The Enlightenment was merely a veneer for barbarity?

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The Enlightenment was merely a veneer for barbarity?

Postby Mossling on March 23rd, 2017, 11:54 pm 

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
The Enlightenment is the period in the history of western thought and culture, stretching roughly from the mid-decades of the seventeenth century through the eighteenth century, characterized by dramatic revolutions in science, philosophy, society and politics; these revolutions swept away the medieval world-view and ushered in our modern western world.

Revolution, in which the traditional hierarchical political and social orders (the French monarchy, the privileges of the French nobility, the political power and authority of the Catholic Church) were violently destroyed and replaced by a political and social order informed by the Enlightenment ideals of freedom and equality for all, founded, ostensibly, upon principles of human reason.

The Enlightenment is most identified with its political accomplishments. The era is marked by three political revolutions, which together lay the basis for modern, republican, constitutional democracies: The English Revolution (1688), the American Revolution (1775–83), and the French Revolution (1789–99).

However, for all the enduring accomplishments of Enlightenment political philosophy, it is not clear that human reason proves powerful enough to put a concrete, positive authoritative ideal in place of the ideals negated by rational criticism. As in the epistemological domain, reason shows its power more convincingly in criticizing authorities than in establishing them. Here too the question of the limits of reason is one of the main philosophical legacies of the period. These limits are arguably vividly illustrated by the course of the French Revolution. The explicit ideals of the French Revolution are the Enlightenment ideals of individual freedom and equality; but, as the revolutionaries attempt to devise rational, secular institutions to put in place of those they have violently overthrown, eventually they have recourse to violence and terror in order to control and govern the people. The devolution of the French Revolution into the Reign of Terror is perceived by many as proving the emptiness and hypocrisy of Enlightenment reason, and is one of the main factors which account for the end of the Enlightenment as an historical period.


And so now, with the terror of terrorism so prevalent in the West, it seems that the foreign policy that has endured since medieval times is being revealed - namely invade, conquer, and extract economic benefits. Thus it appears that the Enlightenment was merely a veneer used to give violent economic campaigns (most often carried out abroad) an apparent moral philosophical height, while in all actuality it has been business as usual for the Europeans and their sympathisers.

Do you have any reflections on this?
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Re: The Enlightenment was merely a veneer for barbarity?

Postby Lomax on March 27th, 2017, 10:05 pm 

Many thoughts, and all in defense of the enlightment. The critics alluded to by the SEP are always on the political right, so your post provides an interesting and original perspective.

First and simplest, I will say that those quotes don't on their face describe what I would call barbarity. Science, philosophy, secularism, suffrage, freedom, reason, and scepticism of authority - these are the phenomena described, and they are exactly what I would consider the antithesis of barbarity. As for reason being better at criticising authority than establishing it, I'll come back to that - but who can really say a disposition toward liberty is "barbaric"?

The Reign of Terror is the most commonly cited example of barbarous behaviour being put in the service of enlightenment, perhaps because it was the stage for very eloquent disputes between Thomas Paine, Edmund Burke and (later) Jeremy Bentham. I think its historical significance is overstated - the actual death toll was meager compared to the violent suppression, a short while later, of the working classes by the clergy and other bourgeious powers, in the Paris Commune of 1871. This is not to deny that the behaviour of Robespierre and his bedfellows was barbaric - only that the overall effect of the French revolution, and the ongoing enlightenment movements in the country, has been a diminuition of barbarism, not an injection of it.

I found Charles Dickens's position on the Great Terror very interesting. If I may quote from Orwell's long essay on Dickens:

George Orwell wrote:Dickens sees clearly enough that the French Revolution was bound to happen and that many of the people who were executed deserved what they got. If, he says, you behave as the French aristocracy had behaved, vengeance will follow. He repeats this over and over again. We are constantly being reminded that while ‘my lord’ is lolling in bed, with four liveried footmen serving his chocolate and the peasants starving outside, somewhere in the forest a tree is growing which will presently be sawn into planks for the platform of the guillotine, etc., etc., etc. The inevitability of the Terror, given its causes, is insisted upon in the clearest terms:

Charles Dickens wrote:It was too much the way... to talk of this terrible Revolution as if it were the only harvest ever known under the skies that had not been sown — as if nothing had ever been done, or omitted to be done, that had led to it — as if observers of the wretched millions in France, and of the misused and perverted resources that should have made them prosperous, had not seen it inevitably coming, years before, and had not in plain terms recorded what they saw.


And again:

Charles Dickens wrote:All the devouring and insatiate monsters imagined since imagination could record itself, are fused in the one realization, Guillotine. And yet there is not in France, with its rich variety of soil and climate, a blade, a leaf, a root, a spring, a peppercorn, which will grow to maturity under conditions more certain than those that have produced this horror. Crush humanity out of shape once more, under similar hammers, and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms.


In other words, the French aristocracy had dug their own graves. But there is no perception here of what is now called historic necessity. Dickens sees that the results are inevitable, given the causes, but he thinks that the causes might have been avoided. The Revolution is something that happens because centuries of oppression have made the French peasantry sub-human.

Dickens perceives, in other words, that the revolution was horrific, but that that is the fault of the pre-enlightment forces, not of the enlightenment ones.

Your final point - about the whole thing being a cover for the West's ensuing foreign policy - is surely the easiest to knock down. There has not been one, single, policy - the "Wilsonian idealism" era, the realpolitik of the Kissinger years, and the state-building of the neoconservative movement all seem to me very different policies. Economic exploitation of conquered countries, by "Europeans and their sympathisers", by no means begins with the enlightenment - the Transatlantic slave trade began in the 15th century. Capitalism predates the enlightenment, and its beginning coincides more closely with the beginning of financially motivated imperialism (as opposed to imperalism for more straightforwardly feudal reasons, which is as old as history itself).

On thing is lost on me: review your sentence about "the terror of terrorism". Is your charge that jihad is the fault of the West's enlightenment features, rather than of the former Ottoman Empire's stubborn resistance to them?
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Re: The Enlightenment was merely a veneer for barbarity?

Postby Mossling on March 28th, 2017, 7:52 am 

Hi Lomax,

Thanks for engaging me on this with your keen eye :)
Lomax » March 28th, 2017, 11:05 am wrote:I will say that those quotes don't on their face describe what I would call barbarity. Science, philosophy, secularism, suffrage, freedom, reason, and scepticism of authority - these are the phenomena described, and they are exactly what I would consider the antithesis of barbarity.

Me too, but perhaps these positive aspects are still not moderate enough - for example, the movement was possibly imbued with traditional puritanical revulsion of the animal urges which keep the life process, and thus our nervous systems, perpetuated?
who can really say a disposition toward liberty is "barbaric"?

It depends on one's view of liberty - the liberty to pursue ISIS' version of Islamic persistence on a global scale is still a form of liberty - freedom from a non-believers' hell, in their eyes. The pursuit of that liberty by ISIS, however, has often been labelled barbaric.
The Reign of Terror is the most commonly cited example of barbarous behaviour being put in the service of enlightenment, perhaps because it was the stage for very eloquent disputes between Thomas Paine, Edmund Burke and (later) Jeremy Bentham. I think its historical significance is overstated - the actual death toll was meager compared to the violent suppression, a short while later, of the working classes by the clergy and other bourgeious powers, in the Paris Commune of 1871. This is not to deny that the behaviour of Robespierre and his bedfellows was barbaric - only that the overall effect of the French revolution, and the ongoing enlightenment movements in the country, has been a diminuition of barbarism, not an injection of it.

