. What is left is the repeating power dynamic of the increasingly agitated crowd, then identification of the scapegoat, then the sacrifice, and then the resulting social peace until the cycle repeats. This pattern is made chaotic because it’s not one big wheel of history, but rather wheels within wheels turning at different rates.


The significance of the Christian story is that the cycle came full stop with the Resurrection of the scapegoat Christ. We identify with Him by rejecting the will-to-power paradigm, and accepting the ultimate truths to which He points, and we do that by first accepting His presence supernaturally, and the factual truth of His entry into space-time with us, and His return to heaven by resurrection. If we ignore the significance of His advent, or reject it as not being historically true, then we should recognize we’re left with this: that “we are here as on a darkling plain/Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,/where ignorant armies clash by night.” (Matthew Arnold).


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