(5) The Familiar and the Commonplace

Our relationship to miracles and the miraculous is ambivalent. On the one hand, we crave the extraordinary and devour all reports and rumors of the occurrence of an event believed impossible; on the other hand, we fear such events because we perceive the unplanned, unwanted, unforeseen as a threat to our security. By contrast, the attitude of science is unambiguous. It scorns the miracle and mocks all who believe in it. If the validity of the laws of nature does by definition not allow any exception, there can be no miracles.

Science also rejects the miraculous, unless it elevates the formulas by which it describes physical processes, e.g., Einstein’s famous equation quantifying the ratio of mass to energy, to the status of objects of awe and admiration because of their miraculous simplicity. However, most scientists hasten to emphasize that even this formula only expresses that everything in the world happens in a completely natural way, so there too we find nothing miraculous. We can at most marvel at the extraordinary intelligence of those people who were the first to explain the machinery of nature and to represent it in such elegant and simple formulas.

Discussions about the miraculous in nature

take place in science at best among the real experts, e.g., when they try to understand quantum theory. After all, one of the most prominent authorities in the field, physicist Richard Feynman, was moved to remark, “If you think you understand quantum theory . . . you don’t understand quantum theory.”

No doubt, this statement provides a direct confrontation with the miraculous. A theory which in practice allows useful statisti­cal predictions of physical processes is said to be inaccessible to reason. This is also illustrated by the so-called Copenhagen inter­pretation with the popular metaphor of a black box. If we do not open it, the cat inside is both dead and alive. As soon as we open it, it is only one of both: either dead or alive.

If you want to understand the paradox of the cat

that is dead and alive at the same time, you must go beyond the metaphor. You must complete years of study in quantum physics. This could be interpreted as if the encounter with the miraculous had to remain the preserve of the experts. Doesn’t this remind us of earlier, dark times when religion reigned supreme? For a millennium and a half, reading the Bible was the privilege of experts, i.e., priests. To prevent people from relying on their own judgment and criticizing its often grotesque and contradictory content, the priests not only insisted that the Bible remain inaccessible to lay people, but also that sermons be delivered in a language they could not understand, namely Latin. If unautho­rized persons nevertheless dared to enter the enclosure of the priestly monopolists of truth, they risked persecution as heretics, possibly even death at the stake.

Meanwhile, the natural sciences have become no less remote from the understanding of ordinary people. With the cordon sanitaire of their respective technical language, they effectively close themselves off from the laity. Thus, the impression must arise that only those have the right to talk about God and nature who successfully completed specialized seminars and acquired the corresponding diploma.

In contrast, the democratic task of critical

thinking is to prove that even the highest towers of religion and science are built on the pedestal of a few basic truths that every human being is capable of understanding. We do not have to look for the miraculous in quantum theory – it reveals itself much more obviously and with far greater clarity in quite familiar and everyday facts. To open our eyes to this truth was the aim of Kant’s “pure reason” (when he discussed antinomies).

Let’s take a process of seemingly utmost banality, like the movement of my arm because I want to move it. Or think of the departure of an army of tankers to the Ukrainian border because Vladimir Putin just gave the order to do so. Mere thoughts – the modifications of neurons within a human brain – can trigger the greatest physical events, although according to the textbooks of physics even the smallest change or movement is fundamentally dependent on and caused by natural laws. However, the thoughts in the head of a Vladimir Putin or of all those billions of actors who constantly change the events in our world are not due to any natural law known to us.

This obvious contradiction,

this confrontation with the miraculous, which so far defies any explanation, is hardly ever discussed. Experts are agreed that this problem is none of their business – at least for the time being. Problems that – at least for the moment – seem unsolvable are tacitly suppressed. The representatives of religion were anxious to hide the contradictions and riddles of the Bible from people so that they would not doubt their supposedly higher knowledge, the experts of science suppress the most elementary riddles of reality for quite the same reason. In other words, the experts keep silent about the miraculous. This saves them from admitting their ignorance.

The familiar is anything but ordinary

This insight imposes itself the moment we realize that the ordinary is by no means identical with what we understand. Let us take another example. As long as people believed that the earth was a disk, there existed an upside as well as a downside. The sky above your head indicated the direction upwards. So, once you reached the edge of the disk you would, of course, fall downwards. Meanwhile we know that the earth is a sphere and therefore there can be neither top nor bottom. Or more correctly said, the sky above the heads of the Australians designates the direction upwards for them as well as for us on the opposite side of the sphere. But this means that the idea of above and below, so familiar to each of us, cannot apply to cosmological space. It is, in fact, just as incomprehensible as the force of gravity that keeps every German just as firmly glued to the planet as Australians on the other side of the globe.

Gravity is such an ordinary fact of everyday life that no one gives it any thought at all. Nevertheless, we could apply Richard Feynman’s above-mentioned statement to gravitation too: “If you think that you have understood gravitation … then /that is proof/ that you do not understand it.” It is true that physics has no difficulty in quantifying its effects with the greatest accuracy for any distance from the center of the earth. Nevertheless, this invisible force is beyond our understanding. We know that it exists and has exactly measurable effects, but why it is there and why this invisible force succeeds to glue us reliably to the globe and to steer the course of far-away celestial bodies, we simply do not know. Some (like for instance Karl Popper) concluded that questions about the essence of physical phenomena are inadmissible and should therefore be kept out of science. The essence of any force, i.e., what it actually is, need not interest us, it is sufficient that we can describe its effects in detail and use them for our purposes. 

Others have grasped the obvious paradox

To these others belongs no less a person than Immanuel Kant, who dealt with a similar problem, namely the extension of space. Its experience is one of the habitual facts of life about which we seldom or never think. But once this happens, we immediately encounter the miraculous – Kant called it “antinomy” (an impasse for perception and conception as well). We cannot accept that the world is finite, because after every limit we expect further spaces. But we cannot imagine its infinity either, because infinity is for us inconceivable. At this point Kant encountered the wonder of a world that is beyond human comprehension. This is how he presented the paradoxical in the chapter On the Antinomies of Pure Reason. This will be discussed later (cf. chapter Pioneers of Antignosis: Hume, Kant, Popper).

The fact is that our ability to comprehend reality

is limited. This explains why we are so much shaken by the antinomy of space, which we can neither imagine to be finite nor infinite. Our senses and our mind are made for the intermediate world between the infinite smallness of the atoms and the infinite grandeur of the universe. More than a century ago, quantum physics had already shown that we do not understand the realm of the very small. In our time modern astrophysics has demon­strated the same truth for the realm of the exceedingly large. It points to black holes, so-called “singularities”, where the laws of nature that govern the Intermediate World lose their validity and possibly universes with completely different regularities arise.There will be an eternal dispute among experts about the paradoxes of time and space. But this need not interest us. We may forget quantum physics, and the singularities of astrophysics. That is not the place where we need to look for the miraculous – it surrounds us on all sides. But we don’t notice it because we confuse the ordinary with what we understand. Chapter taken from my book The Miraculous and its Enemies).

(4) By their fruits you shall know them!

Not only the saying from the Gospel of Matthew emphasizes the connection between right thinking and right acting. It stands to reason that every religion, indeed every worldview in general, takes this connection for granted. If thought and belief were without any influence on our actions, we would rightly regard them as superfluous. A good part of the skepticism that modern man has towards critical thinking (and philosophy in general) is based on precisely this argument: what are they good for? Are they capable of changing our behavior toward reality and, by extension, of changing reality itself?

Measured against this question, religion

religion and science have been partly very successful, partly they have failed miserably. Religions are first and foremost instruc­tions for action; they prescribe laws for people to act correctly.*1* These regulations – they say – do not originate from the arbitrariness of individual people, but from the will of superhuman beings – gods and spirits – or from a superhuman order. In the ideal case, i.e. if their laws were followed to the letter, perfect peace and unbreakable solidarity up to the most fervent mutual sacrifice would prevail within a religious community. This is especially true for Christianity. Unlike all earlier religions, the New Testament has extended this ideal beyond all tribal boundaries and nationalities to include all humanity in mutual love and solidarity.

Since religions are primarily concerned

with regulating interpersonal behavior, they usually accept nature as it was created by God. To change the natural world cannot be their concern, because this would imply a criticism of the divine creation. Therefore, religious teaching shows a clear difference between statements about nature and the guidelines for human life. While practical instructions to the believers belong to the core of all religions, because they are meant to shape daily behavior, their mostly fantastic statements about the creation of the world or the explanation of natural phenomena are of importance only insofar as the acceptance of these propositions serves as external proof of faith and membership in a particular religious community. Whether or not someone believes in the creation of the world 6000 years ago, in virgin births, in the transformation of water into wine, is irrelevant for practical behavior.

The opposite is true in technology and science

In contrast to religion, they do not set up instructions for action towards other people but action towards nature. Since they only deal with what is, they were pushed in this direction from the beginning. What humans should do, that is, their actions, cannot be derived from what they are. No analysis of human societies, however comprehensive, can prove to us that we are better off loving our neighbor than hating him. Statistics can teach us that in peacetime people are happier if they follow the first alternative, but in wartime and even in everyday competition that dominates the economy in times of peace, unrestricted love would be a path to certain failure. Statistics say nothing at all about which behavior is the right one for the individual in a particular situation. Faced with the question what humans should do, science inevitably remains mute.

This observation allows us

a preliminary – admittedly still rather superficial – answer to the question of the fruits of religion and science. Religions have fulfilled an extremely important function by setting limits to man’s actions – by subjecting him to specific rules. Without these limits, no one would have shrunk from murdering his neighbor, robbing him, abusing his wife. I do not claim that only religion is able to set such limits, but only that it was primarily religion that fulfilled this task in the past. From a historical point of view, this was the core of its mission, while its further statements about the world appear as an ingredient, which from today’s point of view is not only predominantly wrong and therefore worthless, but actively prevented man from exploring the nature surrounding him more thoroughly. Religion was at best an important instrument to order the behavior of people towards other people, but it was never a suitable means to reach a deeper understanding of nature. To this day, little has changed in this regard. The evangelicals of North America reject the doctrine of descent of Charles Darwin.

Science procedes in the opposite way

It has proven to be an excellent instrument to explore nature. Here it has achieved its greatest triumphs, but it fails miserably when it comes to establishing rules for the behavior of man and society. This field lies outside its competence. Summarizing this prelimi­nary consideration, we may say that religions throughout their history have been responsible for superstition – a false understanding of extra-human reality. Science, while producing a provably correct – and in this sense objective – understanding of the extra-human world, has suffered from the opposite shortcoming. It had to give up the most important demands of man.

I consider this approach to be provisional

and to a certain extent superficial, because it is much closer to the ideal than to complex historical reality. We need only look at the ideal itself to grasp this distance. As already said, the world would look different if believers had taken the teachings of religion seriously. In their communities there would be neither envy, hatred, nor anger, hubris, or all those human qualities that endanger inner peace. Since Christianity requires love of enemies, even war with other peoples would have been forever impossible.

As we know, the taming of evil has never been achieved by any religion, among any people. This is a historical fact indicating that we are confronted with a fundamental failure. There must be a deep defiance in human nature itself that successfully resists any final standardization by any instructions. Certainly, without such instructions for action, society would be in chaos because everyone would act as he likes without regard for others. But this profound defiance has nevertheless prevented religions from ever achieving their self-imposed goal. To be sure, they have pacified societies and individuals, but to this day they never produced the ideal man, the ideal society.

And what did the sciences achieve?

They have taught us how to recognize the hidden order of nature – its laws – without being swayed by our desires and wills. This is a tremendous advance in the knowledge of truth. Science and technology created the conditions for a historically uniquely high standard of living: Electricity and running water in every home, mobility on water, on the roads and in the air. On the other hand, they also gave us the tools to limit human fertility, because humans, like any other biological species, tend to reproduce beyond the carrying capacity of the environment. In other words, scientific thinking has enlightened us as to what we would need to do if we want to make our material life similar to El Dorado. Theoretically, our knowledge and mastery of material conditions could be as conducive to a good life as religion’s knowledge of the perfect relationship between human beings. But in both cases theory and practice are separated by an abyss. Ecologists like William Rees, along with Mathis Wackernagel the inventor of the ecological footprint, have proven that in the long run a maximum of two billion people can enjoy the Western standard of living with renewable energies.

Since the beginning of the new century at the latest,

we have become aware that we are in the process of turning the earth not into a paradise but into a hell, because we are ruthlessly exploiting and poisoning it with more and more people – soon approaching ten billion. So, our initial question about the fruits by which the success or failure of our theories should be measured, suddenly receives an answer that goes far beyond our initial, still tentative, conclusion.

It is true that religions have always been turned into instru­ments of persecution of non-believers with other instructions for action. Moreover, their understanding of extra-human reality was mostly grotesque and prevented them from dealing with nature properly, but they never endangered the very survival of man on planet Earth. This, however, is exactly the prospect that scientific knowledge and its practical application has made possible for the first time in history. The greatest breakthrough of this knowledge, the formula E=M x c2, i.e. the conversion of mass into energy, is a symbolic expression for an existential danger, which did not exist until then, namely before man’s savoring the apple of knowledge. Thanks to science and technology, the wholesale destruction of life has turned into a real possibility. 

Seen in this light, the accusations against religion,as expounded with great eloquence and wit by Richard Dawkins in his 500 pages best-seller The God Delusion, seem almost harmless. As mentioned, religions caused much persecution and discord among peoples, but they never threatened the survival of the human species. On the other hand, science and technology have given us the means to do just that: to murder our kind en masse and make our home, the planet, uninhabitable to humans for millennia. A book with the title The Science Delusion has not yet been written, but it could enumerate on far more than five hundred pages all the threatening effects, they have produced. If we are to recognize theories by their fruits, then the comparison does not turn out in favor of the scientific world view, as it has dominated first Europe and then the whole world for about three centuries by now.

1 The only exception to this rule is mysticism, which, like science, aspires to be a doctrine of knowledge. Mysticism is equally far from and equally near to religion as to science. See Jenner The Dawkins Delusion.

(3) Shadows of the Miraculous

Every time, every people lives by ideas that they strive for, that are worth living for. Our epoch has lived for about two hundred years on the guiding idea that man, by his own intellectual power, will not only be able to decipher the world completely, but also to master it to any degree of perfection. In 1926, the German philosopher Max Scheler expressed this in the following way: “It is … a new will to dominate nature … in sharpest contrast to the loving devotion to it … which now gains primacy in all cognizant behavior. The goal and the basic value, which leads the new technology, is not that, to conceive economically or otherwise useful machines … It aspires to something much higher. It strives for the goal, if I may say so, of constructing all possible machines, at first only as thoughts and as a plan by which nature could be guided and directed to all purposes, useful or useless, if one wanted to.”

If we bring this thought down from the pedestal of grandeur on which it is usually enthroned, then we must note somewhat more prosaically that people today strive to produce ever newer, ever more amazing gadgets that make their lives easier, safer and more convenient. Little do they realize that these things then become their daily occupation and, for many, even their purpose in life. 

This observation certainly applies to the car, but it is especially true of the latest products of technology, such as computers and cell phones. The digitization of all processes is only the last trump card on this seemingly unstoppable path of technological progress. According to enthusiasts, robots equipped with artificial intelligence will not only imitate humans, but one day they will replace them altogether.

Put into a simplified formula,

we could say that in our time the miraculous is embodied in the newest technological gadgets and in the scientific thinking that underlies them. Apparatuses not only dominate those who use them passively, but they also determine the lives of a growing number of people who, as technicians, engineers, and scientists, are actively engaged in their production. The extent to which the dream of the technologically fantastic and marvelous inspires people is shown by that type of literature which raises it to ever greater heights. Of course, I am talking about science fiction. Here, technological fantasy celebrates its greatest triumphs. We imagine all the unbelievable devices we will create in the future to colonize even the farthest corners of the universe and our daily lives. We become intoxicated by the victories that the new godlike man – Homo Deus – will still achieve, namely victories over a nature we will completely subject to our whims –  a will-less slave.