Again, it could be a definition issue - barabarity comes in many forms. The fact that ISIS, for example, has chosen to shock and intimidate by using a method not too different from the guillotine I think points to something quite significant.
In other words, the French aristocracy had dug their own graves.

In retrospect we may say this, but if the French Revolution had been lead by Gandhi, maybe they wouldn't have been killed in such a ceremonial and gruesome manner?
The Revolution is something that happens because centuries of oppression have made the French peasantry sub-human.

Sub-human in the eyes of their oppressors. Locke had investments in the slave trade. It seems that viewing certain humans as sub-human was a fashion of those times.
Dickens perceives, in other words, that the revolution was horrific, but that that is the fault of the pre-enlightment forces, not of the enlightenment ones.

I am in agreement here, and yet shouldn't the Enlightenment, in all its celebration of human equality and civil potential, have been able to prevent such atrocities? I think that the atrocities were useful for intellectual extremists to indulge their whims at times, also.
Your final point - about the whole thing being a cover for the West's ensuing foreign policy - is surely the easiest to knock down. There has not been one, single, policy - the "Wilsonian idealism" era, the realpolitik of the Kissinger years, and the state-building of the neoconservative movement all seem to me very different policies. Economic exploitation of conquered countries, by "Europeans and their sympathisers", by no means begins with the enlightenment - the Transatlantic slave trade began in the 15th century. Capitalism predates the enlightenment, and its beginning coincides more closely with the beginning of financially motivated imperialism (as opposed to imperalism for more straightforwardly feudal reasons, which is as old as history itself).

Indeed - this is why I said "it has been business as usual for the Europeans and their sympathisers" - that the Enlightenment didn't really change the 'conquer and exploit' mentality, and therefore very possibly acted as a kind of distraction from any 'regular barabarism'.

This post is more of a delving into the possible origins of this 'loony liberals' situation - where nationalistic uncaring voices are now electing far-right conservatives into the highest offices throughout the West, apparently hoping that they are going to get the traditional imperialist military machine throbbing again. That which Conservatives intend to conserve does not seem to be the Enlightenment values that gave birth to many of the modern benefits enjoyed by the West, but instead the barbaric side of European behaviour. This is quite worrying, since it basically makes the West not that much better than ISIS in many ways. The Iraq invasion and post-war legacy is evidence enough for the kind of carnage that the Conservative West is promising to the rest of the world...
On thing is lost on me: review your sentence about "the terror of terrorism". Is your charge that jihad is the fault of the West's enlightenment features, rather than of the former Ottoman Empire's stubborn resistance to them?

No, it seems that the terror of terrorism as seen in London recently is apparently cutting through the veneer of the Enlightenment - puncturing it, or ripping it open, after millenia of relative social comfort in Enlightenment-driven countries, and in the process causing the underlying visceral nationalism to ooze out in larger force and numbers than previously guessed by the "loony liberals". That is my supposition.
What do you think?
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Re: The Enlightenment was merely a veneer for barbarity?

Postby Mossling on March 28th, 2017, 8:07 am 

A rather poignant quote here from the Marquis de Sade.:
Is it not by dint of murders that France is free today? . . . Republican mettle calls for a touch of ferocity: if he grows soft, if his energy slackens in him, the republican will be subjugated in a trice. . . . An already old and decayed nation which courageously casts off the yoke of its monarchical government in order to adopt a republican one, will only be maintained by many crimes; for it is criminal already, and if it wish to pass from crime to virtue, that is to say, from a violent to a pacific, benign condition, it should fall into an inertia whose result would soon be its certain ruin.

Thus, the "post-truth" movement is, in fact, the "post-false-Enlightenment" movement, and thus a return to the cleverly conserved pre-Enlightenment values revolving around 'conquer and exploit'. It seems that the deluded (cuckolded) liberal voices, in combination with economic socio-political 'buffers' kept the unwholesome truth under wraps for as long as the buffers held out, but now there is regular domestic terrorism in the West that is often unstoppable or forecastable, and economic forecasts predicting the West kowtowing to India and China.

So now the barbarians become proactive - instead of looking for noble solutions, they start sharpening their guillotines and seeking wealthy targets to exploit. Of course the solutions can't be noble ones - because the nobility was the first to taste the guillotine. A shallow conception of nobility, granted, but it seems the Enlightenment possibly had an equality complex that dissolved the positives that came with traditional noble aspirations, and required citizens to aim morally lower than is practically necessary for long-term social stability.
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Re: The Enlightenment was merely a veneer for barbarity?

Postby Braininvat on March 28th, 2017, 10:23 am 

I tend to think of ideologies as aspirational words and documents, rather than stable reality. Actual mileage may vary, depending on the driver. I can't really glean much beyond "the world is having problems right now and democracy and freedom is difficult" from all that you are saying.
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Re: The Enlightenment was merely a veneer for barbarity?

Postby Mossling on March 29th, 2017, 4:00 am 

Braininvat » March 28th, 2017, 11:23 pm wrote:I can't really glean much beyond "the world is having problems right now and democracy and freedom is difficult" from all that you are saying.

I'm saying (I think(!)), that the liberals were ultimately sold a lie - maybe we can call it 'The Enlightenment Dream' - a softer, fuzzier, perspective of their society than actually, physically, existed. A sort of Enlightenment Santa Claus or Toothfairy that they believed was a solid truth in their world, thus earning them titles such as 'loony lefties' or 'libtards'.

The democracies across the West do seem to be pointing at an alternative truth (a post-liberal-truth truth) from where I am standing. Voters' voices and the people they are electing to represent them are painting a very different picture from the story that The Enlightenment Dream tells about Western societies.
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Re: The Enlightenment was merely a veneer for barbarity?

Postby Lomax on March 29th, 2017, 10:18 am 

I think I can state my objection more roundly. Is it not the case that rates of violence and oppression have declined since the enlightenment, if not before? The number of dictatorships is now down to 20; once it numbered in the hundreds. Wars, imperialist or otherwise, are rarer. Women and blacks have the vote in the Western world. Is it not the case that scientific discovery has accelerated magnificently since the enlightenment? We now know about black holes, dark matter, photosynthesis, polyols, serotonin. Before Priestley, who fled to the US for enlightenment reasons, we did not even know about oxygen. We can now, very belatedly, say that the countries we conquer are then allowed, even if they weren't before, to hold democratic elections and select their own leaders. Iraqis can now debate their political future on dozens of TV and radio stations, newspaper outlets, and websites, in the Enlightenment spirit of free inquiry. To conflate all this with ISIS just because the modern world isn't a utopia is to make the best the enemy of the good.
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Re: The Enlightenment was merely a veneer for barbarity?

Postby Mossling on March 30th, 2017, 1:21 am 

Thanks Lomax. I very much want the situation to be more positive, as I have been more heavily invested in an Enlightened West than most, however actions do tend speak louder than words in my experience.
Lomax » March 29th, 2017, 11:18 pm wrote:I think I can state my objection more roundly. Is it not the case that rates of violence and oppression have declined since the enlightenment, if not before?

Is it not the case, though, that these rates are now on the increase? Could it not be argued that these lower previous rates were a feature of the E.D. (Enlightenment Dream) 'buffer', and now things are returning to a more realistic condition that was waiting in the wings to emerge?
The number of dictatorships is now down to 20; once it numbered in the hundreds. Wars, imperialist or otherwise, are rarer.

