The Rise of Western Stupidity
"It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere."- Voltaire
For most of us, history is the story of the progressive western mind triumphing over petty ignorance and stupidity. Yet, the overwhelming incidence of stupidity that infests the annals of history. Stupidity is rarely dealt with as a historical force worth exploring; the blunders of our past emperors, kings, and presidents are brushed aside as an the unavoidable consequence of the exceptional circumstance or a conspiricy of a period's perverse minds. Such views are stupid, as stupidity is amongst the few universal traits found throughout the world's historical records. Or to put it in modern terms,
In essence, stupidity is a learned corruption of learning. Psychologically speaking, learning is governed by a schema:the cognitive frame which helps us organize sensory information, and directs or creates a programmed response. In nerd speak, think of your Schema as your operating system. Stupidity is the unnecessary modification of a good schema, or adherence to a detrimental one. Yet, we all have a significant emotional investment in our schema, and are thus prone to stupidity.
Our schema creates our systems of belief; these systems can be religious, intellectual, or political. We use our schemas to rationalize our relation to the world, and to define what constitutes "proper behavior". Through out history, stupid results when a non-adaptive schema mixes with the collective social norms, group think, and systematic corruption of language.
This is Diet-Chomsky, but language can powerfully govern our perception of people, events, and ourselves. Here is a brain exercise, explain how these two groups of people are different (Without revealing a national or religious bias):
*Victims of a Terrorism
When language becomes subjective and ambiguous, we invite all sorts of stupid behavior. Take al-Qaeda murdering Muslims, or businessmen using free-market language to advocate government aid when free-market competition is hurting them. Usually people create entire linguistic frameworks to rationalize their contradictory and unjustified behavior.
Its a forgone conclusion that groups have a tendency to only see 'their' side. This becomes most dangerous when it turns into group think; invariably, a group thinking organization will see themselves as invincible and morally superior (by their own standards). Whenever there is data which conflicts with the groups goal, it tends to be dismissed, rather than discussed. Dissent becomes synonymous with treachery, thus minimizing deviations from the predetermined conclusions. The enemy of the group is considered stupid and evil, usually by definition (take the word "liberal").
This trifecta (language, group think, and cultural schemas) of stupidity is arguably the most significant force in history. As stupidity usually results in great suffering, it must be considered a normal psychological condition so that it can be dealt with. Usually it will come about in the form of outdated and deeply ingrained schemas (radical Islam), or pure fantasy worlds (Marxism and extreme-libertarianism). Without furthere adeu, let us proceed to the birth place of western stupidity, ancient Greece.
II. Greek Stupidity
Those in the modern world tend to look upon the Greeks in three ways:
1. with complete indifference and total apathy (a feeling which will undoubtbly transfer to this post)
2. with a bizaree, and delusionary reverence which continues to flow from Italy circa 700 years ago.
3. with completely unfounded condemnation
I lean towards an eclectic combination of all three of the before mention opinions. Indeed, I couldn't care less about the majority of plato's works (Many of his later works give the reader the impression that he was completely senile). Moreover, his Republic was little more than an unapologetic treatise for an oligarchy of the "wise" (Plato was remarkably vauge about why a rulers "wiseness" would make them just or fit to rule). Furthermore, their Democracy was an utter failure; it lasted little more than 100 years, and the so called "equality and liberty" of Greece were reserved for all but Women and Slaves (Slaves and Women made up roughly 3/4 of the population of the average city state). Moreover, the slaves did all of the work in the fields, while the women did most of the house work. Therefore, it is of little suprise that the men had sufficent time to sit about and ask "what is justice?" Consider this enlightened remark from an Athenian orator:
Prostitues we have for pleasure, concubines for daily physical attendence; a wife is for housekeeping and bearing us legitimate offspring.
In reality, the Greek public was more like Cartman from South Park, than Socrates. Don't even make me start with the fact that the Greeks thought it was socially acceptable to enjoy oneself while sodomizing young boys. Infact, the Greeks considered a good Man-to-boy sodomizing as a more pure form of bonding than intercourse with a mature (who was maybe even willing) women.