The self-infatuation by the technically miraculous

is proven by its excessiveness. Although technology is nothing more than a means to an end, it is elevated to the rank of a goal – a goal for the self and for life. Since the invention of the hoe and the plow, physical instruments have proven their usefulness in making life easier and helping us create greater freedom to live in a more beautiful, spiritual world. As long as we keep this ultimate goal in mind, technology has a salutary purpose. But the moment the intoxication of technological progress turns it into an illusion of salvation and into an obsession, technology and science become a threat: they turn against man.

It seems that we have long since reached this stage. Just think of gigantic undertakings such as the flights to Mars and its prospective colonization. This planet – as well as all celestial bodies in proximity to the earth – is a desert-like sphere, on which human survival seems possible only under a bell jar filled with an artificial atmosphere. In other words, human existence would be conceivable only under conditions, which do not only resemble those of criminals in a high-security prison, but exceed them in harshness. So far, no one has thought of setting up a hut in the hottest parts of the Sahara or on the coldest icebergs in Antarctica. So where does the exuberance come from that tempts even halfway rational people to imagine a rosy future in the hostile hell of Mars?

This obsession, this strange delusion can only be explained by the fact that we wrap damnation in the seductive purple of high technology.

Nowhere do we get a clearer insight into modern man’s obsession with technology and science. He agrees to suffer like a convict under unspeakable conditions (let us be honest: the everyday life on space stations represents a similar torture), as long as this is done in the name of science, because in our time people believe in science as they once believed in God. This irrational belief still asserts itself at a time when much is preparing us for the fact that our technical civilization could soon make life on the planet a hell for us.

When an era becomes intoxicated with ideals

that seem to represent the miraculous, anything that might endanger this intoxication, i.e., lead to disillusionment, is frowned upon, derided as reactionary, or branded as “unscientific” – the latter accusation being probably the harshest of all. Disillusionment can come from different quarters. It may consist in a cautious objection to a prevailing claim to absolute certainty – or it may lead to a radical antithesis. I would like to summarize everything that falls under this disillusionment in a single term, that of the “shadow”.*1*

The shadow to the prevailing

scientific understanding of the world is represented primarily by religion, beauty, history, and critical philosophy.

That religion has become the shadow of the scientific worldview – its radical antithesis -, is a well-known fact of history. Science in its modern form is a creation of the 17th century and the Enlightenment. From the outset, the Enlightenment has placed the new rational thinking and knowledge in sharp opposition not only to irrational superstition but to all kinds of belief that cannot be corroborated by experiment and proof. In other words: the new world view developed in the struggle with and even fight against religion.

As already mentioned, art constitutes another radical antithesis to the techno-scientific worldview, as it not only starts from completely different premises but also pursues entirely different goals. Beauty is a human category. Why the art of Johann Sebastian Bach has become important for the people of the West, while the Peking Opera is equally important for the Chinese, cannot be derived from any law. Unlike the knowledge of technology and science, which is based on natural laws, art arises from human freedom and choice. It is therefore not surprising that it has no place in the scientific world view. What this means practically, can no longer be overlooked. Art has almost completely disappeared from everyday reality as a creative principle. Because beauty no longer counts, landscapes are turned into agricultural deserts, forests into timber, everywhere beauty gives way to utility and profit. And the same disregard for the human need for beauty applies equally to our homes and cities. At best, these fulfill the requirements of utility because they are places of industrial production and repositories for people.

Mere utility and mere beauty are indeed irreconcilable rivals: the more science and technology have advanced during the last three centuries, the more they have pushed art to the margins of our lives and out of our landscapes and cities. Beauty, in theory and practice, constitutes a radical antithesis to mere utility.

It is the same with history,

History, too, has turned into a shadow of our science-believing era. A characteristic exception is only the material, measurable research. This has, on the contrary, made astonishing progress during the last decades. With ever greater precision, all material aspects of human existence are being explored – beginning with the diseases from which Stone Age people suffered, at what age they died, what weapons they used and what they ate. Our modern historians have acquired an almost infinite knowledge of the physical facts of the past, most of which, however, are of interest only to specialists. On the other hand, interest in immaterial facts is vanishing as it cannot be measured and scientifically represented. The thinking, feeling, and worldview of earlier generations, the study of which had been the focus of interest in the nineteenth until about the middle of the twentieth century, is receiving less and less attention. As today’s research is obsessed with the material and measurable, it is as little interested in immaterial history as a young person of our time is interested in the knowledge of his parents – and for the same obvious reason. From a technical point of view, their knowledge is outdated and therefore obsolete. It no longer counts; only people who have mastered the latest state of technological progress have useful, exploitable knowledge. From the point of view of a science-believing world, the thinking and worldview of earlier times are simply irrelevant and therefore without value.

The two shadows of beauty

and immaterial intellectual history may well be understood as absolute opposites to our era. In contrast, critical philosophy stands only in a relativizing opposition. It would amount to unforgivable stupidity to belittle or even fail to recognize the achievements of science. The European Enlightenment represents one of the greatest intellectual achievements in human history. Used correctly and sensibly, science could create nothing less than paradise on earth – just as the greatest Enlightenment thinkers, above all the brilliant mathematician Marquis of Condorcet, who perished in the turmoil of the Revolution, had indeed imagined.

However, critical philosophy immediately adds a relativizing postscript to this statement. Religion, too, could have created paradise on earth if it had been understood correctly and used sensibly. If Christians had understood the love of enemies of the New Testament literally, there would be no more wars. And that would certainly have been a greater approximation to paradise than all the inventions of science and technology put together …

As little as critical philosophy

would suggest a wholesale condemnation of religion, so much does it guard against the opposite stupidity of a wholesale glorification of science and technology. Rather, it sees its goal in critically illuminating the preconditions of our bewitchment by modern science and technology and in pointing out the limits of both – an effort that I have called “democratic antignosis” in the preceding chapter.

For the time being, this critical view, this rebellious philosophy, is, however, no more than a shadow. Philosophy is neither dead nor alive. It is a zombie viewed by mainstream science with extreme suspicion. “Philosophy,” says U.S. psychologist Steven Pinker, “today gets no respect. Many scientists use the term as a synonym for effete speculation. And elsewhere, “Universities have disinvested in the humanities: since 1960, the proportion of faculty in liberal arts has fallen by half, salaries and working conditions have stagnated …” (Pinker 2003).

At this point, a critical reader might ask

Why should I bother with a shadow when the light that science has been casting on reality for more than two hundred years is shining so brightly, awakening humanity from its millennia-long slumber for the first time? But does this light really shine so brightly? If it is true that we should test our theories by their fruits, then our first question should be: What have religion, beauty, history, and critical philosophy offered us, and our second question should be: What are the fruits of science and technology? Isn’t that the all-important question?

1 C. G. Jung has given this term a special meaning. I understand shadow here as the repressed, neglected, devalued counterpart to the official interpretation of reality.

The Miraculous and its enemies (2)

Democratic Antignosis – knowing the limits

In this book, I want to encourage the reader to become aware of the miraculous. However, my approach, will not consist in quoting authorities or presenting mere assertions. Rather, I want to guide the reader by stimulating his or her own approach. Independent thinking is the prerogative of human beings, everyone may engage in it and everyone can gain from it, if in the process he frees himself from prevailing prejudices or announced taboos.

That means, I will appeal explicitly to a democratic capacity, because pure thinking is not the prerogative of self-appointed experts. Pure or elementary thinking is the foundation on which all of us, including experts, must rely. This fact is all too easily lost sight of. Certainly – to speak with expertise about any field of science, be it physics, chemistry, astronomy, etc., requires a study of several years, and even then individual knowledge remains fragmentary considering what in any particular field can be known. Since Leibniz and Voltaire, the universal scholar no longer exists. But the principles on which human knowledge is based – including of course all expert knowledge –  are quite simple and elementary and belong to the comprehension of all of us. That is why the sciences are accessible to all mankind – all dispose of the necessary preconditions of “pure reason”.

These basic premises are so universal

that, after an assumed destruction of present-day humanity, a new generation, starting from zero, would bring forth science anew in theory and practice. Of course, all conventional determinations such as length, weight, time, temperature, etc., could be determined in different ways (which is true even today: Celsius differs from Fahrenheit, inches from centimeters, etc.), but after conversion of these conventional units the laws of nature would have the same appearance as before – and for an obvious reason: we abstract them from a reality existing outside ourselves, independent of our desires and wills.

It is of crucial importance,

to keep this in mind. The democratic basis of human thought is universal, even if – opposed to it and often denying it – we are faced with the claims of power, which exist in science quite as much as in all other human activities. I already said that anyone would make a fool of himself who talks about details of quantum theory without having acquired the relevant knowledge in years of study. In such a case, ridicule is, of course, justified. But it becomes an abuse of power when specialists resist the generalist’s efforts to illuminate the elementary, democratic foundations of knowledge that are at the root of his particular knowledge too. Then they ascribe to themselves a monopoly of truth that they certainly do not possess because the foundations of their method of thinking have their roots in the thinking of all other people.

Pure or elementary thinking,

once described by the now rather worn-out term of philosophy – leads man not only to the objective world, which he understands with the help of science, but to his own self as well. It is true that he may understand his own person in a scientific way, namely like any other external object, as he is made of the same material as the nature surrounding him. For the physician, my body is a machine, which he can diagnose and possibly repair by means of his physical, chemical, biological, neuronal, and psychological knowledge. When he restores this body-machine to its normal state, we speak of a cure. The laws of nature inside my body are not different from those outside me. Therefore, miracles have just as little place here as in the rest of nature. A dead man has never risen from the graveyard, a severed head has never grown back, no man can withstand a hail of bullets.

And yet it is precisely at this point

that we encounter the miraculous. It remains hidden from most people only because it seems so commonplace and ordinary. Science assumes that a stone detaches itself from the height of a rock at a certain moment, because quite determinate natural causes are responsible for this event. If a physicist were to know all relevant causes, he would be able to predict exactly when, where, and why such an event will and must happen. In any case, science already determines causes and effects so precisely that a rocket to Mars arrives exactly at the time and place predicted by theory. But now look at my person or at yours. Nobody – at most times not even I myself – is able to predict what I will do in half an hour.

The contrast between the behavior of a stone

and that of a human being seems at first sight irreconcilable. Obviously, the stone slavishly obeys those laws which we can demonstrate in all nature.  It has no will of its own and therefore no possibility to change reality. It is exclusively controlled by forces over which it has no influence – at least this used to be the view of classical natural science. Meanwhile, quantum theory has cast some doubt on this understanding. After having introduced chance, it attributes to the stone (more exactly, to the elementary particles of which it consists) a certain initiative of its own, even if an infinitely small one. Theoretically it is quite conceivable that the stone not merely slavishly obeys external laws but may, so to speak, take the initiative of falling from the top of the rock, because some of its atoms happen to make some erratic, unpredictable movements…

Like any stone, humans and other living creatures are subject to thousands of dependencies. If calories are missing from their diet, they die of debilitation; if calcium is lacking, their bones atrophy; if they are exposed to an excess of ultraviolet radiation, cancerous melanomas develop on their skin. Moreover, are we seldom aware of how narrow the boundary conditions of our existence on this planet really are. The air must have a minimum percentage of oxygen and must not exceed a maximum concentration of CO2 or nitrogen. The temperature range that allows us and other living beings to survive on Gaia is, as we now learn, compressed to a very narrow corridor. In addition, life only takes place in a wafer-thin area spanning no more than ten kilometers between the hard surface of the earth and surrounding infinity. Seen in this perspective, the laws of nature radically limit possible life on our planet. We are part of nature and so inescapably subject to its laws that even minor changes to the existing physical parameters could completely wipe out our existence.

But this is by no means all

Though life is subject to the same laws of nature, these laws do not exclude chance and freedom. Guided by the meaning which we give to our actions we constantly intervene in the things around us, in order to shape them (for good or for worse) after our own desires. This constant shaping of outside reality does not happen against the laws of nature, but it can in no way be derived or justified from them.

This is the miracle par excellence, because in a world, where all events without exception are determined by law, such an intervention of the will should not exist. Is it not the most basic principle of science that its procedure consists in describing and explaining reality – independent of our will and desires – as it objectively exists? But if living beings led by their wants and desires constantly shape reality, then we are faced with a completely different picture! The will – the human one as well as that of our animal fellow creatures – represents a separate force beside the laws of nature. It is, moreover, a force of such prodigious proportions that it enables us to transform our own habitat into a paradise or, conversely, to poison and destroy it so permanently that it may become uninhabitable for life.

The scientific specialist does not need

to close his mind to such insights into the power of human will, yet they do not belong to his or any other field of expertise – they belong to the pure, elementary thinking that is common to all human beings. The marvelous, as just shown, does not only expand the self, in some cases it is also terrible and threatening, that is, exiting and shaking us at the same time. It is a fact of life to which we should devote special attention. The specialist, every specialist, deals with certain problems of a theoretical or practical nature. For this he is respected and rewarded. If his achievements significantly exceed the usual range, he may even be awarded with the highest prize that today’s mankind has to award, the Nobel Prize. This raises an important question.

What does a generalist achieve,

when he falls back on pure thinking, that is, on initial principles in dealing with nature? We will see that he shows something completely different: the limits which human knowledge is not able to cross. Limits – the word is discouraging at first sight. You may get the impression that the generalist would rather do a bad service to human knowledge even if he succeeds in opposing learned certainty of knowledge – all that learned arrogance that demands submission. The generalist seems to diminish the faculties of man as he demonstrates the boundaries beyond which our knowledge and the explanation of reality do not reach.

This impression is reinforced by the fact that democratic antignosis does not deal with those fluid boundaries conditioned by the actual state of scientific knowledge. No, it speaks of fundamental limits which result from the nature of our cognitive faculty itself. We do not trust an ant to possess a complete theory of the world; its senses and intelligence are made exclusively for its particular sphere of life. Human beings too are the product of evolution. We possess senses and a mental apparatus which are made for the orientation within the areas of reality relevant for us. This results in obvious limits which we partly exceed by extending our senses by all kinds of instruments. In the same manner, we extend our reason quantitatively through artificial intelligence, but we cannot change it qualitatively, because in this case we would no longer understand this kind of intelligence.

I speak of democratic antignosis

as that insight which not only intuitively describes the limits of human reason but by compellingly proving them goes far beyong mere intution.  This insight is rightly seen as democratic because it is at the base of all specialized knowledge and therefore accessible to everyone. I speak of “antignosis”, because it is not at all identical with that seemingly similar doctrine, which may boast of a long history – I mean agnosticism. Agnosticism consists in the – usually hesitant – admission that there is much we do not know and perhaps cannot know. Agnosticism is another word for renunciation, and as such it is always experienced as a shortcoming that brings no satisfaction.Antignosis, on the other hand, knows a lot more than agnosticism. It shows, no, it proves by means of pure thinking that human knowledge is limited in principle. But this insight does not lead to mere renunciation or resignation. It will be seen that, on the contrary, it opens the horizon of a world freed from prejudice and hubris. For democratic antignosis shows us that we could neither live nor want to live in a world that we have completely concquered, deciphered, decrypted. Such a world would block all horizons and stifle all freedom. The fact that democratic antignosis also puts the arrogance of experts in its place may seem to some to be a democratically desirable side effect.

The Miraculous and its Enemies (1)

This is an excerpt from my new book „Das Wunderbare und seine Feinde“.  The english translation „The Miraculous and its Enemies” will be completed within a few weeks.

Preface

This book is certainly not an esoteric attempt to counter the prevailing scientific worldview with a neo-obscurantist theory of miracles. It would be a miracle in the classical sense if, in a cemetery, coffin lids were suddenly lifted, and the dead were to rise again. It would be a miracle as well if an eagle suddenly hatched from a hen’s egg, if water turned into wine, if God stepped out of a burning bush, or if a magician succeeded in overriding a natural law of physics by the mere power of his mind.