And yet the top 1% are getting richer every year, claiming a higher and higher percentage of available net global household wealth. What was in the past obtained by shooting wars or the threat thereof, is now taken far more subtly and easily from afar. As a result, masses continue to die, not from bullets or blades, but from famine, epidemics, and mental illness - neglect due to lack of available resources. In addition, democratically-elected leaders such as George Bush or Tony Blair can easily abuse their positions to act just like a dictator and get away with it. Is this the 'empowering' democracy the West wishes to advertise to the people of 'less fortunate' countries?
Women and blacks have the vote in the Western world.

Yes - they are Westerners. Michelle Obama or Hillary Clinton would still probably see it necessary to destabilise Syria and other such countries through violent intereference.
Is it not the case that scientific discovery has accelerated magnificently since the enlightenment? We now know about black holes, dark matter, photosynthesis, polyols, serotonin. Before Priestley, who fled to the US for enlightenment reasons, we did not even know about oxygen.

The Enlightenment was very much science and knowledge-driven, wasn't it? And yet an illegal Iraq invasion can still happen with impunity no matter the scientific enquiry and logic brought to bare on the obvious criminality of it (which seems to remain the single most contributive reason for the increase in Islamic Extremist terrorism in the West at present. Before the Iraq mess, there were plenty of radical muslim clerics in London who were left to do their thing - because they weren't a danger to society at that time).
We can now, very belatedly, say that the countries we conquer are then allowed, even if they weren't before, to hold democratic elections and select their own leaders. Iraqis can now debate their political future on dozens of TV and radio stations, newspaper outlets, and websites, in the Enlightenment spirit of free inquiry.

But all of that means nothing when the masses that matter do not even want to educate themselves - their children or their own brains - to a level whereby they can differentiate between a lying presidential candidate that appeals to their visceral passions, and a more moderate candidate that will uphold a progression towards a more civilised state. This is why even Socrates placed democracy second to the philosophical pursuit and familiarity with the path of pursuing the absolute truth.
To conflate all this with ISIS just because the modern world isn't a utopia is to make the best the enemy of the good.

I am not seeking to conflate, but merely using ISIS' deeds as a representation of what is tended to be considered barbaric - especially ISiS' murdering and terror - through beheadings and the violent seizing of power. Pretty similar to the French Revolution, though - an apparent Enlightenment-driven political movement. Could it not even be the model for regime change that the West has been so eager to instigate in the Middle East? Like seen in Libya, for example - it has all the hallmarks of the French Revolution, with Gaddafi ending his life forcefully sodomised with an iron bar and then dragged through the streets from the back of a pickup van. And now look at that country. It is now far more barbarous than ever before :/
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Re: The Enlightenment was merely a veneer for barbarity?

Postby Lomax on March 31st, 2017, 11:03 pm 

Mossling » March 30th, 2017, 6:21 am wrote:
Lomax » March 29th, 2017, 11:18 pm wrote:I think I can state my objection more roundly. Is it not the case that rates of violence and oppression have declined since the enlightenment, if not before?

Is it not the case, though, that these rates are now on the increase?

Not to my knowledge. The last I read of this was Steven Pinker's 2011 book The Better Angels of our Nature, which made a strong and comprehensive case for believing that all of those things were declining. The only one I've kept up with since is the number of dictatorships, which this year reached an all-time low of 20.

Mossling » March 30th, 2017, 6:21 am wrote:
Women and blacks have the vote in the Western world.

Yes - they are Westerners. Michelle Obama or Hillary Clinton would still probably see it necessary to destabilise Syria and other such countries through violent intereference

It's a change of subject to say that there are two women who support war. Women's suffrage is not conditional on whether women have politically correct lefty opinions. The Enlightenment shouldn't be confused with pacifism by the way, and certainly not with what you (and many others) euphemistically call "stability". The Enlightenment was rather a movement for change.

Mossling » March 30th, 2017, 6:21 am wrote:The Enlightenment was very much science and knowledge-driven, wasn't it? And yet an illegal Iraq invasion can still happen with impunity no matter the scientific enquiry and logic brought to bare on the obvious criminality of it

What scientific enquiry? The UNSC at any rate has never been called upon for a trial, so we don't know whether the Iraq War was illegal. International Law is more complicated than what you read in the Guardian.

Mossling » March 30th, 2017, 6:21 am wrote:But all of that means nothing when the masses that matter do not even want to educate themselves

Means a lot to them - they risked their lives to line up to vote, when fanatics were still planting bombs in the streets - and it means a lot to me too. Are you telling me you'd be just as happy without the right to express an opinion?
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Re: The Enlightenment was merely a veneer for barbarity?

Postby Mossling on April 2nd, 2017, 3:07 am 

Lomax » April 1st, 2017, 12:03 pm wrote:
Mossling » March 30th, 2017, 6:21 am wrote:The Enlightenment was very much science and knowledge-driven, wasn't it? And yet an illegal Iraq invasion can still happen with impunity no matter the scientific enquiry and logic brought to bare on the obvious criminality of it

What scientific enquiry? The UNSC at any rate has never been called upon for a trial, so we don't know whether the Iraq War was illegal. International Law is more complicated than what you read in the Guardian.

Lol, thanks for that tip. I think the fact that a trial has not even been called sort of reflects how insignificant the alleged social benefits of the Enlightenment really are. The logic - the reasoning - still does not hold out with regards to the circumstances of that illegal invasion. Democratically elected leaders and their officers are public servants, but they act like dictators, immune from public laws. And Trump very much seems to be riding that wave at present, for example.

Mossling » March 30th, 2017, 6:21 am wrote:But all of that means nothing when the masses that matter do not even want to educate themselves

Means a lot to them - they risked their lives to line up to vote, when fanatics were still planting bombs in the streets - and it means a lot to me too. Are you telling me you'd be just as happy without the right to express an opinion?

A right to express an opinion - freedom of speech - is different from a democracy, though, isn't it? I believe freedom of speech is a number one essential public freedom for a healthy society, but a democracy can elect someone who attempts to curb freedom of speech or invalidate arguments with accusations of 'fake news', for example. This is because the basic foundations of scientific or journlaistic rigour have never been effectively installed in the 'masses that matter' - they instead tend to go for visceral and traditional messages when they are in need of change, and so they can very easily run a society off a cliff. See Socrates on this topic for more of the same.
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Re: The Enlightenment was merely a veneer for barbarity?

Postby Lomax on April 2nd, 2017, 9:56 pm 

Mossling » April 2nd, 2017, 8:07 am wrote:Lol, thanks for that tip. I think the fact that a trial has not even been called sort of reflects how insignificant the alleged social benefits of the Enlightenment really are.

Good twist. As long as the US and UK are veto powers we can't count on a UNSC trial. And I can tell from your following sentence that you retain the right to call it illegal regardless of whether it was. But to turn the point back on you again: the fact that we have a supranational legal system - one which you clearly respect, or else you would not use "illegal" as a pejorative - is a marker of progress. We had no such system before the Enlightenment.