Ironically, the greatest strength of the greeks, their abstract philosophical ramblings, were also in complete contrast to with their actions. The Greek States feel, and their citizens were cast into slavery, largely because of their bad habit of starting wars. However, the ideals which were born in Greece continue on, and remain worth striving to atain: Freedom, secularism, rationalism, measured beauty, glorification of the body and mind, and high regards for the dignity and worth of every individual. Out of respect for the remarkable Greek achievement, read this Oration on the ideals of Athens, as spoken by King Pericles around 450 b.c.e during the golden age of Greece:
We love beauty without extravagance, and wisdom without weakness of will. Wealth we regard not as a means for private display but rather for public service; and poverty we consider no disgrace, although we think it is a disgrace not to try to overcome it. We believe a man should be conerned about public as well as private affairs, for we regard the person who takes no part in politics not as merely uninterested but as useless.
-From Funeral Oration, King Pericles (495-427 b.c.e)
This greek Schema is quite similar to the radical left: a belief that ideals are all you need; as long as one lives in fantasized future, there's no need for practicality or realism. The greeks would decide something was a "truth"; but when their "truths" were shown false by life, they'd construct logical-philosophies to blind themselves from reality of life. Worse, is that we see this shade of stupidity everywhere 2500 years later. However, as we shall see, Roman stupidity would become much more popular.
There are hundreds of theories as to why the Roman Empire fell, thus I feel that one more won't hurt: The Roman empire collapsed on account of their stupidity. If the Greeks were stupid philosophical thinkers, the romans were stupid pragmatic short-sighted doers. Their schema was prototypical conservative stupidity. As they build their empire, they looked at the past as proof of their future glory; the Romans shared a sense that their empire was destined to rule forever. Thus, the Romans created very little culture of worth; their drama, art, and thought tended to be either stolen, or dull. What culture they did have, they usually stole from neiboring lands as they pillaged and enslaved villages.
The Empire fell because Romans had decieved themselves into thinking that a road leading to rome would create "law and order". As one Cheiftan of a Germanic tribe remarked, "The Romans build a road through wilderness and then call it civilization." Their short-sightedness led them to build an empire which was so large, that it could never have survived. By the time that Rome streched to egypt, they steadily lost law and order; as romans realized that they could have either or none, order was sacraficed. This allowed them to maintain a fantasy world in which Rome was a sovereign and invinsible empire. Their economy had been maintained by slaves, which were the result of wars. However, by the high water mark of the empire, the need for Roman buerocrats was so high, that they no longer had enough bodies for the army. Being Stupid, Rome opted for the buerocrats, and since no slaves were being captured (slaves don't reproduce very often), they lost the entire backbone of their economy. From theron, the collapse of Rome was slow, and it ended with everyone basically throwing up their hands and saying "screw it".
"He whose testicles are crushed or whose male member is cut off shall not enter the assembly of the Lord."
Following the collapse of the rotting Roman Empire, a new form of Stupidity had evolved. The western mind, no longer content with the pragmatic stupidity of the romans, opted for a institutional and "ritualized" stupidity. Besides for the splitting of theological hairs, this was a time of rich cultural stagnation.
6th century Europe was basically a giant slum. It was not really barbaric- just extremely demoralized, with daily life functioning at a very low level physically, morally and intellectually. However, let us step back to shortly after the crucification of Jesus, which is really where Christian stupidity began.
One of the early prosecutors of Christ, St. Paul, would become the father of the Church. Where as Jesus had proclaimed the imminent coming of the kingdom of god, Paul laid the basis of a religion of personal salvation through Christ and the ministry of the Church. Eventually priests would be granted super natural powers; infact the authority granted to the Clergy made them perfect candidates for filling in the void as the Roman empire crumbled.
The Doctrinal disputes of the time were somewhat entertaining. The first significant one involved the Trinity. The Arians (not to be confused with Aryans), were an intellectual group who followed a priest named Arius. Having been influenced by Greek stupidity, they believed that logically, Christ was God's son, and was therefore a creation of god. Thus, Christ could not be co-eternal, nor formed of the same substance. However, the Athanasians, who where completely indifferent to logic, maintained that Christ was the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. For whatever reason (or lack of) , the Athanasians won, and the Trinity has remained a strict dogma to this very day.
This dispute further inflamed the regionalism that had been developing in Europe. Predictably, as the Papacy came into being, so did new emphasis on power and administration. However, this stagnant period ended when the crusaders sallied forth to visit terror and destruction on the Holy Land.