Such and even more extraordinary miracles have been ascribed by religions all over the world to their respective deities – and their followers have believed them fervently Today, this is no longer the case. At least since the European Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries, science has relentlessly ridiculed such claims and rejected them as superstition. This view is unswervingly maintained in the present book – even if, as already shown by Karl Popper, the sciences themselves are by no means immune to the temptation to flirt with superstition ….

The miraculous is an altogether different matter

It is all around us, even though the routine of everyday life has made most people almost blind to its presence. They are continuously told that only fools are amazed by the phenomena of this world. In contrast, every scientifically enlightened and educated person knows that everything happens in nature in the most natural way. A great poet like Saint-Exupéry had to transfer the Little Prince to an asteroid in order to make these educated and enlightened beings aware of their truly unbelievable situation in the vastness of the universe. And Immanuel Kant had to invoke the starry sky and the moral law in his chest to get in touch with the mystery of life and to make his readers shiver. But even this great man did not keep up the mode of inner shock for long; right after Kant was busy to press the mystery into abstract formulas. The trembling before a reality more powerful than human reason, that seeks to tame it, is the privilege of spiritual openness. It opens the eyes to mysteries that man has been trying to unravel since the beginning of history. In other words, such spiritual experience opens the eyes to the miraculous that lies at the bottom and beyond everyday life.

Who faces such mystery without blinders,

knows that THE TRUTH remains inaccessible, even if an infinite number of partial truths are constantly revealed. After two centuries of industrial revolution, the scientifically proven knowledge of facts and laws has swelled to a torrent that is getting wider day by day. Superficially, it might seem that modern man is about to solve even the last riddles of his existence. But it should give pause for reflection that he was already imbued with this conviction more than a hundred years earlier, when his knowledge was incomparably less than it is today. In 1899 Ernst Haeckel published a book with the title Die Welträthsel (The Riddle of the Universe). There, the author triumphantly claimed that all mysteries had by now been successfully solved by science. True, there still remained a last mystery, the Kantian “thing-in-itself”; but that was probably because this strange thing could be a mere invention.

From Haeckel’s book – by far the greatest popular success in the history of the German book – it can be seen that the proclaimed unraveling of mysteries has little or nothing to do with the actual state of knowledge of a particular time and author. This amazing realization is brought home to us even more forcefully when we take a much larger leap into the past. Two and a half thousand years ago, the two Greek philosophers Democritus and Leucippus were deeply convinced that they could fully explain and trace back all events to the different relations of smallest material particles, which they called “atoms”.  In this way, they created an all-encompassing mechanistic worldview that made the gods as superfluous as sentient and willing humans. But note that the knowledge then was close to zero compared to its present state. Obviously, it is not its extent and depth that makes certain people accept or reject the miraculous. Indeed, it was simple wishful thinking that led the two Greek philosophers to anticipate Laplace’s notorious formula (see chapter Science-Religion: Disenchanting Man and Nature).

Modern science

is neither the only nor the first attempt to make the desire for divine knowledge the father of thought. No matter how great or limited actual knowledge was, there existed always some foolhardy theorists who thought themselves able to occupy that lofty armchair somewhere in space, on which man had previously enthroned the divine creator of the world. If these theorists had rightly claimed to solve all mysteries, then man would have succeeded not only in banishing forever all miracles but the miraculous as well. What mystery will remain once we have completely decoded all events, put everything into formulas, and used these to explain all futures so that we can predict human actions as reliably as the orbits of planets?

In truth, we are dealing

with mere wishful thinking, which I will call “science-religion”. It is precisely the greatest scientists who are quite aware that one solved problem immediately conjures up a dozen others. The brighter the ray of light that the discerning spirit casts into the surrounding darkness, the more the spaces touched by that light expand. Science is the attempt to advance into the infinite with the finite means of discerning reason. The miraculous is never exhausted in the process.

Nor is science

the only way in which we approach reality. This is impossible, since science addresses only the intellectually cognizing faculty. Feelings and sensations are suppressed because they are only “subjective” – dependent on the wishes and desires of the person. In contrast, scientific truth is said to be fundamentally independent of desire and will, so that it can grasp reality “objectively” without involving personal inclinations. A piece of glucose on my tongue can trigger joy, but the chemical formula C6H12O6 leaves my feelings untouched. This is because the emerging scientific formula owes its origin exclusively to the requirements of the analytical mind. The value of science to man is thus only instrumental (although the act of discovering a scientific law can, of course, move its author strongly in an emotional way). Science gives us security in dealing with the things of the world; it achieves its greatest success when it allows us to plan or predict the future. In this way, it indirectly serves human emotions as well, for security satisfies an elementary need – it frees us from fear of the unplannable, the unpredictable.

But man would be deprived of the fullness

of his humanity if he encountered reality only in a scientific way, i.e., by applying his analytical abilities to describe reality objectively – without regard to his feelings. In addition to the scientific approach, there is a second way of dealing with reality that radically differs from the scientific one. Here, too, we are dealing with a form of cognition, but it is of a completely different kind. Instead of deciphering existing reality, this cognition consists in creating realities. In other words, it creates truth and its physical manifestations instead of merely recognizing them.

Of course, I am talking about art

It is not miracles that manifests itself in art – miracles were rightly disposed of by science – but the miraculous. Though art is by no means identical with the beautiful (this point will be discussed later), it often consists in its conscious creation. Beauty is not a description of what exists on the basis of intellectual analysis, and it is certainly not an emotionally uninvolved testimony. Beauty is the projection of our intellectual together with our emotional forces to bring forth something that does not yet exist. Art makes man a creator, because beauty is a new truth and reality that cannot be deduced from the existing one, but originates in the human being – his brain and his heart. Science, on the other hand, does not establish a new truth and a new reality because both can be derived – in an analytical and generalizing form – from what is already objectively present in an infinite number of individual events. A law of nature is not an invention of man – it is a finding of something already existing.

Let us arbitrarily pick out

one of an infinite number of examples illustrating beauty: Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. From a scientific perspective we can easily understand why the supply of calories keeps us alive. But how can we understand that mere vibrations of the air can put us into ecstasy – vibrations produced by blowing through pipes and by the scratching of horsehair on metallic strings, for that’s indeed what symphonies consists of. This is and remains an insoluble mystery: the epitome of the beautiful and the miraculous. In order to be shaken by this mystery, we do not need a suspension of the laws of nature, and we do not need miracles. We only need to look at the smiling face of a human being, when the latter, conquered by rhythm and melody, experiences something invisible, intangible, which touches him more strongly than the everyday acts of his physical existence.

From a physical point of view, the mere vibrations of air molecules are almost unreal. And yet their effect can be so overwhelming that some of us can only endure everyday life because music temporarily catapults us into another, higher form of existence – into the miraculous.  Of course, this too is a form of cognition, for it shapes us just as it shapes our experience of external things. The world transforms itself and ourselves through the experience of the beautiful

Contact with the miraculous

makes everyday life tolerable, it bewitches reality. On the other hand, the de-enchantment of reality is responsible for the fact that many people find their own lives and the world around them difficult to bear. Must science take the blame for alienation from nature and man?

No, it is certainly not that simple. It is only partially correct to blame science for this disillusionment. But there is no doubt that they have deprived the world of much charm and poetry. Before William Harvey (1578 – 1657) the heart was a mysterious organ – for many peoples and times the seat of supernatural powers. After Harvey, the heart was just a simple pump. On the one hand, this was an enormous leap of knowledge – expansion of verifiable truth, on the other hand, it was an emotional loss: a pump no longer lends itself to extravagant poetic parables. For poetry, the heart was lost – disenchanted. The same trivialization of reality due to successive advances in truth achieved by the analytical mind soon affected larger and larger areas of nature as for instance the celestial bodies. Until the advent of modern astronomy and spectroscopy, planets and stars were considered the seats of the gods or even their very embodiments. Today they are only flying clusters of different chemical structure. For our feelings they have become icy cold and lost all attraction. We would not wish our worst enemies to stay on one of these desolate structures, let alone the gods (if we still believe in them).

What a radical disenchantment! When we look around us, we see that scientific explanation has laid a gray mildew on things robbing them of their poetry. The heart became a pump, the whole reality surrounding us became a mere machine of varying complexity.

However, since the beginning of the last century

something strange, rather unexpected has happened. Quantum theory made physics so extraordinarily complex that its theories and products once again exude a kind of magic. Newton’s general celestial mechanics, which describes the motion of stars as well as that of a falling apple on our planet, was comprehensible (almost) to everyone. By virtue of the reliability of its formulas it worked as a revelation for the inquiring intellect, and as a cold disillusionment for human feeling. While the cosmos had been pulsating with life before Newton, after him man only faced a gigantic clockwork, which he could understand but not love. Who loves such a dead thing as a mechanism working according to stubborn rules?

But in 1900 Max Planck developed the basic idea of quantum mechanics and one and a half decades later Albert Einstein achieved world-wide fame with his general theory of relativity. As its greatest authorities unanimously proclaim, quantum theory can no longer be visualized. The reality of the atom no longer corresponds to the reality of the Middle World where we live (cf. Chap. “The Failed Revolution of Quantum Physics”).

The failure of the human mind to grasp the strange reality of the infinitely small could not remain without consequences. Suddenly, the image of nature as a clockwork and dead mechanics had become obsolete. Mystery had returned, because for natural science there is no greater mystery than when it must admit that it can no longer explain parts of the external world (even if these can still be manipulated – otherwise the new theory would be superfluous in the first place). In view of this development, we may claim that the supreme discipline of science, physics, while having radically disenchanted nature in the past, has now given it back some of its lost mystery. What we do not understand is mystery to our mind.

This re-enchantment applies not only to theory,

but extends to many modern products that we owe to it. Just think of computers or cell phones to get an idea. People would not be so addicted to them, they would not work and play with these things so obsessively, if these devices did not seem to them to be mysterious and downright inexhaustible. How a classic telephone worked was still easy to understand, even for the layman. It had a specific task to fulfill, the transmission of speech; its use was confined to that purpose. A smartphone, however, offers an almost unmanageable wealth of these and other functions; not only does it pose an intellectual challenge, but it also captivates the emotions when its users lose themselves in exciting games. For many people, the latest products of science suddenly turn into gadgets of magic and sorcery, because at best one in a thousand persons knows how such devices actually work.

Ours are paradoxical times

I just claimed that art creates new, unprecedented realities, while science describes existing realities. This statement seems logically incontestable, but is it not contradicted by facts? Until the 18th century, the shaping of reality all over the world was mainly achieved through art. Temples and cathedrals, gardens and castles are the most visible examples of this transformation of reality by man. Add to this the realm of the invisible, namely music and poetry, and the evidence for the reality-shaping power of art is overwhelming.

But this power of art over reality has been broken since the end of the 18th century. Since then, it is the products of science that transform the nature around us to such an extent that the people of earlier times would hardly recognize their former world in the present one. There are thousands of new scientific devices – railroads, automobiles, airplanes – and thousands of factories for their production that now determine the appearance of our cities and landscapes as well as our daily life. The real achievement of science, visible to everyone, is obviously not that it correctly describes the order of nature with its laws, but that it radically reshapes nature in the briefest of moments in an unprecedented way – and far more comprehensively than art has ever been able to do.

How does this fit together?

On the one hand, science as the totality of all objectively verifiable statements about the world around us and, on the other hand, science as the most effective instrument for the creation of new, unprecedented realities, i.e. as an instrument for the unleashing of human freedom?

As we will see, this does not at all fit together. It is precisely at this point that we encounter the miraculous, which science itself is not able to explain. The unleashing of human freedom by a science that denies freedom altogether or equates it with meaningless chance is surely one of the greatest paradoxes of our time (see chapter: “Democratic Antignosis in Our Time”).

Seen in this light, it is a rather modest paradox,

that for at least a century the most talented and ambitious minds have been crowding into the sciences, and specifically into the sciences of nature, because their utility in increasing the wealth, power, and prestige of states is so evident. On the other hand, the arts and the sciences of the mind have been withering away for decades. They are being kept on an ever-shorter leash because the material benefits that can be derived from them are comparatively small.

What a contrast to the past? While five hundred years ago men of talent devoted themselves to the arts and made Italy the wonder it remains today because of its many testimonies of beauty, the outstanding minds of today devote all their energy to the natural sciences and everything related to them. However, although they produce intellectual wealth, increase analytical abilities, and turn us into rational people with growing intelligence quotients, the sciences leave a spiritual and emotional vacuum because they do not satisfy the human need for emotional warmth and spiritual security. In their theoretical foundation they have no place for ethical ideals and aesthetic beauty. What concerns the human being, if he wants to give a meaning to his existence, is beyond their grasp and their interest. We easily understand why miracles have no place in the scientific world view. If the laws of nature are by definition eternal and unbreakable, then breaking them constitutes a logical absurdity. But why has the miraculous disappeared completely from man’s field of vision since the advent of science? This fact cannot be justified with logic – it belongs to the prejudices of science as a new type of secularized religion.Uncovering these prejudices is not a task for experts, who are rather anxious to administer their knowledge like a monopoly. It is a task of that basic human faculty which Kant had called “pure reason”. I will speak of “democratic antignosis”.


The Lucifer Principle

(Conversation between Lucifer, Howard Bloom and a certain GJ – statements in italics are quotes from Bloom)

LUC: Howard, you are a merciless exposer of human weaknesses and criticize intellectuals like Erich Fromm who, you say, assign false greatness to man. Eric Fromm, the psychoanalytic guru of the sixties, turned the idea that the individual can control his own universe into a rabidly popular notion. Fromm told us that needing other people is a character flaw, a mark of immaturity. Possessiveness in a romantic relationship is an illness. Jealousy is a character defect of the highest magnitude. A mature individual is one who can drift through this world in the self-contained manner of an interstellar transport manufacturing its own oxygen and food. As a consequence, he had no need for the admiration and reassurance that only the weak long for.

GJ: Your criticism of Fromm does, of course, raise the question of why Fromm’s writings have been translated into most of the world’s languages and are admired by millions of people, while your book, The Lucifer Principle, is either completely unknown to most of them or only touched with tweezers by those who know it?

LUC: As my name implies, I am a light-bringer who blinds the eyes of the simple-minded. Seeing me many blink in sheer horror. Even the old good Lord loves illusions. That is why HE could not tolerate Eve tasting from a certain apple. Your professors are outraged for yet another reason. They loathe any outsider who intrudes into their enclosure. Howard is a genius of the PR industry spoiled by runaway success. He represented rock stars such as Michael Jackson, John Cougar Mellencamp and many other luminaries of the music world. When such an outsider claims to know more about man and nature than they, the state-certified specialists, they turn up their noses in indignation.

GJ: But that wouldn’t stop the large audience from eagerly picking up Mr. Bloom’s theses. Apparently, people don’t want to know anything about enlighteners who mercilessly dismantle their most cherished ideals. In contrast, they love men like Erich Fromm because they arouse their enthusiasm. What is the use of someone showing us our helplessness and our weakness? Mr. Bloom is in the tradition of Thomas Hobbes who was admired for his sharp mind, but no one loved him for that excellence.

HB: My point is not to diminish the human being. Or are neurologists belittling man when they prove that our genes determine our behavior as much as that of any other biological species? My point is to strengthen what is most precious in man: his self-knowledge. If, in the process, I succeed in shattering some of your cherished illusions, then accept that please as an intended side effect, for those who have illusions distort reality. Ideas can trigger the loftiest idealism and the basest cruelty. My book shows how the competition between groups can explain the mystery of our self-destructive emotions depression, anxiety, and hopelessness – as well as our ferocious addiction to mythology, scientific theory, ideology, and religion, and our one even more disturbing addiction – to hatred. The greatest human evils are not those that individuals perform in private, the tiny transgressions against some arbitrary social standard we call sins. The ultimate evils are the mass murders that occur in revolution and war, the large-scale savageries that arise when one agglomeration of humans tries to dominate another: the deeds of the social group.

LUC: Howard makes you appreciate how much you depend on me. In the creation of the world, I carefully consulted with the Ancient One when I planted evil in your souls.