Mossling » April 2nd, 2017, 8:07 am wrote:A right to express an opinion - freedom of speech - is different from a democracy, though, isn't it? I believe freedom of speech is a number one essential public freedom for a healthy society, but a democracy can elect someone who attempts to curb freedom of speech or invalidate arguments with accusations of 'fake news', for example. This is because the basic foundations of scientific or journlaistic rigour have never been effectively installed in the 'masses that matter' - they instead tend to go for visceral and traditional messages when they are in need of change, and so they can very easily run a society off a cliff. See Socrates on this topic for more of the same.

I'll put my response bluntly. Do you seriously compare Fake News to Saddam Hussein? The Ba'ath party had no need for news whatsoever. Its means of persuasion was the torture chamber. You say the difference is none because "the masses" are not suitably well-educated. My revulsion to a state which killed 70,000 people a year for the crime of political dissent - something you are committing right now - is such that I beg to differ.
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Re: The Enlightenment was merely a veneer for barbarity?

Postby Mossling on April 3rd, 2017, 4:08 am 

Lomax » April 3rd, 2017, 10:56 am wrote:
Mossling » April 2nd, 2017, 8:07 am wrote:Lol, thanks for that tip. I think the fact that a trial has not even been called sort of reflects how insignificant the alleged social benefits of the Enlightenment really are.

Good twist. As long as the US and UK are veto powers we can't count on a UNSC trial. And I can tell from your following sentence that you retain the right to call it illegal regardless of whether it was.

They said they were 100% sure that Saddam had WMDs so they had to go in, and then there were none found. That's a starting point, isn't it? If I said you had my money in your bag and I went into your bag and got your money that I said was mine, is that a crime if, in fact it was not mine? These are rhetorical questions. I don't think they need to be answered.

Lomax » April 3rd, 2017, 10:56 am wrote:But to turn the point back on you again: the fact that we have a supranational legal system - one which you clearly respect, or else you would not use "illegal" as a pejorative - is a marker of progress. We had no such system before the Enlightenment.

A good comeback. However, if you are referring to UN law, then I would contend that the UN was a product more of the post-Enlightenment barbarity of the Second World War.

Mossling » April 2nd, 2017, 8:07 am wrote:Do you seriously compare Fake News to Saddam Hussein? The Ba'ath party had no need for news whatsoever. Its means of persuasion was the torture chamber.

Of course they are not the same thing, my dear Lomax. However, as we are seeing with Duterte in the Philippines, for example, if the viceral 'masses that matter' are riled up, then atrocities approaching the level of the Ba'ath party can be carried out with impunity. As is often agreed on this forum, education is everything, but if the masses don't know the facts that matter, and don't really have the appetite for knowing, then as said before, they can all easily go over a cliff together, just like when Athens decided to invade Syracuse. Most scholars seem to agree that Socrates, who was more interested in truth than democracy, was killed to pay the price for their democratically-decided foolishness. As I said before, I side with Socrates over democrats who are uninterested in truth, in maintaining that guarding the truth by understanding the nature of truth is the first priority, and democracy should come second.

For example, look what is said to have happened to the first messenger of the truth regarding Athens' demise at Syracuse:
there being everywhere, as may be imagined, terror and consternation, the Archons summoned a general assembly, and there brought in the man and questioned him how he came to know. And he, giving no satisfactory account, was taken for a spreader of false intelligence and a disturber of the city, and was, therefore, fastened to the wheel and racked a long time, till other messengers arrived that related the whole disaster particularly.

They were too visceral and uncivilised in their beliefs, thus it is no wonder that they lost so many family members and friends so unnecessarily :/ , and 'shot the messenger' - the 'journalist' - "fake news!" they cried, and he paid the price.

I do think democracy can work if the civil education - truth studies - are good enough, but then I don't think democracy would appear in the way we see it in the West today if that were the case - we definitely wouldn't have people behaving like Trump does, for example. That is probably a whole new topic, however. For I believe the Enlightenment threw the human body out with the tribalism, nervous system and all, and left the rational mind like a balloon floating unanchored - at the mercy (or spin) of storms - revolutions, mass political movements, and so on.

You say the difference is none because "the masses" are not suitably well-educated. My revulsion to a state which killed 70,000 people a year for the crime of political dissent - something you are committing right now - is such that I beg to differ.

Unfortunately the Iraq invasion casualty numbers are not agreed upon, and how about elsewhere that there have been 'Enlightened' regime change efforts - violent revolutions?
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Re: The Enlightenment was merely a veneer for barbarity?

Postby Lomax on April 3rd, 2017, 8:28 am 

Mossling » April 3rd, 2017, 9:08 am wrote:
Lomax » April 3rd, 2017, 10:56 am wrote:
Mossling » April 2nd, 2017, 8:07 am wrote:Lol, thanks for that tip. I think the fact that a trial has not even been called sort of reflects how insignificant the alleged social benefits of the Enlightenment really are.

Good twist. As long as the US and UK are veto powers we can't count on a UNSC trial. And I can tell from your following sentence that you retain the right to call it illegal regardless of whether it was.

They said they were 100% sure that Saddam had WMDs so they had to go in, and then there were none found. That's a starting point, isn't it? If I said you had my money in your bag and I went into your bag and got your money that I said was mine, is that a crime if, in fact it was not mine? These are rhetorical questions. I don't think they need to be answered.

Again: not a demonstration of illegality. Blix's final UN report stated that the Ba'ath regime had made no serious effort to comply with inspections - which is actually what an inspection regime demands; not that something be found. Actually we now have book-length testimony from the head of Hussein's nuclear weapons program that he was ordered to bury a nuclear centrifuge in his garden. Is the fact that Iraq had a Ministry of Concealment not suggestive? (You can take that as a rhetorical question, too.)

I see no particular reason why the legal case for the 2003 Iraq War would need to rely on the discovery of weapons of mass destruction, either. Ba'athist soldiers opened fire on US 'planes every day for a decade. Hussein manipulated sanctions to starve what UNICEF estimated to be 6,000 Iraqi children per month, as well as the 70,000 annually murdered political dissidents reported (based on the regime's own documents) by the Human Rights Center in Kadhimiya. In other words, it may be that the entire legal case for the war can be rested on the Genocide Convention, which covers democide and mandates intervention by the international community.

Presumably you know all this already, because you don't need an actual trial by leading international lawyers to be held in order to know the legal outcome.

Mossling » April 3rd, 2017, 9:08 am wrote:Of course they are not the same thing, my dear Lomax. However, as we are seeing with Duterte in the Philippines, for example, if the viceral 'masses that matter' are riled up, then atrocities approaching the level of the Ba'ath party can be carried out with impunity. As is often agreed on this forum, education is everything, but if the masses don't know the facts that matter, and don't really have the appetite for knowing, then as said before, they can all easily go over a cliff together, just like when Athens decided to invade Syracuse. Most scholars seem to agree that Socrates, who was more interested in truth than democracy, was killed to pay the price for their democratically-decided foolishness. As I said before, I side with Socrates over democrats who are uninterested in truth, in maintaining that guarding the truth by understanding the nature of truth is the first priority, and democracy should come second.

As important as education is, I don't think it is everything, and I have told Athena so before. Even an uneducated democracy has the advantage of setting potential leaders in public competition with each other, so there is still a mechanism of accountability. The difference with Iraq is that an educated populace would have made very little difference. Tanks and guns decided who was in charge, and I don't mean in 2003: I mean from the outset of Ba'athist rule.

