- Radical environmentalism
- Islamism/radical Islam/jihad/totalitarian Islam/Islamofascism (Note: I'm not sure if there is one, all encompassing term for this, or if they are generally interchangeable. I think they are not fully interchangeable, but I don't know which is most appropriate.)
The Roman Example
I bring this up because I read a particularly cogent passage in Burgess Laughlin's Aristotle Adventure today that made me stop and think for awhile. This book is "a guide to the Greek, Arabic, and Latin scholars who transmitted Aristotle's logic to the Renaissance." To set the context of the passage, I'm currently reading about what he terms the "Latin-Christian branch" of scholars, one of three such branches that tortuously transmitted the works of Aristotle to the future. At this point in the book, the last of the Roman scholars/philosophers has died, the Roman empire is collapsing, and the Dark Ages are looming. Quoting two brief paragraphs from the beginning of ch. 23 of Laughlin's book:
The disintegration of the Roman Empire proceeded unevenly. Roads fell into disrepair, piracy and brigandage increased, long-distance trade shrank, random brutality replaced rule by law, and schools of higher learning disappeared--but not everywhere at the same time. Of the former Roman provinces, Gaul [roughly, Western Europe, primarily what is now France --ed] disintegrated first, c. 375; then Spain, c. 410; Britain, c. 425; Italy, c. 570; Greece, c. 580; and finally Africa, c. 660.After a thorough reading of this, I started thinking about parallels to America's situation today, and the thought I had already given to environmentalism and Islamism. I wonder if the same type of total disintegration could happen in modern times as the Roman fall described above?
In all cases, the immediate cause of the final disintegration was invasion by barbarians, that is, brutal illiterates; and in all cases, the victims greatly outnumbered the attackers but still lost. Why? Because military weakness had followed cultural disintegration, which had followed the gradual disappearance of a philosophy of reason (in however dilute a form) as the foundation of Roman culture.
We are certainly not at risk of military weakness right now, and our culture is still more tied to reason than any other. But are the signs there for a future fall? If so, how close is it, and what can be done to turn the tide? These questions often flood my mind when I start down this line of thinking. Thankfully, many capable minds are dedicated to the task of turning the tide, so I won't dwell on that here.
Regarding my question of "could this happen in modern times?", I realize that's a rather silly one because the answer is obviously "yes!" I'm sure all empires felt invincible at certain points, and later felt that "we may be declining, but we're too big to fail", and later they collapsed. That is the way history has worked for thousands of years and nothing fundamental has changed.
It's important to note that maintaining "empire" for empire's sake is worthless. What we're talking about here is creating and maintaining a world we want to live in. The one fundamental change that could turn this historical cycle around is the acceptance of a fully consistent political philosophy respecting individual rights -- capitalism -- grounded by all the necessary foundations as outlined in Objectivism. To put it glibly, that's the one thing we haven't tried yet, and there's plenty of evidence to suggest that it would work. It is also the only proper system, but that topic is too big to address here.
Getting back on track, because American civilization is a mix of reason and unreason, it is vulnerable to the same rise/fall cycle as past empires. So we return to the Big Two major threats.
The Big Two
Radical environmentalism and its nature as a near religious movement -- picking up idealistic, fanatical "converts" and going on crusades -- while taking on the guise of real science and thus infecting the minds of otherwise generally reasonable people, has the capacity to do immense damage. From the direct and dire economic impacts of environmental regulation to the package of terrible anti-life ideas that underlies the movement -- statism, collectivism, altruism, etc. -- radical environmentalism (now combined with Evangelical Christianity) has the potential to wreak havoc.
Assuming for the sake of argument (leaving the basic premises of the movement aside for now) that the "looming environmental catastrophe" is a complete fiction, then the environmental movement is essentially convincing us to slowly kill ourselves for no reason.
Islamism is a different type of threat, one with a militant enemy targeting us, one with violent conquest as the goal. In order for them to succeed, the fundamental impotence of their ideas requires that we enable them to succeed by evading the nature of the threat, accepting cultural relativism and the like, and essentially letting the Islamist movement fester until it reaches a breaking point.
To put it rather bluntly, assuming (I hope wrongly) that the West is determined to fall, we have two ways to go. The environmentalist way has us taking the dagger to our own flesh, pricking ourselves slowly, randomly until we either die of infection or bleed to death. The Islamist way has us using our technology and intelligence to make a really nice new sword, polishing it, handing it to the Islamists, and then guiltily putting our heads on the chopping block.
In the worst case, both could be happening at the same time. And I do think that is what is happening.
The Deeper Threat
Laughlin's characterization of the fall of Roman civilization helped me to conclude that it isn't an either/or between environmentalism and Islamism. The key is the "disappearance of a philosophy of reason" represented by both threats, and by our inability or unwillingness to counter them.
What this means is that in order to win the intellectual battle and thus save our way of life as it could and should be, it must be fought on two main fronts. The obvious front is that we must counter the major external threats of environmentalism, Islamism, and all related ideologies, movements and moralities that the anti-reason philosophies support. But it would be possible to win those battles and lose the war.
The tragically mixed and confused country of America could stall or cripple Islamism long enough for it to collapse like communism did. The climate could move toward a much colder cycle, making much of the environmentalist argument absurd enough to lose its mass appeal. But what then? Of course a new militant religion could spring up. Might we in 300 years see suicide bombing Scientologists? Environmentalists could turn on a dime and start sloganeering "Stop Global Cooling!"
Thus, if we don't at the same time open another front to build up our "philosophical defenses" and adopt a fully consistent philosophy of reason in this country, we are still vulnerable to the next ideology, or a mutation of the current ones. Only this will enable us to counter further threats and an otherwise inevitable fall. And thus, we return to the organizations, publications and individuals who have already entered the fray, working "to promote the principles of reason, rational self-interest, individual rights and laissez-faire capitalism to the widest possible audience." (From About ARI on the Ayn Rand Institute website)
When pessimism temporarily takes hold, I see the undeniable signs of statist/collectivist/environmentalist influences leading to this: "Roads fell into disrepair, piracy and brigandage increased, long-distance trade shrank, random brutality replaced rule by law, and schools of higher learning disappeared..." And with that, it seems that "invasion by barbarians, that is, brutal illiterates" would not be far behind.
It's hard for me to square how much of that is melodrama and how much is reasonable concern based on evidence. Amid the bad news, there are certainly positive signs. The key then is to fully understand the nature of the pervasive wrong ideas in the world but not be swamped by them, while training focus on positive changes without despairing at the enormity of the task. Sounds easy, right?