HB: Evil is a by-product, a component, of creation. We have failed to see that our finest qualities often lead us to the actions we most abhor – murder, torture, genocide, and war. We need to stare directly into Nature’s bloody face and realize that she has saddled us with evil for a reason. And we must understand that reason to outwit her. By the way, evil is by no means just a male thing. Peru’s Shining Path guerrilla assassination squads were headed almost entirely by women.

GJ: Mr. Bloom, what is so new about exposing evil? The church has spoken of “original sin”, all religions deal with evil and how man should overcome it. And what is more, modern science has found a value-free way of looking at things long before you did. Science shows that animals grow paws and claws and the human grows intelligence – and they do so for the same purpose. All individuals are faced with the imperative of survival, which is won by those who prove superior to their competitors.

HB: Religions have projected evil to a place far from man, mostly to hell; the sciences have done a great service to knowledge by illuminating the mechanisms of natural selection. They show that evolution invented larger claws and higher intelligence not just for play but as weapons that give advantages to the individuals equipped with them. Evil, too, is in the service of natural selection.

GJ: Erich Fromm called for a competition-free society in which everyone develops his inborn capacities, but does so without realizing his personal growth at the expense of others. What is wrong with this ideal? The great psychoanalyst described a society which every well-meaning person must see as a desirable ideal.

LUC: But a foolish ideal, because it blinds you to what reality is really like.

HB: In fact, even in the animal kingdom equality without competition cannot be found. Strict pecking orders exist with chickens as well as with chimpanzees and gorillas. Nature intended it that way. She wanted the strongest, most assertive and most intelligent individuals to pass their genetic makeup to their offspring. All others should and must be subordinate. These facts have been known to science at least since Darwin. But today’s science has made a serious mistake by relating natural selection exclusively to individuals. I agree with Thomas Hobbes when showing that the pecking order opposes groups, nations, and superpowers to an even greater degree. As long as there have been human groups, they behaved just like all other primate hordes: They fight each other. This too is natural selection, of which Darwin was well aware, by the way. /He/ saw competition taking place at several levels, including that which occurs between individuals and that which occurs between groups. When discussing ants, he acknowledged that evolution could easily induce individuals to sacrifice their self-interest to that of the larger social unit. In his later writings, he proposed that a similar process occurs among human beings. 

GJ: Please, how can it be a purpose of evolution that states merciless fight each other, torture their opponents to death, or exterminate entire peoples? Such a terrible picture of nature was up to now only envisaged by Arthur Schopenhauer, for whom the will – today we would say: evolution – was the principle of pure and meaningless evil.

LUC: Schopenhauer was a realist. He never doubted my existence. On the other hand, he erred as only a German philosopher can err. Pure evil is by no means without meaning – by God, no one should be allowed to disparage me in this manner. Nature does pursue a definite purpose. She not only wants the strongest, most assertive and most intelligent individuals to emerge victorious but also the strongest groups and nations. And within the latter, it increases the will of individual members to sacrifice themselves for the benefit of the group.

GJ: Don’t you see the stark contradiction to the instinct of self-preservation as postulated by modern science? Individuals whose highest purpose is their own self-preservation will not voluntarily sacrifice themselves for others.

HB: It is just not true that self-preservation is the only instinct, also its opposite, the death instinct, is an inborn drive. Back in 1897, the seminal French sociologist Emile Durkheim compiled a set of statistics that demonstrated the rise of self-inflicted deaths after the market crashes of 1873 and 1882, and coined the term “altruistic suicide.” Durkheim seemed to sense that beneath the surface, the suicide was destroying himself to rid the wider social group of a burden. Sociologist and ethnologist Marcel Mauss, a relative and follower of Durkheim, was even more specific. He noted an occasional “violent negation of the instinct for self-preservation by the social instinct.” The fact is, if individual selection’s survival instinct is our ruling force, then self-destruct mechanisms should not exist… But animals of all kinds are born with a virtual arsenal of built-in poison pills. 

For nature single individuals just do not constitute values as such but are mere figures in the big chess game of collectives that assert themselves against each other. The individual figure gets sacrificed if this is a benefit for the group. E. O. Wilson, in his keystone book “Sociobiology”, cites numerous examples of behavior in which individuals sacrifice themselves for the good of the larger whole. But current theory continues to explain these away.

GJ: We have not forgiven Konrad Lorenz for consistently comparing us to ducks, geese and other creatures. Supposedly realistic realists like the Austrian ethologist simply overlooked the fact that it is the privilege of man to overcome himself and nature. Our human greatness is based on the fact that each of us is more than his past.

HB: Quite nice, but did we succeed in overcoming ourselves and our past? Not at all. Human groups, nations and superpowers still fight for precedence with strength and intelligence just like our animal ancestors, e.g. the rats. /Their cordial contact/ only extends to family. Rats will mercilessly hunt down members of a rival clan. And if a nonrelative accidentally stumbles into their nest, the homey little creatures who a moment before were hugging one another will turn on the guest with the foreign genes and tear him limb from limb. /The great American ethnologist/ Margaret Mead says every human group makes a simple rule: thou shalt not kill members of our gang, but everyone else is fair game. According to Mead, each group says that all humans are brothers and declares that murdering humans is out of the question. Most groups, however, have very strange means of defining who is human /rather than barbarian, outsider, heathen, capitalist, communist, etc./.

Luc: But undoubtedly you have risen far above your animal ancestors in two remarkable ways. First, because we have turned the claws, paws and fangs of our distant ancestors into tenfold supersonic intercontinental missiles with nuclear heads. And these apocalyptic paws have fallen into the hands even of mid-sized states like Iran or dwarf states like North Korea and Israel.

HB: Four of the seven nations that lead in building the bomb — Iran, Libya, North Korea, and Algeria — see America as their major enemy. And, second, that is by no means all. In addition to physical weapons, we are also making use of mental weapons that are at least as effective.

GJ: An appalling doctrine. What about these spiritual weapons?

HB: They are our ideas, which I call “memes” borrowing this term from Richard Dawkins. Every religion is a web of ideas that binds people together, often so tightly and instantaneously, that it chains them together into a single superorganism that – driven by a common will – may hence completely change and reshape reality. Humans grab at ideas because ideas knit them together in groups of people who agree with them. They provide the comfort of companionship and mutual aid. That’s one way memes seduce humans into their power. Behind this seduction, however, we glimpse another reality. An ideology is usually a high-minded mask for a group’s itch to take power and resources from other social groups.

LUC: No religion has accomplished this effect as visibly as Islam. It has preached mercy towards one’s own group and persecution towards all others. /Islam/ imposes a host of admirable responsibilities on its adherents: for example, zakat, the presentation of regular, substantial contributions to the poor. Allah also demands that his followers “give glad tidings to those who believe and work righteousness,” “cover not Truth with falsehood nor conceal the Truth when ye know [what it is],” and “treat with kindness your parents and kindred and orphans and those in need.”

The approach to non-believers is quite different. In A.D. 624, the Prophet announced the concept of the jihad – the holy war. He said in the blessed book, the Koran, “I will instill terror into the hearts of the unbelievers: smite ye above their necks and smite all their fingertips off them… And slay them wherever ye catch them.” Elias Canetti, in his Nobel Prize – winning book Crowds and Power, calls Islam a killer religion, literally “a Religion of War.”

The founder of the Iranian Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini shares this opinion. “Islam does not allow peace between… a Moslem and an infidel.” And: “Any nonreligious [i.e., non- Islamic] power, whatever form or shape, is necessarily an atheistic power, the tool of Satan.” Khomeini’s works advocate vigorously converting or murdering all those who do not embrace Allah’s holy meme. /They/ urge a holy war on the nations of the West.

HB: Ideas are our special human invention. In their effectiveness they are as powerful, often even more powerful than physical weapons – and much more terrible, too. In the schoolyard, in a company, or on a soccer team, when individuals vie for a higher place in the pecking order, they settle for headlocks and scuffles, or the alpha male’s chairs are sawed off. Such fights are comparatively harmless, although there are always losers and winners. But when in the competition between groups, nations and superpowers memes are used – that is ideas and ideologies, religions, doctrines and dogmas – whole battlefields full of corpses are usually left behind. The Nazis invented the terrible idea of Untermenschen (subhumans) in order to exterminate their fellow human beings. The Marxists invented the evil to be destroyed in the shape of the bourgeois – any human being with property such as a simple peasant or a small factory owner. Mohammed invented the infidels and handed them over to the believers for slaughter. As for medieval Christians, the Crusaders waded with utmost fervor in the blood of Muslim pagans. But they were all just continuing what humans have always done since the dawn of civilization: dividing the world into two opposing spheres with “us” on one side and “them” on the other.

LUC: My friend Howard was the first to realize that the good Lord and my humble self paved your way to perfection by means of ideas. The survival of the fittest drives evolution – not only by tooth and claw but also by the very craziest memes. Stripped of their moral disguises, the slogans of freedom, peace, and justice are often weapons that those attempting to achieve hierarchical superiority use to stuff the rest of us into the lower ranks of the pecking order. Even the idea of Christian charity has served you as a weapon to carry out the destruction of all those who did not profess Christianity.

GJ: How primitive this Social Darwinism! We enlightened people of the 21st century have overcome such a sick way of thinking long ago! And let me add that the idea of memes being powerful weapons is not new after all. Max Weber saw “The Protestant Ethic” as a weapon that helped capitalism to victory. And in his famous work “Les formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse,” Émile Durkheim advocated an even more fundamental position. For him, ideas serve the same purpose as, for example, the war dances of early tribal societies before the start of a battle. They were meant to mentally streamline all individuals into one collective whole bound on wiping out the enemy.

HB: That’s right. The measure of the success of a web of memes – a myth, a hypothesis, or a dogma – is not its truth but how well it serves as social glue. If a belief system performs that function well enough, it can trigger the growth of a superorganism of massive size, even if its most basic tenets prove dead wrong.

GJ: But again, what you say is dead matter – long-forgotten history! In modern secular societies like for instance the states of Europe, religious dogmas and myths play at most a secondary role. Every individual is allowed to put together his or her own personal worldview. We rightly reject as absurd the idea that ideologies- religious or secular – weld us together or even serve as weapons to suppress others – let alone to fight them.

LUC: Absurd because you are masters of forgetfulness. It is just over half a century since the diabolical idea of Nazism was eradicated from your minds. Just three decades have passed since no less bloodthirsty communism of the Stalinist type suffered an equal fate. You do not want to see that what ruled a large part of the world with iron grip only a couple of years ago may at any time arise anew.

HB: Militant ideas are currently experiencing a frightening renaissance. Just look at the Internet. Unfortunately, there are good reasons for such a rebirth.

GJ: What do you mean by good reasons?

HB: People cannot exist in isolation. The pronounced individualism that Erich Fromm conjured up as an ideal was never more than a fairy tale. We are not the independent individuals we would like to be, but the dispensable parts of an organism that is much larger than ourselves. Each of us is sewn by invisible threads into the superorganism. We are cells in the beast of family, company, and country. If those social ties are severed we begin to shrivel and die.

GJ: But there again you get caught in an obvious contradiction. On the one hand, the members of every group – from chickens to primates up to humans – are in competition, that is, in constant struggle, with and against each other. On the other hand, they are supposed to stick together so tightly that even the lower ranks cannot live without the group. How does that fit together?

HB: For sure, it even fits devilishly well, because the frustration of the badly off is a welcome force to be directed at external enemies. As soon as the public scorn is directed against outsiders, non-believers, non-humans or subhumans, everyone suddenly feels quite close to his group mates. Propaganda is set in motion that sends shivers of patriotism down the spines of the lower classes. Suddenly the downtrodden feel how much they are needed. This sudden awareness of their value to the group tends to excite them so much that they gladly let their masters lead them to the slaughter. The more frustration the lower classes endure in peacetime, the greater their willingness to be trained against any common enemy. The diversion of frustration and anger against those outside the group always proved to be the means of choice to keep a horde together.

GJ: That is a Machiavellian theory. If true there would have to be many societies with a tremendously large potential for violence.

HB: Certainly, especially in the Middle East, where a majority of the population cannot find work. There, frustration was unleashed a few years ago during the so-called Arab Spring. But it is not only poverty and unemployment that drive young people to the barricades. Often, it’s less about daily bread than about the sense of self: the idea one has of oneself. We assume that humans /merely/desire, food, clothing, and shelter, but we forget that people crave something far more vital: status and prestige.

LUC: Pre-revolution Iran provides a poignant example.

HB: Right. Iran did very well under American tutelage. Poverty plunged, education and health care spread through the land, women gained new freedoms, and the standard of living skyrocketed. American policymakers were proud of their accomplishments. By the measure of food, clothing, and shelter, the U.S. had helped Iran accomplish miracles. But both our State Department and the shah had forgotten that pride, dignity, and dominance – the needs of the pecking order impulse – can be far more pressing than the demands of the body. Though the country owed much of its progress to the Americans, a rabble-rousing clergyman said the Yankees had placed the Iranians in chains and robbed them of their self-respect. The cleric understood the needs of the pecking order far better than the shah. The fathers of our foreign policy feel that by alleviating hunger, poverty, and disease, we can pull the pins out from under the urge to shed blood and make the third world love us. The philosophy hasn’t worked.

LUC: The gift of prosperity was worth nothing in their eyes. They chased the shah to the devil and called for a slobbering Ayatollah, who plunged them into poverty and terror, but gave them the enthusiastic feeling that they were the only ones in possession of a wonderful doctrine of salvation. The ayatollah had turned the pecking order upside down. The Americans, the children of the devil, were /now/ at the bottom. And the Iranians – the blessed of Allah – were on the top.

HB: /So it was and/ the lesson is simple: Helping those less fortunate than ourselves is a moral necessity, but don’t expect it to bring stability. And certainly don’t look for gratitude, or peace.

GJ: Attention! There we just heard the usual Islam-baiting, the same as the ill-fated Thilo Sarrazin inflicted on Germans a few years ago.

LUC: Your starry-eyed intellectuals did not want to hear the truth then or now.

GJ: If truth is a poison for the peaceful coexistence of people, we better keep it under lock and key. After all, an overwhelming majority of Muslims wants to live in peace with their neighbors. Sarrazin may have told the truth when he cited a whole range of scientific evidence that a religion that preaches fighting infidels does not provide a good basis for integration into German society. But this truth was not “helpful,” as Chancellor Merkel rightly noted. And many Germans took it as an insult to their self-esteem that someone understood the relationship with migrants differently than they themselves wanted to understand it. You might call that wishful thinking. But that was worth more to them than the deeply sobering analysis of the Berlin senator.

LUC: Like so many incorrigible idealists you believed that the best way to march into the future was with your eyes closed. In that sense, you should have forgotten Nazi crimes long ago.

GJ: Here in peace-loving Europe, we don’t want to hear messages preaching eternal struggle and never-ending competition.

HB: You imagine yourselves to be a protected island, while the superpowers point their missiles against each other, wage cyber wars and march their troops on your borders. Like the ostrich, you think you are out of danger if only you hide your head in the sand. /But/ to both body and brain, taking it easy is death; vigorous activity, on the other hand, is life itself. Humans need to vigorously pursue goals, to wrestle with problems, and to master them. The nation moving up embraces adventure. The country moving down abandons the strange and buries its head in the familiar. It tries to march backward in time.

LUC: True, all vigorous nations pursue the goal of catching up with or being ahead of the others. Hegel already saw through this game two hundred years ago. Hegel said the ultimate tragedy is not the struggle of an easily recognized good against a clearly loathsome evil. Tragedy, he said, is the battle between two forces, both of which are good, a battle in which only one can win.

HB: From the first to the last page, the message of my book boils down to the demand: open your eyes to reality as it is, then you are most capable of creating the reality as you want it to be! Illusions blind you to the requirements of action.

GJ: Mr. Bloom, you demonstrate this demand with the example of the United States, which, as you say, is blindly staggering into descent, although knowledge of the history of the fallen British world power should prevent it from making the same mistakes.