Beside the figures I quoted above, a couple more details. When Hussein took charge, he called a cabinet meeting and accused half his ministers of being traitors - then ordered the other half to take them out and shoot them. As the agonising witch hunt progressed, nervous ministers began standing up and shouting their frantic loyalties to Hussein. By the end of the event, all remaining members of the government were implicated in a murderous coup - they had had to be, in order to save themselves. Then Hussein had the whole thing broadcast on national television. His method of rule-by-psychological-horror continued in this vein: if you committed a political "crime" in Ba'athist Iraq, it is not just that you would be tortured and killed. It would be videotaped, and your family - including, if you had any, your children - would be forced to watch, on their knees with a gun to their head, and applaud.

Again, to compare any of this to Duterte or the ignorance of the masses is just silly. Before the Enlightnment, it would not have been considered the place of the masses to know any of this stuff. Whether you were right or I was right on this issue, or on any other, would be irrelevant. We would have to believe what our governments and religious institutions told us to. Again, the fact that you are able to bemoan the ignorance of others goes to show that the Enlightnment world has allowed you to eat of the tree of knowledge. It doesn't require that you believe everything or everyone to be anywhere near perfect. It requires that you understand the difference.
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Re: The Enlightenment was merely a veneer for barbarity?

Postby Mossling on April 3rd, 2017, 9:57 pm 

Lomax » April 3rd, 2017, 9:28 pm wrote:Presumably you know all this already, because you don't need an actual trial by leading international lawyers to be held in order to know the legal outcome.

It's a straw man, my friend. I am aware that Saddam was an unsavoury character, just like many Democratic leaders around the world today, however a case for invasion was put to the US and UK masses that matter that did not revolve around the details that you are posting - the details revolved around imminent threat - the WMDs, and even the UN was against the plan. This is the barbarous element I am highlighting here - the invasion based on deeply faulted intelligence, with the Iraq oil fields - the spoils - divided up between US and UK oil companies before a soldier even fired one bullet. By 2012 the majority of the oil had been grabbed by Western companies. By 2013 the Iraq death toll was estimated to be 500,000.

It is another straw man to say that I am pronouncing a final judgment before a trial, but a trial is not even on the cards, which is astonishing. The masses were lied to regarding the solid premises for an invasion, and those lies have brought regular terror to the streets of the 'Enlightened' West, from US, Canada, to UK and the rest of Europe. The terrorists even say at times that the Iraq invasion is their main motivation.

I am a huge fan of the Enlightenment - David Hume and Kant; perhaps some of the greatest stuff that has ever surfaced from Western philosophical investigation, and yet such global atrocities as we see in Iraq and Libya, and now in Syria, are a far cry from the visions of that movement it seems. However, the barbarity machine still rumbles on, and the masses that matter seem to be happily shovelling coal into it's furnace. This points to the Enlightenment having been a mere movement for intellectual gymnastics - a nice game of cricket to play on a Sunday afternoon, in between imperialist barbarism for the other 6 days.

Mossling » April 3rd, 2017, 9:08 am wrote:Even an uneducated democracy has the advantage of setting potential leaders in public competition with each other, so there is still a mechanism of accountability. The difference with Iraq is that an educated populace would have made very little difference. Tanks and guns decided who was in charge, and I don't mean in 2003: I mean from the outset of Ba'athist rule.

'Voting' with bullets was also used in the French revolution. When bullets are used to liberate a country in the name of democracy, then could it not have been argued by Saddam that he was engaged in a long, drawn-out Enlightenment revolution? It was only realised after Gaddafi was violently overthrown, for example, that he had been keeping the peace to some extent. Even a Communist revolution coming from a majority of a population is a democratic movement of sorts - a future decided by a majority. If that solution is considered by the masses to be good enough for evermore, and one government party rules for evermore, then that is their democratic choice, is it not? Should they be forced to reconsider by outsiders?

Again, to compare any of this to Duterte or the ignorance of the masses is just silly.

Another straw man, I didn't.

Before the Enlightnment, it would not have been considered the place of the masses to know any of this stuff. Whether you were right or I was right on this issue, or on any other, would be irrelevant. We would have to believe what our governments and religious institutions told us to. Again, the fact that you are able to bemoan the ignorance of others goes to show that the Enlightnment world has allowed you to eat of the tree of knowledge.

That is because you and I, through our appetite for knowledge and Enlightenment values, are in a significant minority. Just as the people who were allowed to know and learn were before the Enlightenment were. The sad truth seems to be that the Enlightenment allowed the likes of Obama to reach the Whitehouse, but the mechanisms and institutions that delivered him there are not actually appreciated or valued by the masses in the West - they see them as elitist, smug, geeky intellectuals who can do trigonometry and speak different languages, but lack the traditional balls to proclaim themselves divinely rewarded as superior to others. I don't think the Enlightenment reached very far below the middle classes in this respect, and it tended to be the working classes who were sent out to die in the fields on behalf of the Enlightened. This in itself seems to be a sour legacy in the West. In this respect, I think the West has plentyof R&D to do at home, before it ventures abroad to introduce it's 'product' to other countries, lest it promotes and fans barbarity more than Enlightenment in the process.
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Re: The Enlightenment was merely a veneer for barbarity?

Postby Forest_Dump on April 4th, 2017, 9:00 am 

While I find this thread interesting, there are a couple of points I think should be made. First, as a relatively minor aside, I am not a big fan of the idea of an age of barbarity, etc. I do on occasion some of these older writers (I happen to be going through Rousseau's Socioal Contract at the moment) and while they are good writers and thinkers, of course I have trouble with some of their premises of the historical antecedents (we have learned lots about past societies since then). And, of course, they tend to characterize past societies as being lesser in order to emphasize how much better things were in their times and places (i.e., Europe under some king). In short, I am not very comfortable with the idea that there was a past "age of barbarity".

More salient is the idea that any kind of sharp watershed can ever be pointed to. IF it can ever be said that something like the Enlightenment was a key turning point in history/evolution, or some kind of great leap forward, etc., it would still be unreasonable to expect that its core iongredients would be accepted instantly or even quickly world-wide. First, it certainly appears that major change in whatever we might call cultural evolution, such as changes in social/political complexity, typically always involved some oscillation back and forth in the best of cases as all big changes appear to have had some pushback. Moreover, particularly in cases like stratified societies, such "advances" might be seen first among the more literate upper classes but may not be seen or felt among the peasant folk for decades or even centuries. We can't expect people like Locke, Hume, Voltaire or even Dickens to really be able to speak well for the common folk. And of course, by extension, whatever might have happened in Europe or the colonies may not have any impact then or even now in much of the rest of the world. Something (perhaps anything) that might have been a tremendous advance in the context of European culture may not have been an advantage and may not even get through to other places in the world for any number of reasons. Basic literacy, what I would call an obvious plus, began thousands of years ago but only began to be accessable to the common folk a couple hundred years ago and is still absent in a lot of (surprising?) places.

Like I said, even what appears to be obviously beneficial "watersheds" in human history, etc., tend to be a lot more blurry and indistinct up close. The goods and bads of the Enlightenment may not really be discernable for a few more centuries yet.
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Re: The Enlightenment was merely a veneer for barbarity?

Postby Lomax on April 4th, 2017, 10:05 am 

Mossling » April 4th, 2017, 2:57 am wrote:It's a straw man, my friend. I am aware that Saddam was an unsavoury character, just like many Democratic leaders around the world today


Well you're clearly not aware. Hussein (I am only on a first name basis with my friends) was not an "unsavoury character"; he was a psychopathic, fascistic dictator. What "Democratic" [sic] leader kills more than a hundred thousand of his own people every year, annexes his neighbours, opens fire on the international community on a daily basis, tortures entire families for the political opinions of their patriarchs, broadcasts his own crimes on television to terrify a nation? How can anyone who claims to be a fan of the Enlightenment euphemise this, and say that it is no worse than the rest?