The Crusaders were little more than self-opinionated invaders who robbed, raped, and slaughtered with self-deceptive righteousness. If there is a lesson to be learned from the crusaders, it must be that the lowest acts of cruelty and violence are motivated and cloaked by the loftiest of ideals. Nevertheless, the Crusaders stole a great deal of culture and knowledge. This helped bring forward the Renaissance, or as we shall approach it, The Rebirth of Ancient Stupidity.
During the 13th century, Christian stupidity's power began to decline. The confused and demoralized Europeans to realized that the church was mostly interested in advancing its secular power. It was not interested in the popular goal of cultivating an order of moral stupidity.
Meanwhile, some Italians developed a new worldview from ancient tombs of Roman and Greek stupidity. The result was a rebirth of the western mind. This new schema was most distinguished by its conspicuous lack of foresight, planning and purpose. The Europeans, no longer constrained by the dogmas of Christian stupidity, gloriously leapt forward without any particular direction in mind.
Predictably, the born-again-stupidity of the Renaissance lead the Europeans into a familiar world of politics by force, and cognition was by religion. Generally, "The Age of Reason" was about as unreasonable as any other.
The Europeans of the 16th and 17th century filled up most of their spare time by engaging in religious and ethnic warfare. However, a few Europeans thought that it might be reasonable for Catholics and Protestants to reconcile their differences by holding rational discussions. While the Catholics and Protestants did agree on the wisdom of holding inquisitions and witch hunts; they nevertheless concluded that intolerance was far more interesting than reason. Thus, the reasonable hopes for reconciliation led to a thirty years war.
Still, by the 18th century, our European friends became quite infatuated with the possibilities of reason. They reasoned that since Newton used reason to "discover" gravity, than they could use it to solve all of societies problems. Once again, the secular European mind lept forward into the unknown. A few French philosophers began to take on an enlightened project of discovering the natural laws of civil interaction. They were certain that their enlightened mind was capable of creating a world of peace, harmony and happiness. Earth would become heaven!
Thus, they revolted against the French King, and set up their own government which was based on reason, liberty, and brotherhood. So dedicated were they to principles of reason, that they beheaded anyone who threatened their reasonableness. Once again -and all to predictably- , their reasonableness did not create a Utopia. Actually, their enlightened project ended with Napoleon crowning himself Emperor -And ironically, Napoleon's despotic "empire" proved itself to be more reasonable.
The Industrial Revolution transformed Western stupidity into a fully global aggravation. During this time, Western Civilization made little attempt to hide its shallowness. In fact, the West developed a sense of pride in its callous arrogance and haughty indifference to other people and cultures. The western mind developed into a materialistic beast best surmised by Mussolini's doltish slogan: "I don't give a damn." Indeed, it all seemed rather pointless; for all of the west's ideas, they were unable to unify themselves toward any goal besides power.
During the time of the industrial revolution, the Western mind came to a disconcerting realization: the earth was not made in six days, but six billion years. This gradual realization has not even gained full acceptance today. Theologians and Fundamentalists continue to denounce "secular myths" with righteous irrationality. Thus, an unnecessary battle between theology and science was a foot. However, the ignorant resistance to Darwin was benign compared to those who made him the apostle for their new immorality.
Racists began to cite Darwin's work -by chapter and verse- in attempts to justify genocide. Imperialists used the gospel of Darwin to rationalize their slaughter and de-facto enslavement of non-industrialized cultures. The new gospel created a grand narrative for existence that resulted in unimaginable suffering: Survival of the fittest. Indeed, the titan of Darwinistic stupidity made Christian Stupidity look like a dumb puppy. The virulent secular religion of Nationalism provided yet another replacement for Christian stupidity.
The new religion provided the European regiemes with a system of self-justification for whatever means. Anything could be deemed necessary when it was -you guessed it- for the good of the country. According to the nationalist theology, sons would be sent abroad, not for the benefit of greedy industrialists, but because national divinity was at stake in a righteous conflict. Making matters worse, Nationalism and Conflict developed a positive feedback system: Nationalism created conflict, which in turn created a need for more nationalism. This sowed the roots of World War I.
The Key Phrase was "legitimacy", which meant Nations demanding the right to interfere in the affairs of other nations, while also demanding full sovereignty to mismanage their own affairs. At the peace conferences at the Hague in 1899 and 1907 the diplomats stopped working for peace, but rather sought international laws designed to embarrass their opponents, and to make wars cheaper. World War I was on the horizon; the European powers would soon pay a horrific toll for their arrogance.