HB: Until 1870, Britain had been without question the strongest nation on the earth, yet she had spent the least on military hardware. From 1815 to 1865, a minuscule 3 percent of her GNP had gone into military budgets. Her strength had come from the spinning jenny, the steam-driven loom, the Cunard steamship, and the railroad. But Britain forgot that industrial innovation was the key to her power. It lost its economic superiority to Germany from the seventies of the 19th century. The British world power rested on its laurels, from then on it was far less innovative than Germany.

/British/ big business was defending itself through counterproductive mergers and takeovers, and the gap between rich and poor was growing ever greater as England was slipping downward in the pecking order of nations. /In this situation/ floundering British industrial titans dreamed of holding on to their old position by force. From 1880 to 1900, Britain raised her warship tonnage by 64 percent, and she nearly doubled the number of men she kept in arms. 

Today America seems to be following the path that led the British to their downfall. In 1945, the United States produced 40 percent of the world’s goods. By the mid-eighties, our share was half of that. Until the early seventies, we were the biggest exporter in the world. Today, we are the biggest importer. Our federal deficits are soaring, and the amount of money we’ve borrowed from the citizens of foreign countries is so large that we are now the biggest debtors since the prehistoric invention of the loan. Meanwhile, throughout the eighties our military budgets climbed dramatically. Like the English under Victoria, we were trying to fool ourselves with the notion that weapons are the real source of strength.

LUC: And meanwhile, two very ambitious upstarts are pushing up: Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping. But that my friend Howard could not possibly know, because he published his great book back in 1997. At that time, Japan’s star was still high up in the sky, but Japan was too small to seriously challenge the United States. Now, however, we are witnessing an entirely different confrontation. This time, things are just the same as with chimpanzees, when the existing pecking order is shaken. The two pretenders in China and Russia are taking every opportunity to grab the legs of the American alpha dog. China is abrogating the Hong Kong Treaty, it brazenly claims the entire South China Sea for itself, and scouts for an opportunity to incorporate Taiwan into its territory. Russia, too, is pursuing an increasingly aggressive policy – albeit in response to a previous NATO enlargement. Putin has annexed Crimea in violation of international law and is propping up eastern Ukraine so that it can keep the West on its toes with military pinpricks.

GJ: Wait a minute! Why should Russia continue to keep the West on tenterhooks? After all, it has already achieved its goal. No one is seriously willing to dispute Russia’s possession of Crimea.

HB: The winner is never satisfied, because victories tend to make him still more aggressive. Testosterone levels go up in the winners and down in the losers. Testosterone makes winners restless, confident, and aggressive. The nation moving up embraces adventure. The country moving down abandons the strange and buries its head in the familiar. It tries to march backward in time.

LUC: As our friend Howard demonstrates with many examples, aggressive adventure is called for primarily through memes, by which a nation invokes its own uniqueness. Usually you call that chauvinism.

GJ: I agree. Putin welds Russians together by pushing them into the role of victims. “We liberated Europe from fascism, but the West does not recognize our achievement but falsifies history to diminish our merits.” Putin conceals the fact that the Soviet Union, insidiously invaded by Hitler, did indeed liberate itself – but only itself. In Eastern Europe it soon supplanted Nazi totalitarianism with its Stalinist counterpart. From Poland to Hungary, Russian occupation was by no means experienced as liberation. East Germans, Czechs, Hungarians and Poles protested in uprisings against the Soviet yoke. Putin turns this evident truth into a malicious falsification of history.

LUC: My friend Putin is a gifted master of propaganda. It is not by chance that he was a man from the secret service. The day of victory over fascism, May 9, is now celebrated with utmost pomp, fanfare, solemn avowals to the fatherland, glorification of Russian might and overwhelming public emotion. As breathtakingly pompous as under the Nazis, or in today’s China or North Korea, the Russian government is celebrating the oceanic feeling of collective destiny, something you in the West hardly know, because each individual leads an isolated private existence. Propaganda extolls the feeling of belonging to the great Slavic brotherhood, it evokes a glorious past and sends goose bumps down people’s spines at endless professions to homeland, veterans and all Russian compatriots. That is the positive side of collective emotional exuberance. If the system of belief pulls together a large enough superorganism, the faithful will, indeed, taste a bit of heaven.

HB: But few see the other side of the coin. They do not suspect that the purpose of the collective ecstasy so cleverly orchestrated by the government is the same as that of chimpanzees and our ancestors when they performed their dances of war: it is meant to arouse willingness to sacrifice one’s own life for the community when called to the flags.

Beware, I tell you. The Russian war machinery not only consists of supersonic missiles (against which US defense bases are powerless for the time being), it consists furthermore of people who are united in the awareness that the rest of the world is against them and that it is therefore their mission to prove to a decadent and malicious West that the Russian people will never give in.

GJ: That may well be true. Even those who see through Russian lies feel strangely touched by the intensity conjuring up a new collective sense of brotherhood. The agonizing self-doubt that afflicted the Russian people under Gorbachev and Yeltsin after the collapse of the Soviet Union has given way to a combative self-confidence since Putin is at the helm. I would like to note, that patriotism, when expressed in love for one’s people, one’s homeland and for the positive aspects of a shared history, gives expression to a respectable feeling. I think that those people are more deplorable who do not like their own countrymen, their own homeland and their own history – as is the case for many Germans.

LUC: My friend Vladimir Putin has accomplished an even greater feat. He feeds and fuels resentment. “Us against the rest of the world” – that’s the new attitude welding Russians together. With the state pouring much of its resources into the military machine, many Russians are objectively worse off under Putin. But skillful propaganda has nevertheless achieved its goal. The frustrated many do not blame the government for their miserable situation, they blame the hostile West. Putin is using an instrument that the Chinese under Xi Jinping have mastered just as well. Patriotism is perverted into a sharp weapon by turning it into resentful chauvinism. By now the Chinese are fully convinced that they have the better economy, the more efficient government, and that they are the better people, who naturally deserve to be at the head of the world community.

HB: But watch out! They are not so stupid as to openly reveal their true intentions. On the contrary, Russians as well as Chinese, when talking about the future as they conceive it, invariably proclaim that there should be no alpha-nation, no pecking order, no top and bottom but a multipolar world of equals. For as far as they are concerned, they would, of course, never seek world domination. Unfortunately, history tells a very different lesson. Rebellion against the hegemon always proceeds in this manner. In order to bring the bystanders to their side, the beta and gamma males make themselves small; they whitewash their drive to the top by portraying it as a blessing for all concerned.

GJ: Then the eternal game would just repeat itself for all eternity? At some point, the alpha male at the top – in this case the United States – is so weak that it has to abdicate to make way for China or Russia – just as Rome, Habsburg and Great Britain had to abdicate in the past?

LUC: Within a group, the alpha male is forced to retire when pushed aside by an upstart. That is of no concern to the rest of the world. But between nations, rise and fall are decided not by bites but by swords, guns and now missiles and nuclear bombs. That’s how the Creator, in his wisdom, set it all up. Howard calls this “natural selection” between superorganisms held together by ideas (memes). Evolution is not just a competition between individuals. It is a competition between networks, between webs, between group souls.

HB: True. But missiles and bombs require a strong economy. That’s why the United States must do everything in its power to accelerate technological innovation and return strength to the economy. We have to stay ahead in the technological race because that race will continue – as well as the merciless competition at its base. No individual and no nation can escape this destiny. With our dream of eliminating competition, we try to wish the pecking order away. But the fact is that we will continue to live in pecking order structures whether we like it or not /and/ the brutal fact is that the more we opt out of competition, the lower our position is likely to be. That holds true in our lives as individuals, and it holds even more true in our life as a nation. If you’re not on top, you’re going to sink.

GJ: Wrong! At one point you say yourself that this ghoulish spectacle must come to an end. To our species, evolution has given something new – the imagination. With that gift, we have dreamed of peace. Our task – perhaps the only one that will save us – is to turn what we have dreamed into reality. To fashion a world where violence ceases to be.

Here, you admit the truth. Nevertheless, you fail to acknowledge that we have to create this new world right now, that is, in the coming decades of the present century, because thanks to our intelligence we have increased potential violence to such an extent that for the first time in human history we are able to extinguish ourselves and, what is more, all life on the planet. Even if the gruesome game will never end among individuals, among nations that can destroy each other at the push of a button, it must end once and for all: We must stop the race of nations.

In this pressing necessity lies a break with all previous history. Until yesterday, it was still possible for the ruling nation to be knocked off its throne by another younger and stronger one. For hundreds of thousands of years, this iron law has held true among humans as in the animal kingdom, promoting “natural selection.” But in the 21st century, this law can and must no longer apply. For victory with today’s weapons no longer selects the strongest but kills all of us indiscriminately: the victor as well as the vanquished.

HB: Certainly, all are aware of this radically changed situation – all, including, of course, Biden, Xi, and Putin -, but this awareness has not in the least attenuated the need to sit at the head of the table and preside over the others. That’s why I implore my compatriots to push competition and technological progress with all their might. /Some/ self-proclaimed champions of the public interest are attempting to stop critical areas of scientific advancement: In many intellectual circles, even the concept of progress has been turned into a dirty word. This is a pernicious development. If we want the U.S. to remain at the forefront of the global community, we can only achieve this through competition and technological progress.

LUC: Dear Howard, with my gift for seeing into the future, I’ll allow myself a little warning. The progress you hail so much could cost you dearly. There is not even a guarantee that the inferno will not be unleashed by mere chance – I mean, technological chance. With ever-shorter warning times against a nuclear first strike by the enemy, you have programmed computers to automatically retaliate (as there is not enough time for humans to check). For the sake of survival, you should tame that kind of “progress” that instead of taking you to the top may finally catapult all of you out of existence.

GJ: If I understand Mr. Bloom correctly, nothing significant has changed in our psychological disposition from the Stone Age up to the present. In every group, someone wants to be on top – that’s what we call competition. In the world community, one nation wants to set the tone – that’s what we call the race of nations for greater economic and military power. But now, due to incredible technological progress, something radically new has entered the stage. Since the second half of the 20th century, each superpower has fabricated enough bombs to make the globe uninhabitable for humans. The victory of one over the other, does no longer lead to a mere replacement as in the past but carries the risk of collective demise.

I conclude from this fundamentally new situation that for human reason there remains but one way out this impasse: agreement on a world regiment. But such unification becomes more and more difficult when Americans, Russians and Chinese stir up hatred against each other. We must fight this hatred. /Because/ our task – perhaps the only one that will save us – is to turn what we have dreamed into reality.

GJ and Lucifer: Mr. Bloom, Howard thanks for this debate.

A guest of Mephisto – What distinguishes chimpanzees from alpha males?

HIM: At times, I like to hear The Ancient’s word!

Me: God’s word – but why the subjunctive?

HIM: Such question betrays the unaware. Don’t the enlightened know for quite a time already that HE is dead, while I am pretty much alive? Nobody still believes in God and heaven’s work, but all can see that I still get dirt on my hands… Just think of Darwin’s glorious theory of descent.

Please, I object, man did not evolve from apes! I hope you do accept this basic truth.

And, nevertheless, the lines run strictly parallel. Hierarchy is an iron rule among your brethren chimpanzees. The alpha male invariably sets the tone. And woe to those who do not understand! That’s how it has remained with you, but you use bombs when fighting with each other – not stones, sticks and a biting jaw.

Aha, I concede with hesitation. You’re trying to convince me that our alpha males – now and then even some alpha female – are just some other naked monkeys?

HIM: Don’t worry, I don’t want to be impolite. I would rather like to have more respect for primates who like to call themselves sapiens, but then I take a glance at all those Kims, the Khomeinis, those Putins and Trumps of your world, and immediately I have a hard time seeing any difference with your hairy relatives. Certainly, things are different down below. There, I see people teeming with daily life, gathering and sifting, mating and multiplying, crying and laughing, some even enjoying their life, but above them the scene always remains the same. There I see the chief monkey sitting on top his throne, baring his teeth, waving his bombs.

What a sad vision, I say, and one that certainly only occurs to the devil. Has life no better meaning than to threaten and destroy ones neighbor? Aren’t we all human beings? Besides, the most advanced states have long adopted democracy, it tames our atavistic lust for power.

HIM: My friend, you make me laugh! Power cannot be tamed, it comes to being wherever weakness reigns – and of weakness you have more than enough. For the time being, the US is still the strongest power on earth. It can afford democracy and a constant wrangling for power of two rivalling parties, but China would continue to be as powerless as it has been for the past two hundred years if it allowed its citizens democratic diversity and dissent. After all, the leading power would readily exploit any internal weakness. Against the strong, the weak tend to defend themselves by means of autocracy or even dictatorship. You see, Putin and Xi have turned their states into dictatorships because they cannot afford democratic diversity without crumbling under external and internal pressure. And what is more, they form alliances against the leading power. These are – if I may humbly call it by that name – those potent elixirs of the devil, which you like to call by the name of “realpolitik”.

No, I say, that’s what we call lies. Nowhere are words and deeds so far apart as among the weak. Listen to president Xi’s lofty announcements when he describes the coming world order. According to him it will be free of hegemonic powers as it will consist of nations with equal rights, none of which aspires to rule over others. China’s concern is nothing but peace and harmony. But now please take a look at reality behind the imposing facade. Xi’s regime is demonizing the Dalai Lama, “re-educating” millions of Uighurs, trampling on political freedom in Hong Kong, wanting to do the same to Taiwan rather sooner than later, and seeking dominion over the entire South China Sea – all this in the name of peace and harmony.

HIM: Right. That’s what alpha males do all over the world. For an additional strip of land and a few more tax-paying subjects, they bite and bomb, and after the act is done, they want to be celebrated as the immortal heroes of history.

Me: On this point, I agree. The Russian president too has proven to be an expert in this art. At every opportunity he complains about the merciless persecution by a russophobic West. But that did not prevent him from occupying Crimea and effectively carving out the eastern part of Ukraine.

HIM: Putin mourns Stalin’s tyranny, for in the collapse of the Soviet Union he sees the greatest catastrophe of the twentieth century. How I admire this master of dissimulation! Like his colleague Xi, he is intent on spreading the fable that his government is only concerned with cooperation and peace. He even pretends that it was the Soviet Union that has rendered a unique service to humanity: According to him, it liberated the world from fascism.

What a falsification of history! I protest. The Russians have repelled the insidious, brutal invasion of Hitler. In the “great patriotic war” they liberated their country from a merciless aggressor at the most terrible sacrifices – this is a historical victory of which they can be proud, especially since they dealt the death blow to the Third Reich. But by no means did they liberate Europe, because in the place of German totalitarianism they only put Russian totalitarianism of the no less merciless Stalinist type. At the beginning they were welcomed with open arms by the subjugated peoples. But what did they bring them? A new kind of enslavement. Putin should not be surprised that Eastern Europe to this day harbors a panic fear of this kind of liberation.

HIM: Bravo for so much insight. So it was and so it is, because Homo sapiens is simply a naked monkey. In this atavistic capacity you even find your way completely without my assistance. You will bring about your own demise all by yourselves.

Demise? I ask. What do you mean by such apocalyptic insinuation?

HIM: How slow-witted you know-it-all romantics. Yes, from time to time I’d really like to see the late Allmighty. My modest powers are not quite up to the new era. I can no longer save you, you all already learned all my arts. Only the Old Man would still be able…

No, I shout, knocking over the cup on the garden table that separates me from my counterpart. As I do so, I spill all the coffee and have to watch helplessly how the brown liquid pours over the tablecloth, that just before was still immaculately white.

No, only the devil can talk of doom. Humans are much too intelligent, that’s precisely what distinguishes us from stupid apes.

HIM: Grotesque mistake. It is precisely your intelligence that makes you so dangerous. I admire the great president of the Russian Federation almost as much as I admire myself. Certainly, we must revere him as the smartest living politician. About everything he is informed to the letter, nothing escapes his vigilance. He even knows exactly what his end-time bombs can do – unlike that dismissed liar and genius moron from the White House in Washington, D.C., who could not distinguish between fantasy and reality.*1* I had taken lying Donald to my heart, as he would have sent the world to its doom out of sheer stupidity, but Vladimir Putin has a right to my admiration. He is the naked alpha monkey, as usually only to be found in fairy tales. He could wreck the world thanks to his superior intelligence.