Mossling » April 4th, 2017, 2:57 am wrote:however a case for invasion was put to the US and UK masses that matter that did not revolve around the details that you are posting - the details revolved around imminent threat - the WMDs


You can read Bush's full UN address here. His arguments include Hussein's harbouring of international terrorists, repeated aggression toward neighbouring states, violations of diplomatic immunity, flouting of the UN resolutions placed upon him, the "oil for food" scandal, exploitation of sanctions, complete lack of human rights (including torturing children in front of their parents), totalitarianism, democide, and Iraq's status as a lynchpin in the centre of the region. He makes the point that Iraq never complied with their previous, UN-mandated inspection program, and that he was attempting to build nuclear weaponry. The antiwar movement of the time argued that we shouldn't invade because he probably already had it.

Mossling » April 4th, 2017, 2:57 am wrote:the invasion based on deeply faulted intelligence, with the Iraq oil fields - the spoils - divided up between US and UK oil companies before a soldier even fired one bullet.


When the US did gain control of the reserves it was selling them off for $1.15-$1.90 per barrel, despite the fact that bidders had already offered £4 per barrel. An auction was set up in which Russia, Malaysia and Angola all did better than the US or the UK. The US doesn't particularly rely on the middle-East for oil : 36% of its oil is domestic, 22% comes from Canada, 11% from Venezuela. It gets less than 20% of its oil imports from all the middle-Eastern countries combined. And there will always be those who think Halliburton more barbaric than Hussein.

Mossling » April 4th, 2017, 2:57 am wrote:By 2013 the Iraq death toll was estimated to be 500,000.

For my part I think there are methodological flaws behind that figure, but suppose it to be true: by UNICEF's count the Ba'ath regime was killing 72,000 children a year and by the HRC's count it was killing 70,000 political dissidents. That's not counting the various other crimes for which punishment was death; it's not counting the possibility of him invading or gassing his neighbours again. It gives us a "peace" in which the death toll is hundreds of thousands higher than the war.

Mossling » April 4th, 2017, 2:57 am wrote:The masses were lied to regarding the solid premises for an invasion, and those lies have brought regular terror to the streets of the 'Enlightened' West, from US, Canada, to UK and the rest of Europe. The terrorists even say at times that the Iraq invasion is their main motivation.

And al-Qaeda hands out Chomsky essays to its recruits. For my part I look forward to the days when theocratic fascists and medievalists worry about what we think of them, rather than the other way around. But anyway what you say is a simple anachronism: Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad was in Iraq from 2001. Al Qaeda attempted to blow up the World Trade Center in 1993. It declared a Jihad on Australia for freeing East Timor from the imperial clutches of Indonesia. They don't want the same things most of us here want, even if they have managed to gull some people into believing otherwise.

Mossling » April 3rd, 2017, 9:08 am wrote:When bullets are used to liberate a country in the name of democracy, then could it not have been argued by Saddam that he was engaged in a long, drawn-out Enlightenment revolution?

No. He was engaged in totalitarianism. What evidence would it take to convince you?

Mossling » April 4th, 2017, 2:57 am wrote:If that solution is considered by the masses to be good enough for evermore, and one government party rules for evermore, then that is their democratic choice, is it not? Should they be forced to reconsider by outsiders?

I don't know of a case in which "the masses" have gone forevermore without changing their minds about their government, which I should say is a case for believing they (/we) are not altogether ignorant. North Korea perhaps. I should add that with the possible exception of the Cromwell revolution, democracy has always needed help from outside. American Independence was won by Brits (against other Brits) and with French arms. The French revolution itself had a British intellectual leader. The Spanish Civil War is oddly still romanticised by the antiwar Left, and many of its fighters (among them, Orwell and Hemingway) were imported. Your question seems to me purely hypothetical; rule-by-fiat always finds its popularity diminishing over time. Which is encouraging for me to reflect upon, after some of the depressing things you've just said.

Mossling » April 4th, 2017, 2:57 am wrote:
Again, to compare any of this to Duterte or the ignorance of the masses is just silly.

Another straw man, I didn't.

Yes, you did. See here:

as we are seeing with Duterte in the Philippines, for example, if the viceral 'masses that matter' are riled up, then atrocities approaching the level of the Ba'ath party can be carried out with impunity.


Now on this broader point of the fact that imperialism still happens and Everything Isn't Perfect: it's the same argument made by Edward S. Herman (who, ironically, denies and minimises genocides) against the vast wealth of sociological research we have to demonstrate that rates of all types of violence are declining. It simply shows an inability to distinguish between anecdotal and statistical evidence. The Enlightenment was a move away from wish-thinking, and I do not know of any Enlightenment writer who said that barbarity would ever become a thing of the past. (Marx was utopian enough to think the state would "wither away", which probably comes closest.) From the fact that bad things still happen, the idea that the Enlightenment was a Machievellian lie, or that its principles have not guided social and political improvements, simply doesn't follow.
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Re: The Enlightenment was merely a veneer for barbarity?

Postby Mossling on April 5th, 2017, 1:58 am 

Forest, thanks for chipping in, most welcome :)

Forest_Dump » April 4th, 2017, 10:00 pm wrote:I am not a big fan of the idea of an age of barbarity, etc.

I agree with your sentiment, I am thinking of certain aspects of human society that have since disappeared - features such as dead pirates swinging in gibbets along the Thames in London, for example - the first 'natives' to welcome back British sailors as they returned home. We haven't specified what barbarity really is yet, but it seems practices such as public hangings would be included, and thus the use of the Guillotine in public ina similar manner to hangings.
Like I said, even what appears to be obviously beneficial "watersheds" in human history, etc., tend to be a lot more blurry and indistinct up close. The goods and bads of the Enlightenment may not really be discernable for a few more centuries yet.

Yes, this is becoming more and more apparent to me.
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Re: The Enlightenment was merely a veneer for barbarity?

Postby Mossling on April 5th, 2017, 2:56 am 

Lomax » April 4th, 2017, 11:05 pm wrote:...was not an "unsavoury character"; he was a psychopathic, fascistic dictator. What "Democratic" [sic] leader kills more than a hundred thousand of his own people every year, annexes his neighbours, opens fire on the international community on a daily basis, tortures entire families for the political opinions of their patriarchs, broadcasts his own crimes on television to terrify a nation? How can anyone who claims to be a fan of the Enlightenment euphemise this, and say that it is no worse than the rest?

Yes, he was a bad guy compared to the ideals. He must have been clever to some extent, and understood human psychology pretty well, but he had a hard heart. Gaddafi too, of course, however it seems that the deserts of the Middle East or North Africa are not the most forgiving places, and it seems that they generate a rather different set of social priorities and general outlook than, say, the rolling green hills of Great Britain.

For at the times when those men were given power, was there not a lot of unenlightened barbarity on-going within their relatively undeveloped nations? And let us not forget the small detail that Saddam Hussein had apparently attempted to assassinate the former Socialist-leaning Iraqi president at the behest of the CIA. Hussein seemed to have been put in place - through barbaric violent means - by the very people who then pronounced him a danger to the world.

Mossling » April 4th, 2017, 2:57 am wrote:however a case for invasion was put to the US and UK masses that matter that did not revolve around the details that you are posting - the details revolved around imminent threat - the WMDs


You can read Bush's full UN address here. His arguments include Hussein's harbouring of international terrorists, repeated aggression toward neighbouring states, violations of diplomatic immunity, flouting of the UN resolutions placed upon him, the "oil for food" scandal, exploitation of sanctions, complete lack of human rights (including torturing children in front of their parents), totalitarianism, democide, and Iraq's status as a lynchpin in the centre of the region. He makes the point that Iraq never complied with their previous, UN-mandated inspection program, and that he was attempting to build nuclear weaponry. The antiwar movement of the time argued that we shouldn't invade because he probably already had it.

Wow, it seems that you were looking at a different mainstream media than I was - the masses seemed to be much more interested in the WMD claim. I recall that being the major 'card' being played. To the point that UK iraq wmd expert David Kelly, who was quoted after giving his opinion off the record that the 45 minute WMD claim was not valid, was (then a few days later) found dead in the woods near his home.

Also, on the legal side of things, the then United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in September 2004 that: "From our point of view and the UN Charter point of view, it [the war] was illegal." The 45 minute deployable WMD claim was, I recall, the main legal premise that the West thought they had to 'go in' without any potential later reproach.

And there will always be those who think Halliburton more barbaric than Hussein.

Tony Blair discussed with BP what they could get from Iraq - whose oil fields hold the world’s second-largest proven oil reserves - before the invasion. Does this sound like The Enlightenment in motion? Or more like a 'smash n grab' job?

A 2001 report on "energy security" - commissioned by then US Vice-President Dick Cheney said the following:

"Iraq remains a destabilising influence to... the flow of oil to international markets from the Middle East. Saddam Hussein has also demonstrated a willingness to threaten to use the oil weapon and to use his own export programme to manipulate oil markets. This would display his personal power, enhance his image as a pan-Arab leader... and pressure others for a lifting of economic sanctions against his regime. The United States should conduct an immediate policy review toward Iraq including military, energy, economic and political/diplomatic assessments. The United States should then develop an integrated strategy with key allies in Europe and Asia, and with key countries in the Middle East, to restate goals with respect to Iraqi policy and to restore a cohesive coalition of key allies."

Enlightening much?

The apparent CIA involvement with deposing the Iraqi socialist president was also said to be about the oil - that the president was more interested in nationalising the Iraqi oil fields, rather than allowing American interests in.

Mossling » April 4th, 2017, 2:57 am wrote:The masses were lied to regarding the solid premises for an invasion, and those lies have brought regular terror to the streets of the 'Enlightened' West, from US, Canada, to UK and the rest of Europe. The terrorists even say at times that the Iraq invasion is their main motivation.

And al-Qaeda hands out Chomsky essays to its recruits. For my part I look forward to the days when theocratic fascists and medievalists worry about what we think of them, rather than the other way around. But anyway what you say is a simple anachronism: Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad was in Iraq from 2001. Al Qaeda attempted to blow up the World Trade Center in 1993. It declared a Jihad on Australia for freeing East Timor from the imperial clutches of Indonesia. They don't want the same things most of us here want, even if they have managed to gull some people into believing otherwise.

In the few years before the Iraq invasion there were plenty of radical muslim clerics in London going about their business unimpeded.

Mossling » April 3rd, 2017, 9:08 am wrote:When bullets are used to liberate a country in the name of democracy, then could it not have been argued by Saddam that he was engaged in a long, drawn-out Enlightenment revolution?

No. He was engaged in totalitarianism. What evidence would it take to convince you?

A straw man - I'm not convinced in the way that you are suggesting. I am pointing out how barbarity can never be separated into 'good' Enlightenment barbarity, or 'bad' totalitarianist barbarity. It is just barbarity.

Mossling » April 4th, 2017, 2:57 am wrote:...with the possible exception of the Cromwell revolution, democracy has always needed help from outside.

But isn't that a perfect excuse/cover for a barbaric invasion?

rule-by-fiat always finds its popularity diminishing over time.

And flying machines always failed too, right? Do you think engineers ever made any progress by using such logic? I wasn't talking about rule-by-fiat, anyway, but you also apparently missed China's revolution. The masses rose up and 'voted' - violent revolution, followed by one party rule. They are still moving forward and developing in a way that is completely against many predictions that were made. It is becoming a rather famous success story.

Mossling » April 4th, 2017, 2:57 am wrote:
Again, to compare any of this to Duterte or the ignorance of the masses is just silly.

Another straw man, I didn't.

Yes, you did. See here:
as we are seeing with Duterte in the Philippines, for example, if the viceral 'masses that matter' are riled up, then atrocities approaching the level of the Ba'ath party can be carried out with impunity.

See italics above.

the vast wealth of sociological research we have to demonstrate that rates of all types of violence are declining.

Pinker's stats can be questioned, and it is arguable that nuclear stand-offs count for something (and nations pointing nukes at each other does not exactly come across as rational), while in the meantime global suicide rates have apparently increased 60% in the past 45 years. Is there really peace - an absence of violence - in the DMZ between N. Korea and S. Korea, for example? The picture is not apparently as clear-cut as you are making out, and now with Trump posturing with the nuke codes, who knows what is coming from these 'Enlightened' democracies...
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Re: The Enlightenment was merely a veneer for barbarity?

Postby Braininvat on April 5th, 2017, 10:15 am 

Just a side note on David Kelly's death.


In October 2010, the postmortem that Hutton had requested to be sealed for 70 years to protect the Kelly family was made public by the new government. The report by Dr Nicholas Hunt stated: "It is my opinion that the main factor involved in bringing about the death of David Kelly is the bleeding from the incised wounds to his left wrist. Had this not occurred he may well not have died at this time. Furthermore, on the balance of probabilities, it is likely that the ingestion of an excess number of co-proxamol tablets coupled with apparently clinically silent coronary artery disease would both have played a part in bringing about death more certainly and more rapidly than would have otherwise been the case. Therefore I give as the cause of death: 1a. Haemorrhage; 1b. Incised wounds to the left wrist; 2. Co-proxamol ingestion and coronary artery atherosclerosis." (from The Guardian, 22 October 2010)

If anyone has any evidence that relates Kelly's death to his WMD opinions, they should post it, rather than just make passing references that allude to a murder conspiracy. (apparently one that skipped all the contrary WMD opinions offered in the States, and jumped over the pond to the UK??)
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Re: The Enlightenment was merely a veneer for barbarity?

Postby Lomax on April 5th, 2017, 11:03 am 

Mossling's point about Kelly only confirms my point that WMD were the obsession of the antiwar movement, not the prowar movement. And does not come from before the war, either, which was the period we were discussing therein. To repeatedly conflate the CIA with the American government is to overlook the fact that the CIA opposed the deposition of Saddam Hussein right until the bitter end. Since Mossling is sensitive to strawmen, he will note that the Taleb article he linked (which I had read before) does not address the point Pinker is making. Pinker's book is neither an argument that violence will continue to decline nor that Enlightenment values will continue to take hold. That somebody in 2017 on a science and philosophy forum can defend Hussein's mass starvation, annexation and gassing of neighbours, systematic torture of children, and so on, as not straightforward barbarity but "a different set of social priorities" is proof that Enlightenment values continue to fall on many deaf ears, even if they're attached to heads who hypocritically claim to believe in the principles of Hume and Kant. How can I defend the Enlightenment in the face of such obvious disinterest in it?
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Re: The Enlightenment was merely a veneer for barbarity?