Here you go, I object to the cynic. Let me try to understand the man. Mustn’t he be infinitely pained that, seen from Obama or Biden, he only represents “a third-rate regional power”? That’s why he has filled his house to the brim with ultra-sonic missiles and the world’s largest nuclear arsenal. And tell me, who among his Western counterparts could compete with him in judo, in ice hockey, on a motorcycle, or even in the size of his biceps? Putin is Superman incarnate, demanding recognition and submission from the world. This goal he already achieved in Russia itself. All dissenting voices have been exterminated one by one as traitors, any real opposition has been destroyed, everyone is talking after the Lord’s mouth. In Russia, sepulchral silence reigns supreme with the Russian military ready to follow the new tsar to the death.

HIM: I see that you are capable of learning. Yes, this man can’t stand contradiction. He is not merely intelligent (and, at times, even charming). Like so many people small in stature, he is also very sensitive. In his dreams, he is haunted by the one and only desire to show his proud rivals across the Atlantic and in Europe that you can’t insult someone like him with impunity. He will bring nuclear winter to the globe, he will sacrifice his soul and his whole country with all its inhabitants to me if you should hurt him too much in his vanity. And you will see, as soon as the first shot is fired in Europe, your whole society of old men and of fun will desert on the spot.

Oh, I object, do you expect me to show pity for a dictator, since you are so concerned with his vanity? I would say this one-sidedness does you no honor. Or do you want to deny that this regime lies with a brazenness that only Donald Trump surpassed? One dissident after another was killed, but the regime denied any guilt. No evidence! was the only answer. As if verdicts are only valid when accepted by the accused. Trump never cared about lying because for him there was no truth anyway but only successful statements and their opposite. But Putin and his people know the truth very well – the Russians always had a very fine sense for it. Anyone familiar with the intellectual giants of this country, with great writers like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, knows that they struggled for nothing so much as for truth. When a Russian foreign minister like Sergey Lavrov infamously blames the Germans for Nawalny’s poisoning, he knows exactly what he is doing. He openly demonstrates that he does not care about deliberately mocking the Germans and the world public. You only do so if you want to burn bridges – if necessary at the gruesome price of war.

HIM: And if it were so? Didn’t you, I mean first and foremost the Americans, hit Russia to the core with the humiliation of the nineties? At that time, Gorbachev was ready to renounce Russia’s past and make glasnost and perestroika, i.e. accountability and democratic restructuring, the program of the future. For this courage, you in the West revered the man like a saint, but you did not give him any help. Russia experienced a terrible collapse both economic and spiritual. With the blessing of Harvard economist Jeffrey Sachs, who with usual American naiveté simply prescribed the gospel of privatization, Russia was open to plunder by profit-mongering oligarchs. Just in time before these managed to sell off Russia’s oil wells to Western investors, Putin came to power to end the national sellout. But as late as 2001, the new ruler still wanted closer ties with the West, especially with Europe. At that time, however, Russia was on its knees, and rapprochement would have meant help – but no one in the West was prepared to help. Thus, bitter resentment grew out of Russia’s humiliation, and Putin gradually assumed a new face. Its pride wounded, Russia now began to ferret out the West’s many faults – especially its often shameless lies. In 1953, President Eisenhower had allowed himself to be misled by the British into overthrowing the Mossadegh regime in Iran, which had emerged from democratic elections. He did so simply because Iran dared to nationalize oil exploitation, its only wealth. Much later, Madeleine Albright, then Secretary of State, at least had the courage to describe this intervention as a serious mistake. In 1973, with the help of the CIA, the likewise democratically elected government of Salvador Allende was overthrown in Chile. It could not be accused of having connections to America’s rival, the Soviet Union; it was enough that economic interests of the US seemed to be endangered. And how should we assess a war based from the outset on Fake News, namely weapons of mass destruction, which Saddam Hussein, this former ally of the United States, allegedly possessed? Hussein had attracted the superpower’s suspicion because he was toying with the idea of becoming independent of the dollar. In this case, America’s war was not merely based on a lie, it was moreover unforgivably stupid, because the Sunni minority around Saddam Hussein had successfully kept Iran in check. After his fall, Iran was to become the United States’ nemesis, its constant challenger.

You see, my dear friend, there is a reason why the Russians, whom you rightly consider to be very sensitive to lies, suddenly use this instrument with complete shamelessness. They just copied this art from you in the West. Let me teach you one lesson: Enemies become increasingly similar the more intensely they fight each other. In the end, they even cultivate the same style and commit the same crimes. The Arab Spring, for example…

I immediately interrupt the zealous man.

The Arab Spring, I say, is a good example to refute your cold objectivity. When, first, in Tunisia, then in Egypt, and finally in Libya and in Syria, the people went to the barricades to overthrow their inhumanly corrupt regimes, the West felt sympathy and was on their side. And this time there was nothing to gain (except in Libya). Western governments and people simply had a heart for the oppressed and granted them the freedom and democracy they so longed for. Barack Obama gave one of his great speeches in Cairo at that time.

HIM: Oh yes, he was quite good at speeches. But his and other speeches did not improve anything. The spring turned into a winter of chaos and mass exodus, of hundreds of thousands of dead and still greater poverty. The Russians are quite right when they describe the destruction of the Middle East as one of the greatest crimes in recent history and hold the West responsible because it not only supported the uprisings but also added fuel to the fire. For the first time, Putin had a chance to position himself as a savior before the world public. At least in Syria, he ended chaos and civil war thanks to his determination. Since then, Russia has distinguished itself to the West as a moral authority.

Me: But that is pure cynicism! How can you morally defend Russia keeping alive one of the most repressive, brutal, bloody regimes? Putin has established graveyard silence at the expense of humanity.

HIM: Graveyard silence certainly. But such silence is still better than chaos and never-ending war. Or are you going to absolve the West of its guilt, even though it allowed so much of this injustice to come about in the first place with its reckless support of the Arab uprisings?

Me: No. It was history-blind stupidity that determined Western actions. There had been a population explosion throughout the Middle East. For every four young people who wanted to start a family, there was on average no more than a single vacancy. So, three young people were doomed to unemployment from the start, crying out for revolution. The terrible dictators in these countries had a sad function: They had to keep the lid on the boiling cauldron. It was not understood in the West nor by the protesting masses, that no change of regime can improve a situation where there are too many people in a country with too few resources. Therefore – and not because of the encouraging shouts from the West – the whole revolution fizzled out miserably or ended in blood and tears. As the only result, a new generation of dictators took the place of their predecessors.

HE: Bravo, my dear, at last you are ready to learn some wisdom from people like me. Just make sure that you don’t proclaim such findings too loudly. You’ll make yourself unpopular with all your starry-eyed idealists who offer a patent solution for everything on earth. Your do-gooders don’t want to know that too many people in a country – or on the entire globe for that matter – will lead to ruin. Even the most beautiful speech of democracy and freedom held by a convincing president like Barack Obama remaines impotent against this elementary fact. You just don’t want to understand that you are biological beings like your ancestors, the chimpanzees, with whom you share much more than the cult of alpha males.

I am glad you again pronounce our keyword: Alpha male. How do you explain that “Sleepy Joe”, the naked ape at the head of the American state, this stumbling and sometimes helplessly stuttering old man *2*, within the first hundred days of his administration set more in motion and effected more for the reputation of his country than his Russian counterpart, who so much surpasses him in intelligence, presence of mind and sheer knowledge? How is it possible that after the terrible Trump, the world is once again looking to America with confidence because of Joe Biden’s moral greatness, while Russia, once so powerful in spirit, has been so committed to common lies by its undoubtedly charismatic leader that one who, like Nawalny, objects to pervasive corruption becomes the umpteenth victim of assassination? Biden admits to all the world that the United States suffers from terrible ills: racism, a profit-obsessed National Rifle Organization, and glaring social inequality. Putin, on the other hand, kills or jails people who doubt his infallibility. He cannot tolerate a man like Nawalny in his country, although – or rather because – the latter is his faithful mirror image. Nawalny is just as ardent a nationalist (because you can’t get anywhere in Russia without that quality), but he fights against the corruption tolerated by Putin as an instrument of political control. In Western fun society, a toothache is enough to make people doubt the meaning of life. They have no sympathy for a hero who sticks unswervingly to his convictions and deliberately enters the lion’s den, even if this means risking death. This Russia of holy fanatics may seem strange to us, but it reconciles me with the sad fact that the only thing with which the once great intellectual power Russia impresses the world today are its multiple supersonic zircon missiles and its modernized nuclear weapons and, of course, the Russian president’s announcement that Russia will respond to a serious challenge (i.e. to a conventional attack, where NATO remains superior) in an asymmetrical way, i.e. with nuclear bombs. 

HIM: The Russian leader knows he is not loved, so at least he wants to be feared. That’s the understandable reaction of a recklessly humiliated power, and that’s why Russia and China have agreed to join forces to fight back against the West.

Me: Which brings us back to chimpanzees, where the little ones gang up on the ruling alpha male.

HIM: That’s right. Compared to Putin and Xi, Joe Biden may be much more morally honest and almost a shining light, but as an American alpha male he leaves as little doubt about his chimpanzee propensities as did Trump and all other American presidents of the past hundred years. America and its leadership are destined by providence to show the world its way. Yet Biden should really be aware that neither of his two rivals accepts this claim assuming the role of subordinates. You see, how the heritage of the chimpanzees reappears in its full strength even in a very old man. The advance of one demands a yielding of the other – an eternal zero-sum game.

No, I disagree, that is an overly primitive worldview. This our earth is big enough to offer to all the desired expansion and development. Whether I may be big or must remain small does not depend on the well-being or the oppression of my neighbor.

HIM: Dear friend, nothing against idealism, but this is Sancta Simplicitas! The world is big enough for all little people, but it is much too narrow for alpha males, because at the very top there can be just one of them. You see, an advance of the former Warsaw Pact invariably amounted to a weakening of NATO, while an expansion of NATO just as inevitably led to a weakening of the Warsaw Pact – or, in our time, to the weakening of the Russian Union and China. West Germany and South Korea retained their freedom only because they sided with the U.S. that offered them protection against the Soviet Union. Vassalage in exchange for protection, that is the price paid by the small to the big. But sometimes small countries are simply ground down between the big ones, like the ill-fated Vietnam or in our days the whole Middle East. The bloody Vietnam War only left the United States with their greatest defeat because they had supported a corrupt regime hated by the Vietnamese themselves. Russians and Chinese were able to watch in peace as the Americans bled to death. That’s another way to expand your own influence.

Me: Fortunately, your nefarious view of history is made absurd by the better insight of American students then protesting against the war. They and finally even repentant politicians stopped the killing. Surely this shows that we are quite capable of overcoming our chimpanzee heritage.

HIM: My dear friend, your simplicity does you little credit. I know you are a romantic. You want to call upon great philosophy, the inspirations of poets, the intelligence of great natural scientists. Keeping such greatness in mind, you want to prove, that you are vastly superior to the old ape. No, I tell you, all this dwindles to nothing as soon as it gets into the hands of an alpha male. Then you always hear one and the same mantra: We, the Russians, or we, the Americans, or we, the Chinese, are ultimately the best and greatest (and you Germans have imagined that for centuries anyway). They hold that there is something in the nature of a Russian, Chinese, or American that makes him superior to all others and entitles him to prescribe their respective worldviews: American democracy or Russian love for the great fatherland or Chinese socialism with a unique Chinese tinge. Look at the naked monkey in Peking, in Moscow or in Washington. With equal fervor, each proclaims to his own following that he is the better, if not the very best.

Am I revealing a secret if I call to your mind that even such a great scholar as your Max Weber, who carried all cultures from China via India to Israel in his head, that even this man, I say, when he flirted with a political career at the end of his life, soon turned out to be an ardent German nationalist? After having looked around the whole world and absorbing all its wonders, the only wisdom that was suitable for him as a politician turned out to be the atavistic one of a chimpanzee chief.

My guest provokes me to indignation. This is a diabolical view of things, I exclaim, and it contradicts historical truth. Herder, Goethe, Schiller, Heine and so many of our greatest poets and thinkers had professed cosmopolitanism and condemned all national narrow-mindedness. Yes, and are you blind to the fact that the young and educated people amidst us are in the majority decided opponents of nationalism?

With your supposed wisdom, I counter, you are nothing more than a puny reactionary who does not understand the new enlightened times.

HIM: The new enlightened times. You really make me laugh. Not for a moment have your great cosmopolitans been able to prevent alpha men from staging their power games. If they were lucky, they survived the invasion of the enemies, like Goethe, who was saved by his Christiane at the last moment when Napoleon’s soldiery was invading his house in the Frauenplan. Plato was less fortuneate, he was sold into slavery, but how many others were simply slaughtered! In Germany you are allowed to criticize the hegemon, the United States, and you can make fun of Russia and China. This makes you cling to the illusion as if Germany and Europe were so to speak on another star, far away from the power games of the superpowers. In reality, missile bases on this side and on the other side of the Russian border stand ready 24 hours and every day to fire against each other. Any false signal threatens to trigger war. I know you want to embrace the world in brotherhood, but your cosmopolitanism is a fantasy born of pure ignorance and guilelessness.

Me: Do you have nothing but black bile to pour out around you? It is true that we threaten each other not only with ever more deadly, ever more unerringly, ever more extensively destructive weapons but at the same time we are threatening nature with ever greater demands. Not only do the vanities of alpha men clash, but all citizens of all countries demand a greater share of earth’s wealth, i.e. of nature’s resouces. Thus, the race for dwindling resources pits not only governments against each other, but also the people, each of whom wants to increase their current standard of living as much as possible – no word of renunciation.

HIM: At last I hear the realist speak. People are pretty much like their masters.

Me: And yet there is a great hope, and it is clearly before the eyes of every sensible person. The alpha males need to sit down at the same table, they need to realize that history has reached an end point where our only choice is between mutual annihilation and understanding.

HIM: I’m listening intently. I almost feel as if the Old Man is speaking. Yes, he has always been a fantasist. He believed that the animal heritage could be overcome. He liked to imagine himself in front of a table in the Garden of Eden, where Xi, Putin and Biden sit together in a relaxed atmosphere. The angels hover around them so seductively that they suddenly forget their chimpanzee nature. I may be unique, each says to the other, but so are you, my dear rivals. Therefore, from now on, let us definitely resolve to end the struggle against each other. We will abolish weapons of mass destruction, share resources and rule together.

How beautiful. It makes me feel all wistful. Yes, I can really hear the Old Man talking. He could fantasize so beautifully. Just imagine, he even stubbornly denied the doctrine of descent. I can well remember how he sometimes boasted about having created you separately on the sixth day. He just wasn’t quite up to it. Oh yes, from time to time…

*1* Mephisto had better be careful not to be dragged before the cadi for insulting an ex-president. Can his statement still be justified as artistic freedom? Well, I think that someone who recommends drinking a disinfectant as a medicine against covid may very well be called a fool. As for the accusation of lying, Trump was elected because he saw the truth that no one among the supposedly grassroots Democrats wanted to take care of the “white trash” in the rust belts. However, even this truth served the shrewd wheeler-dealer only as a means to an end, namely to gain political power. Empathy with the poor is as foreign to this man as empathy for the mouse is to the cat.

*2* In the political show “Vremya pakazhet” on Russian tv 1 kanal,” all these weaknesses are mercilessly exposed and ridiculed. In contrast, attacks on Chinese state television (CCTV-4) are aimed less ad personam. Instead they show the daily protests against police assaults and racial discriminiation, armed robberies and everything that can be understood as an internal disintegration of American society.

Nation state or Homo technicus universalis?

Abstract:

The “Clash of Cultures” due to irreconcilable religions and ideologies belongs to the past. In contrast, the “Clash of Civilizations”, i.e. the worldwide struggle for an equally high and, if possible, ever higher material standard of living, is darkening our common future, since the last resources are being plundered and nature increasingly poisoned in the name of progress. Mankind will only escape this struggle against itself and against nature by submitting to a global authority that demands the same restrictions from all of us.