Postby Mossling on April 6th, 2017, 4:35 am 

Braininvat » April 5th, 2017, 11:15 pm wrote:If anyone has any evidence that relates Kelly's death to his WMD opinions, they should post it, rather than just make passing references that allude to a murder conspiracy.

Indeed - he was found dead, apparently from suicide, after the stress of the BBC debacle for which he was seriously reprimanded, since he was not supposed to divulge the information that he did.

Lomax wrote:Mossling's point about Kelly only confirms my point that WMD were the obsession of the antiwar movement, not the prowar movement.

..and the obsession of the 'masses that mattered' also, it seems.

That somebody in 2017 on a science and philosophy forum can defend Hussein's mass starvation, annexation and gassing of neighbours, systematic torture of children, and so on, as not straightforward barbarity but "a different set of social priorities" is proof that Enlightenment values continue to fall on many deaf ears

Once again, I think you have misconstrued what I am positing and have set up something of your own to knock down. I have not made a defence of Hussein's heinous acts - I suggested a perspective that he could have put across. Hussein was barbarous, and yet so is what is happening at the hands of Western 'liberators' in Syria right at this moment. Bombs blow people into pieces.

There seems to be a stance in the West that some barbarity is necessary for 'liberation through democracy' to occur, and yet we have Athens' Syracuse campaign all the way to the 2003 Iraq invasion, and what is happening in Syria right at this moment to give us some hints - that the relatively UN-ENLIGHTENED masses that matter can get a thirst for bloodshed - for barbarity, and the ill-gotten gains that it delivers (like Iraq's oil fields), and it can also apparently bring terror to what were before much more peaceful towns and cities. Again, this is not my personal theory about democracy, it began with Socrates.

As I have said, I am a fan of the Enlightenment, which means a fan of Enlightened philosophy - which I believe celebrated Socratic thinking. I am also a fan of democracy, but secondary to the pursuit of the truth - again an appetite in harmony with Enlightenment values, as hopefully you have seen here on the forum on the thread that I started about the post-truth movement (and I thank Lomax, Forest, and BIV for providing any additional details that I had been neglecting).

This thread is a direct 'riff' off of that post-truth topic, because as the discussion progressed, it seemed to reveal that, in fact, the majorities of populations in Western countries are not actually interested in the scientific/Socratic/Enlightenment truth, and they never really have been. It seems that they have been operating more akin to what is now referred to (albeit rather pejoratively) as a Cargo Cult, and so as long as they are continually provided with the scientifically-generated cargo by 'geeky scientists who were the losers at school', they couldn't care less about the mechanisms that created it. They just want the cargo, and the nerdy scientists can stay in their laboratories where they belong, and any of their 'elitist head in the clouds dreamer' government pals can also stay in their offices where they belong, too, as long as the spoils are'won' and dished out in a timely manner. Is this not, basically, the premises of Trump's recent rise to power, for example? - "Truth can go **** itself, and the elite are going to be put in their place"....?

Enlightenment values continue to fall on many deaf ears, even if they're attached to heads who hypocritically claim to believe in the principles of Hume and Kant. How can I defend the Enlightenment in the face of such obvious disinterest in it?

I would counter-argue that those who cannot see these limitations of Democracy - the very limitations that seemingly led to Socrates' wrongful death penalty, for example, cannot appreciate Socratic thinking, and may therefore not be able to enjoy the true philosophical spirit of the Enlightenment. For if you prefer to cover your ears to such thinking, and wish that things were otherwise, then this is not a particularly scientific stance, is it? And so we may see how society covers up it's senses as other countries open theirs - a recipe for further disaster.
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Re: The Enlightenment was merely a veneer for barbarity?

Postby Lomax on April 6th, 2017, 9:51 am 

There's by all means too much cultism and ignorance and innocent bloodshed. There always will be. I simply don't see how this entails that the Enlightenment is a veneer for its opposite. You (finally) attach the word "barbarism" to those committing the least Enlightened acts. It only goes to show that the battle between barbarism and civilisation goes on.
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Re: The Enlightenment was merely a veneer for barbarity?

Postby Mossling on April 6th, 2017, 11:18 pm 

Lomax » April 6th, 2017, 10:51 pm wrote:There's by all means too much cultism and ignorance and innocent bloodshed. There always will be. I simply don't see how this entails that the Enlightenment is a veneer for its opposite. You (finally) attach the word "barbarism" to those committing the least Enlightened acts. It only goes to show that the battle between barbarism and civilisation goes on.

At last, I think we have met some agreement here :)

When looking at this 'Enlightened barbarism' meme we have been discussing, it draws me to the role of the military in supporting democracy (or not!), and how Socrates had been a soldier respected by Athenian generals for his considerable bravery and resilience. Thus, the military and it's historical and traditional outlook has perhaps the most significant role to play in these modern western politics - the 'Enlightened' generals guiding the masses of infantrymen into battle.

There is an arab proverb that I recall which goes: "An army of lions lead by a sheep can be defeated by an army of sheep lead by a lion." Or something to that effect. Perhaps this is where the Enlightenment really 'spreads its wings' - in life or death military leadership, and then down into national economic decisions, and then into other areas. For scientific advances and clever engineering have often tilted the odds in favour of whoever invests in them. And we have the effectiveness of the Romans' discipline and regimented 'fighting machine' strategies as evidence of what the legacy of Greek 'science' can do when it meets even the most raw barbarity (such as the Beserkers of the Germanic tribes, or the British tribes who were regularly sacrificing humans for spiritual reasons).

Socrates, however, no matter his popularity or considerable military accomplishments, did not want to get involved in politics, and yet he could not help be 'tarred' by the political brush when some of his students betrayed Athens' democratic vision during the period of the 'Thirty Tyrants', not to mention his encouraging the young to question traditions. So it seems that to exist in a society is a political act in itself - after Sartre; managing one's 'self' in the context of unavoidable social repercussions is every individual's primary responsibility. Perhaps Socrates should have embraced his gifts as a soldier more and become a general in the Athenian army? And yet perhaps that would have emphasised violence too much, and he preferred to point to something potentially more peaceful as an ideal role for an Enlightened philosopher - perhaps within a nation of like-minded philosophers?

Do you think it is actually possible to have an Enlightened nation? Or will there always be a divide between the 'barbarous masses' and the Enlightened 'elite'? It seems that, for example, Epicurus attempted something of that nature - with his community of equal men and women. And what about robot waiters, factory workers, shop assistants, and so on, replacing humans - low-paid worker roles that do not necessarily require Enlightenment thinking - what happens to these people and their cultures? Eventually their roles in society will be completely replaced, and they are being replaced in America by cheaper labour at present. The only solution that I can see is them moving up into more sophisticated decision-making capacities, but this would require a more educated mindset. Thus, Lomax, perhaps the barbarity will not always be present...?

Something that I find quite interesting is how many white-supremacist Trump supporters are using what seem to be terms that have emerged from Enlightenment thinking, such as "sheeple" and "open your eyes" in order to identify "the conspiracies that the uncaring elites are engaged in". Are these bigots really in tune with any Enlightenment thinking, or are they just parrotting phrases from cleverer leaders?
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