We are used to lamenting entries on the red list of extinct or endangered species; these include dinosaurs, Bengal tigers, black grouse or river pearl mussels. But do not think that nature is unimaginative. She continuously replaces the worn out with lots of new creations: instead of the dinosaurs she now gives us Corona and even adds many new mutants.

As in the animal kingdom, so in human cultures. To the Germans, as they once existed, we must undoubtedly say goodbye, but this is no less true of the French, the English, the Indians, the Chinese, and so on. In this case too, however, the decline of entire cultures is accompanied by a new and surprising phenomenon. It has been noticed for some time that there are more and more global professions, e.g. the mathematician, the programmer, the engineer, the chemist, the truck driver, the mechanic, the internist, the ENT doctor and thousands of similar functions, but these new professions are free from all national roots. Something has died – while at the same time something surprisingly new has taken its place. As it were, nature has triumphed over culture. Since nature is the same everywhere, the laws found by the natural sciences must be the same in Berlin, Tokyo, Dubai or in Timbuktu, i.e. independent of respective national cultures. Obviously, most of the life and functioning of modern civilization is based on these laws. All over the world, a chemical factory, a car company, a corporate office are like undistinguishable peas in a pod all over the world. Identical function determines identical structure. The differences are only technical, namely due to more or less technical progress.

The time when everything was still different,

because people in France, India, China thought differently, ate differently, loved differently and lived differently – this time dates back just a century and a half, and it still looms with its stone witnesses – cathedrals, temples and palaces – here and there into our present, but it already belongs to a distant history (mercilessly parodied by Disneyland). Our omnipotent present not only produced a new international species, homo technicus, who – whether in Cape Town, Berlin, Houston or Madras – spends more and more of his time in front of the computer and with the cell phone, but at the same time it has made the urban landscapes of all countries more and more similar to each other. Meanwhile, Austrian, Chinese, South African or Indian architecture merely exists in remnants: megacities employ the same architects and engineers from all over the world. A worldwide uniformity due to uniform functions is inevitable. Banks, millennium and television towers, museums, train stations, airports and dormitory towns all over the world are stitched according to the same pattern. Everything national is in unmistakable retreat.

But is it right to call the new man,

this prototype of the 21st century, who is about to create a global unified civilization, “Homo technicus”? Do not games, music, painting and leisure time form an opposite pole that seems at least as important to many people?

That may certainly be so. The love of mathematics and the natural sciences was nowhere so widespread that it alone was able to bring forth the new prototype. In fact, Homo technicus owes his triumph to a much more elementary drive: the addiction, spread over the entire globe, to all the achievements of civilization to which only technology provides access. Much-maligned capitalism did not have to cajole them into it. No one in our present world wants to do without a flush toilet, a washing machine, a personal bank account, a computer or a cell phone, and very few people want to do without a car or the prospect of someday hovering above the clouds in a modern airplane. However, each of the aforementioned achievements presupposes a modern infrastructure, i.e., a radical transformation and reorganization of nature such as no single country on the globe knew two hundred years ago.

Meanwhile, many of these modern achievements

have come to be traded as human rights, without which life is considered incomplete and miserable. Nowadays, no Chinese person is looked at askance if he or she has not read Confucius; hardly any German still takes a look at Goethe’s Faust (“Fuck you Goethe” has even become a slogan meant to discourage such action). Seen by the millennial generation, i.e. those under forty, this is mere history, completely written off by most of them. As cultural knowledge is of no use with regard to the preservation of our all-devouring techno-economic civilization, it is considered superfluous. This liberation of the new generation from all historical burdens undoubtedly holds its own opportunities. Young people – Chinese, Japanese, U.S. Americans, Germans, French, etc. – can look each other in the eye without feeling any different. What counts is the knowledge and handling of the gadgets of modern civilization – and they are all equally good at that. What could divide them – their national culture and national history – they have already shaken off. Seen in this light, the fact that modern Homo technicus has shed all the trappings of his tribal affiliation – regardless of religion, race or ideology – can also be seen as a progress.

Global fraternization

seems to be within reach for the first time in human history. The unifying basis of techno-scientific thinking as well as of common external living conditions could become the springboard to a future in which irreconcilable antagonisms and the resulting struggles are replaced by mutual understanding and thus by harmony and peace. Nor should greater global uniformity worry us, because it is uniformity in constant change. Diversity and development do not disappear, they only manifest themselves in fundamentally different ways. Until two hundred years ago, history consisted in the formation of human beings – that is why the natives of Papua New Guinea so much differed in appearance, religion, and customs from native New Yorkers or Hindu Brahmins that all three could be considered different species within the same genus. In contrast, history today no longer consists in the shaping of man – an Indian, a U.S. American, or a New Guinea physicist can be distinguished at most by the hue of their skin. It consists in the shaping and formation of nature. Homo technicus recognizes and shapes nature according to his own purposes. In this case too variety is created, even potentially infinite variety. But it comes about in a different way, namely by the fact that our knowledge of nature constantly grows and with it the products it creates.

As homo technicus leaves history behind him

like a bad memory, he does not want to know anything about privileges – for him these too belong to the burden of history. It is, therefore, not surprising that the overwhelming majority of Millennials are committed to a fair distribution of material goods – regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation (as the ritual mantra would have it). Whether Europeans, Africans or Chinese, all people have the same inherent right to a decent life, i.e. to those material blessings that the people of the West have long enjoyed. At the same time, the new generation also wants to grant nature its rights, which is why a green mindset is widespread among Millennials. They take to the streets not only to protest against white supremacy but also to demand action against climate change. The new generation doesn’t want to know anything about past history, but they take history very seriously when seen as their own future: they want to make it themselves. That’s why their demonstrations are causing so much headache for governments around the world.

Millennials are cosmopolitans

For the first time, an entire generation of humanity represents what was previously the privilege of only a handful of great minds. In Germany, Lessing, Herder, Goethe, Schiller and Kant were cosmopolitans in the best sense of the word.  All national narrow-mindedness was not only alien to them but considered repugnant. How could these early pioneers have guessed that, since the end of the 20th century at the latest, Millennials would turn their intellectual cosmopolitanism into a technical one that would encompass the entire globe? More and more young people enthusiastically experience the Internet as a tool for making as many friends on other continents as in their own country. Millennials are aware that kindred spirits in Chengdu, Vancouver or Bangalore may be far closer to them than reactionary morons in their own homeland. And this is much more than a mere abstract insight. More and more marriages are taking place internationally, and ever greater sums are being donated to people in need somewhere in the world. Not a few idealists would even like to build a bridge over the Mediterranean so that in the future no refugee will have to perish on the way to the north.*1*

The problem

In the face of this general tendency toward global fraternization, there is a danger that we will all too credulously and naively overlook the forces working against it. The technical generation has grown up believing that all conflicts can be solved by technical means. The breathtaking successes of scientific civilization even turned this belief into a kind of quasi-religious salvation promise. Digitization, automation and artificial intelligence are celebrating triumphs the likes of which humanity has never experienced. No wonder that the optimism nurtured by all these triumphs makes people blind to all dangers. These are, however, omnipresent. Even a sudden and unforeseen event such as a global pandemic may dissolve the beautiful belief in the interconnectedness of all people. How unpleasant was and is even within the European Union the scramble for vaccination doses! The current Austrian chancellor, who at the beginning urged frugality (maximum 200,000 euros), unabashedly put out the fairy tale that the Commission had treated his own and other European countries unfairly.

This occasion demonstrated that we may well find friends everywhere in the world, but in times of need it is only our own neighbors and our own government that can help us. Only they are able to provide their citizens with the desired level of security and standard of living. Cosmopolitanism that so gloriously flourishes in the realm of the mind proves impotent when it comes to providing those very services that local people are looking for in emergency situations. As, in such cases, spatial proximity counts more than anything else, everyone is next to himself in need. Even the United Europe must constantly fight against national egoisms.

This problem becomes truly massive and frightening,

once we take a closer look at modern technical civilization itself. For technology has a double face that optimists do not want to acknowledge. On the one hand it is responsible for our greatest triumphs, on the other hand for an apocalypse that nobody can rule out any longer. The pan-happiness philosophy of the millennials, who would like to grant and allocate the same material blessing to all people of the globe, is contradicted by the laws of physics. From a scientific point of view, the realization of this program is simply impossible. To exist sustainably on our globe with renewable energy requires either that three quarters of humanity mysteriously disappear, or that humanity at its current population level of about eight billion reduce its energy consumption to one quarter (and that’s just talking about energy, not yet about all other non-renewable resources).*2*

It is absolutely correct when Steven Pinker and Hans Rosling insist in their books that mankind is materially better off than ever before in terms of almost all relevant indicators, but this amazing feat could only be achieved because we consume far more renewable energy than a single globe can provide. We do so by using dwindling reserves of fossil fuels, whose residues furthermore contribute to the poisoning of nature on an ever increasing scale.

This is the existential problem of our time,

and it is not a technical task that can be solved in a technical way, but a challenge for political and ethical man. In the extreme, only two solutions come into question. Either a scramble for the last remaining resources leading to wars, which the strongest powers of the globe incite against the weaker ones and of course against nature. Or a global agreement that all are committed to the preservation of the globe and thus to a way of life that requires a total departure from that which still prevails today.

How do Millennials respond

to this shattering of the technocratic ideology with which they themselves have grown up and been indoctrinated? They use to respond in three different ways. Either they simply deny the facts (thus siding with Donald Trump); or, second, they are optimists on principle and believe in future technological miracles; or, third, they call for demonstrations, usually blaming some evil forces.

Denial is the prevailing attitude – against all evidence from scientific expertise. Homo technicus is prone to let himself be guided by wishful thinking when evidence threatens to shake his optimism. Optimists have always found it particularly difficult to admit that the world is perhaps not quite as well set up as they would like.

If, however, the evidence of an irresponsible consumption of resources and an increasing poisoning of the globe can no longer be denied, there still remains a messianic belief in miracles. Then nuclear power is supposed to achieve what renewable energies alone will never be able to do, namely to maintain the current standard of living and at the same time to reduce CO2 emissions to a tolerable level. Apart from the fact that this is impossible in purely quantitative terms due to dwindling uranium deposits, the dangers associated with this technology tend to be blissfully ignored. However, they are just as great, if not greater, than those of global warming. And it tends to be completely overlooked that energy is used for the conversion of non-energy resources – and these are dwindling as well. The belief in future miracles, which homo technicus has nurtured over two centuries and which today is just as much at home in China and India as in Europe and the US, arguably constitutes mankind’s greatest delusion. It makes us run blindly to our doom because until shortly before the catastrophe we hope for a deus ex machina who will avert all disaster .*3*

Seen, from this perspective, political activism,

expressed worldwide in demonstrations, seems to be hardly more than a diversionary maneuver. The “Fridays for Future” movement fully recognized the urgency of the environmental situation, but it was mistaken in its assessment of the true causes. It is not “them up there” who are responsible for the destruction of the globe, but “us down here,” that is, all of us together, because “them up there” usually only enforce a majority will – at least when it comes to an accepted standard of living. This applies to democratic states of the West as well as to autocratic regimes in China and Russia. A majority of the world’s population – especially, of course, the developing countries – would not accept radical sacrifice, certainly not when a truly sustainable economy requires a reduction of the global ecological footprint to the fourth part of today’s level.

Not renunciation but a global scramble

over dwindling resources and mutual accusations of excessive nature poisoning are therefore in store for us in the near future. Just as in a pandemic, where every nation first thinks of itself, it first enhances and protects the standard of living for its own citizens. That is, why in times of need and struggle all those national provisos that the Millennials fought against and wanted to abolish forever creep up again. The U.S. is home to about twenty million Asian-born citizens, most of them of Chinese origin. Now that China has become a serious rival for the U.S. and threatens to become number one in terms of power and standard of living, tensions between the two superpowers are rising sharply. Prejudices against the Chinese are reviving in America just as they are reviving in China against the West. Nationalistically motivated “hate crimes” have become the order of the day.

On a smaller and, fortunately, far more benign scale, we find this tussle also within the EU, where Hungary and Poland, but also the Czech Republic and Slovakia, insist on their national autonomy and elect autocracy-prone governments that endanger European unity. If it is true that the struggle for dwindling resources in a world that abhors sacrifice will become the portent of the 21st century, then we are heading for a time that will bring about the opposite of cosmopolitanism, namely increasing national egoism. Even if the EU succeeds in welding Europe together into a stable entity, it will be faced as a whole with the prospect of having to fight with the rest of the world over its interests.

It is therefore too early for a requiem of the nation states

Germany (but also Austria, France, etc.) will continue to exist, even if they eventually merge with other states in the EU. Homo technicus universalis therefore remains an illusion, albeit one that arouses some sympathy because it conjures up the common ground connecting modern people. It remains an illusion not only because cosmopolitanism does not provide help in emergencies – only the political community in which we are rooted can do this. But homo technicus is incomplete for still another reason. We may indeed completely dispose of all narratives related to the past and in this way create ahistorical man, but this procedure does not eliminate the basic need of man for a narrative that gives meaning and purpose to his life. Neither technology nor science can provide such meaning (even if both can at times completely satisfy individual life, because common tasks and shared work represent precisely this overriding meaning beyond technology itself).

In perverted form, history has

never lost its dominance. A Chinese technician may be confusingly similar to his counterpart in the US as regards thinking and habits of life; this will not prevent the one from using his skills and knowledge for the power and wealth of China, while the other does so for the power and wealth of the United States of America. Thus, one of them may be developing the weapons with which to wipe out the US in the case of a nuclear war, while his counterpart fulfills exactly the same task for his own country. Which means that our demand for the equality of all people proves to be impotent in the face of history dominating us in the shape of elementary material interests.

And this modern day history, which we see re-entering through the back door, is much more primitive than that which the Millennials disposed of through the front door. It expresses itself in the form of such populist prejudices as promulgated by Donald Trump on a daily basis, when, to mention just one example, he spoke of the “Chinese virus.” Homo technicus is easily seduced by the fake news of modern history when it comes to defending his interests.

This brings to light the fundamental conflict

that will accompany us through the 21st century. On the one hand, the uniform technical civilization that prevails worldwide has given rise to homo technicus, thereby creating an awareness, especially in young people, of the equality of all human beings. But, on the other hand, this civilization has nurtured the claim to a standard of living that can no longer be met in a world of eight billion people faced with dwindling resources and a rampant poisoning of nature.*4* The scramble for this claim inevitably leads to a struggle against all rivals who threaten a nation’s position. 

History falsely declared to be dead

thus returns. The fratricidal struggle, fed by hostile narratives, which once divided the peoples of Europe in centuries-long battles, has only been shifted to a higher plane. Tribal claims and identities remain, but not in the harmless form of patriotism, i.e. love for one’s homeland and a shared history, but as ideological delusions of uniqueness of Europeans, Yankees, Chinese etc. These delusions tend to be much cruder and primitive, because they consist less in the loving reminiscence of one’s own past (so far as it deserves such treatment) than in the denunciation of rivals. The race of nations currently taking place between the great powers of the US, China, Russia and Europe is laden with populist denunciation – in view of the unending progress of weapons this constitutes an imminent danger.

The problem is further aggravated by the fact

that it is of no use if only one part of the world, say Germany, pulls the emergency brake. Germany is only responsible for a minimal two percent of total CO2 emissions. Of course, it could boast of being a role model if it also reduced the remaining two to a mere zero percent. But what is the point if others don’t follow suit, but end up just being happy that the Germans are no longer a rival because they are abandoning their previous industrial power and sinking into a state of poverty? Therein lies the real challenge of the 21st century, which can only be overcome if humanity submits to a common authority that imposes the same sacrifice on everyone at the same time – in the most favorable but rather unlikely case, this would be the UN. Then – but only then – the consciousness of the equality of mankind could bring about that eternal peace, which Immanuel Kant had conjured up more than two hundred years ago.

*1* An impressive testimony to this idealism is provided by the Indian-born author Parag Khanna with his book: “The Age of Migration”. On almost five hundred pages, the author deals with God and the world from A to Z. Khanna seems to take climate crisis for granted – even in its most catastrophic form with an increase in average temperatures of up to four degrees. This serves him well because he preaches the gospel of unrestricted migration which, according to him, will provide for mankind’s ultimate salvation. Here, fraternization is not a politically thought-out program, but is administered to the reader like a drug.

*2* In its latest issue, “Der Spiegel” calls for optimism in the title essay (Spg 14.21: “Hope dies last”). But like any other citizen, the Spiegel author too must rely on what leading experts say. And these – starting from Herman Daly, the intellectual guide of the ecological movement, up to William Rees, the inventor of the ecological footprint – say something completely different.

*3* In the article mentioned above, Der Spiegel shows how wishful thinking works. On the one hand, we find the following passage: “It is certainly an imperative of responsibility to make decisions on the basis of currently available knowledge.” But shortly thereafter, this sober statement is invalidated: “An English saying is: Expect the unexpected. Men, especially Germans, are not very good at this.” So: Dear Germans, please believe in the Deus ex Machina!

*4* Here, too, Der Spiegel preaches wishful thinking. It is correct that the world population “will /grow/ by about two billion to then almost ten billion people by 2050, yes, and that will lead to severe crises in some regions. However, in terms of world population as a whole, growth will slow down after that and will only be problematic in a few areas.” Really? Is it no longer problematic if all these ten billion people together then consume four and more globes? And what to make of the following statement: “The goal of a maximum warming of two degrees by the year 2100 is within reach. If countries stick to their pledges… global average temperatures will rise 2.1 degrees by 2100.” Yes, but what if they don’t stick to their pledges? So far, there is no indication that Western countries, let alone developing countries, will be able to meet these pledges and impose the above mentioned sacrifices on their populations.

Adolf Hitler in private – a jolly good Fellow?

Experts are surrounded by their own aura. They know everything about a certain subject, which they have usually studied all their lives – this seems to make them unassailable. But why, then, does a popular German saying deny them a truly profound knowledge? There is often but a single step from specialism to professional blindness! Continue reading Adolf Hitler in private – a jolly good Fellow?

Are we still in control of our Brave New Artificial World? (Decomplexation I)

All countries that have the means to do so regard the digitization of information and its transmission as one of the most important technical tasks. In this way, growing volumes of data can be utilized in ever shorter time intervals. Nuclear power plants, ballistic missiles, drones, driverless cars, and surgical procedures can be controlled remotely. State surveillance of entire populations is just as possible as influencing the voting behavior of perfectly screened citizens.

It has, of course, been a trivial truth for thousands of years that knives can be used to cut open pumpkins or murder people. It should therefore not come as a surprise that Google may help us to gain an insight into thousands of facts on the one hand, while at the same time it subjects us to constant observation. SoIn other words, I do not want to criticize digitization for the mere fact that like all other technological breakthroughs, it may be used and misused at the same time. Instead, I would like to focus on a completely different aspect – one hardly ever taken into account: the increasing complexity of the new artificial world we have ourselves created.

Such complexity means first of all

that an overwhelming majority of contemporaries no longer understand the things they routinely use every day. While a car still belongs to the analog world, so that most of us can explain how and why it moves at all, more than ninety-nine out of a hundred people have no idea what happens in everyday gadgets like a cell phone. At first glance, this fact need not cause concern. Our body and brain provide us with the most amazing services every day, but even the greatest luminaries of medicine and neurology have only just unraveled some of the processes that take place within them at any given moment.

In other words, the natural world has always been a mystery to man, but this lack of understanding has not prevented even Stone Age people from subjecting it to their needs. Indeed, the complexity of the natural world stretching from atoms to cosmic galaxies never affected human survival. But what about the artificial world of computers, robots, nuclear-powered intercontinental rockets and the like, which we created ourselves? Is their growing complexity just as insignificant with regard to the individual and social existence of humans? Apparently not. The artificial world confronts us with existential problems that never existed in the past.

Here we come across a first Basic Law

The number of those who, due to their mental abilities and training, are able to develop, maintain and monitor the hardware and software of this artificial world is decreasing to the same extent as the latter’s complexity is increasing.

This is an inevitable consequence resulting from the fact that the Gaussian normal distribution of technical intelligence does not depend on our needs but is a constant (in every population there are only so and so many percent of people whose technical IQ exceeds a certain value). From the outset, therefore, only a fraction of the population can be considered as pioneers and waiting personnel for this need. Even if this potential is up to now far from being exhausted in countries with large populations such as India or China, the first Basic Law nevertheless indicates that it is bound to be constantly reduced in the future because increasing complexity will steeply raise the demands on technical intelligence. Not only today’s 99 percent of people will no longer understand the cell phones of the n-th generation, but the remaining one percent will also melt down to a residual value.

Complexity will be increased in two ways

In the analog age, no special technical skills were required to run a private institute like for instance a bank. This situation has changed fundamentally today. Every financial institution in our time must expect to become inoperative from one moment to the next unless highly paid specialists set up, maintain and update the programs that electronically manage and control the flow of money around the clock. Since national boundaries have long been crossed, international networking is further increasing complexity.

And this is only part of the story. Specialists – on the one hand brilliant amateurs, on the other hand equally highly paid experts from competing countries – do their utmost to gain unauthorized access to their systems. These ongoing attacks are another driving force behind the spiral of complexity in existing systems. Not only banks are affected by this compulsion, but also all manufacturing companies, which are becoming larger and larger for this very reason, because otherwise they would not be able to afford the required number of such specialists.

This results in a second Basic Law

The compulsion for size also results from the costs of increasing complexity. The consequences for society are already beginning to emerge. They are anything but harmless. I can still remember the fun I had as a child using the square beer coasters on the table of a pub to build a tower that could grow up to five stories high, but usually collapsed after the third. What will our future look like when the artificial world around us grows more complex with each passing year? The danger of a system collapse increases with every floor we add to the tower. To prevent this from happening, the demands on maintenance and monitoring must be increased at least to the same extent.

At this point a third Basic Law comes into effect

namely, the compulsion to massively expand technical education, especially in computer science, so that the potential of technical intelligence available in a given population is exploited to the greatest extent possible. From elementary school (perhaps even kindergarten) to universities, technical education will take up an ever greater share of the curriculum, pushing the traditional subjects, first and foremost, of course, the humanities, more and more into the background – a process that we are already witnessing all over the world. However, this tendency, forced by the growing complexity of systems, is in strange contrast to the intentions to which it owes its origins. We once believed that technology would simplify life, relieve people of the tiresome everyday material worries in order to free their minds for higher purposes.

These expectations came true in many respects. For a mother in Vienna, it is undoubtedly a tremendous relief to be able to call her son in New York at any time or transfer money electronically. At least in its initial phase, technical progress was really what it was meant to be: a breathtaking advance into a fantastic world previously imagined only by storytellers.

In the meantime, this fairytale time lies behind us. Not only revolutions, but complexity too devours its children. We know, for example, that fast breeders may significantly stretch the uranium reserves. That is the reason why China, in particular, is sticking with this technology. Other countries such as Germany have turned away from it because the extraordinarily high complexity of such plants extremely increases the risk of wholesale nuclear contamination.

Fourth Basic Law

Extreme risks lead to just as extreme measures of control and thus further the more or less apparent transition to the surveillance state – a trend to be noticed not only in China. Even among sociologists, it is common practice to interpret such surveillance by the state primarily in political terms, as if it were based primarily on evil intentions and lust for power. Undoubtedly, this is often enough the case, but an increasingly large part of central supervision is due to modern technology, that is to the growing complexity of our modern artificial world. As the consequences of sabotage become more and more devastating and costly, states strive to prevent them from happening in the first place by means of complete surveillance, which of course increasingly restricts human freedom. The fourth Basic Law says:

Not only sabotage but technical progress as such is to blame

For example, just consider the quantum computer, a product of outstanding technical intelligence. The moment it will be marketable, so that every private individual can buy it, it will be just as elementary a threat to society as the many nuclear arsenals that meanwhile even small countries can afford to develop and own. From one day to the next, banks will lose their protection against hackers because the new technology will be able to crack all existing codes in a matter of seconds. All money is then on the plate for all the world to take away, so to speak.

In the end, technicians will, of course, develop counter-strategies. As of now, the largest banks are already looking for these in the field of quantum encryption. But the necessary consequence will be a further increase in complexity and much higher costs. In other words, we are rapidly approaching the point where the tower collapses, because constant increases in complexity will no longer be either manageable or affordable.

In the arms industry this point has already been reached

Our “Brave New Artificial World” has now reached a point where with every passing day, there is a growing likelihood that something might “happen” because of mere chance or human failure. This is the inevitable result of nuclear missiles becoming faster and faster so that the advance warning time for their impact likewise becomes smaller and smaller. In the case of a first strike on the part of the opponent, both Russians and Americans will no longer dispose of about half an hour after its discovery as was still the case a couple of decades ago. Now that a few days ago Russia successfully demonstrated to the world the test flight of “Zircon”, a rocket of nine times supersonic speed, this already minimal period has shrunk to a few minutes (depending on where the nuclear missiles are fired from).

Fortunately, the danger of an arbitrary first strike by a superpower is so small that an optimist may completely neglect it. No president is so powerful that he would not have to consult with his military beforehand – and the military knows the consequences quite well. The situation is quite different with the second strike, which may be triggered by sheer misinformation. That is exactly what happened in the Soviet Union in 1983. At the very last moment the apocalyptic counter strike was prevented by the great Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov. As for the US after Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis, an auxiliary (currently female) has to follow an American president wherever he goes with a special black suitcase, so that he is able to give the final order for a nuclear second strike in case an inimical first strike has been spotted. Since a first strike only makes sense if it destroys the enemy’s entire nuclear arsenal, the second strike must likewise be of maximum strength. Due to the minimal time window of meanwhile five minutes, a serious consultation with the military has, of course, become all but impossible. The president of a superpower must either rely on computers or on his guts to decide whether or not he will reduce the globe to rubble.

Whether we like it or not, we must acknowledge a fifth Basic Law

The growing complexity of the artificial world we have ourselves created has increased our freedom only in specific cases, but has radically restricted it as a whole, since the self-extinction of the human species – the maximum loss of freedom – hovers over our heads for the first time in history as a real danger and perspective. Even if – for reasons of mental health – we suppress this sinister possibility from our consciousness, we cannot overlook the prospect that growing complexity is pushing humanity towards a systemic collapse and therefore towards a total negation of freedom.

In the field of armament, where each superpower forces the other to respond to growing speed and deadliness with ever faster and more lethal systems, the state of unstable complexity has already been reached. The banking system will soon reach that point when all codes can be deciphered effortlessly. The technical progress in genetics is also heading in the direction of a complexity that threatens to elude the control even of experts, since we will probably never know for sure what long term effects selective interventions in the genetic material will have on the organism as a whole.

But the now classic example of potentially fatal effects

of growing complexity is the fossil-industrial revolution itself, whose main feature is the increasing hunger for resources on the one hand and their transformation into waste products largely consisting of non-biodegradable toxins, on the other. We know that the removal of CO2 from the air, of plastics from the seas and of electronic, industrial and radiating nuclear waste from the ground represent the great unresolved problems of our time.  While initially only raw materials such as coal were mined, thousands of other substances up to the rare earth elements have now been added. However, the waste materials and potential toxins are already in the hundreds of thousands. We thus exponentially increased the complexity of our interventions in nature – with consequences that can no longer be ignored. Climate change is only the most visible sign that the artificial tower could very well collapse.

Failure of ethical control

Technology is a subsystem within social realms while technical intelligence constitutes a subsystem within the mental abilities of human beings. As long as technology serves man, that is, human society as a whole, we have reason to call its achievements “progress”. But as soon as the technical subsystem becomes independent and – due to its growing complexity – turns into a danger for the social system as a whole (and that of nature), we are forced to speak of its achievements as “technical regression”. With the large-scale destruction of the natural foundations of life, the fossil-industrial epoch has reached a stage where this “technical regression” is visible to everyone and (at least in the field of armaments) even questions man’s very survival.

With regard to the human body, we speak of cancer when a subsystem gets out of control. Then we say that the immune system is failing, i.e. the body’s defenses. If, on the other hand, technology gets out of control, then the immune system of a society is damaged. Its ethical controls no longer work – those controls, which examine and evaluate all human activities according to whether they are beneficial or harmful to the common good.

The ethical control of the whole

over its parts – its diverse subsystems – should be a matter of course. In the case of technology, it has failed because a taboo stands in the way, which has by now been hardened into dogma. The dogma looks somewhat like this: Every new discovery in the field of natural sciences represents an expansion of our knowledge – which is undoubtedly correct – and is therefore a blessing for mankind – which is undoubtedly incorrect.

The historical roots of this dogma are rooted in the fact that the beneficial effects of technical progress were long felt to be so overwhelming that the doubt about it could be dismissed as mere backwardness and stupidity. This explains why every time a Nobel Prize is awarded to the luminaries of science, humanity falls into a kind of euphoria, even though it is precisely this newly acquired knowledge that tends to increase complexity in our artificial world and heightens its instability. We are on the way to hopelessly damaging the natural world with its artificial counterpart, but it is still considered the worst heresy to doubt technology itself, even though it has brought about this process in the first place.

Decomplexation – the new Basic Law

If we do not want to fail because of the self-created complexity of the new artificial world, only decomplexation, i.e. the conscious reduction of complexity, can save us. Of course, this does not mean a revolt against technology, as if we had to regress back to the early Stone Age, where only a few thousand people in small hordes passed through Europe. Technical intelligence has long been our destiny and the artificial world is a subsystem that we can no longer do without. But this system needs strict control in order not to become completely uncontrollable.

Once society regains control over its technical subsystem, it will not only prohibit further research on nuclear, biological and chemical weapons but will also ensure that no more money is made available for research that promotes the development of a surveillance state and thus the suppression of freedom. Knowledge in itself, for example knowledge about how we may kill people en masse, has no value at all, but only knowledge that promotes life and freedom. Society therefore has not only the right but an obligation to distinguish between ethically valuable and ethically dangerous knowledge – to promote the one and to bring research on the other under its control. Because knowledge and truth are by no means neutral seen from the ethical perspective. We owe to a philanthropic science that service of truth which, in the 17. and 18. centuries, the times of Enlightenment, had successfully eliminated so many dogmatic lies. But knowledge and truth, which serve the development of weapons of mass destruction or increase complexity to the point of uncontrollability, retrospectively call into question all previous achievements that science and technology conferred on man.

Ye shall know them by their Fruits!

This classic saying from the New Testament (Matthew 7:16) confronts effect and cause. A bad effect is not likely to have a good cause, and vice versa. Thorns do not bear grapes, and we find no figs on thistles. We should therefore not rely on fine words and theories. What counts are the effects that arise from them.

Continue reading Ye shall know them by their Fruits!

Charles Darwin, Chance and the good Lord – a Philosophical Excursion

In 1970 Jacques Monod’s seminal book “Le Hasard et la Nécessité” (Chance and Necessity) was published, on the cover of which the renowned biochemist summed up in a single and concise formula the world view that had dominated first Europe and then the entire world since the 17th century. For the objective scientist, so Monod’s message, the world is nothing but chance and necessity. For there is nothing in the world but these two principles alone: on the one hand, necessity representing that order, which the natural sciences explore in the shape of laws, and on the other hand, chance, which denotes the void within this order – in other words, a meaningless nothing with which science does not know what to do. Since Monod established this formula, neurology has made tremendous progress, his book is certainly no longer “up-to-date”, but the view that reality has nothing else to offer but these two dimensions has become even more entrenched. According to a now prevalent view, our world is made of calculable mechanisms of the physical and neuronal world, and the yawning emptiness of meaningless chance.

Continue reading Charles Darwin, Chance and the good Lord – a Philosophical Excursion