Mystic Tyranny

From Ayn Rand’s “Faith and Force: the Destroyers of the Modern World” [1960]:

“Western civilization was the child and product of reason – via ancient Greece. In all other civilisations, reason has always been the menial servant – the handmaiden – of mysticism. You may observe the results. It is only Western culture that has ever been dominated – imperfectly, incompletely, precariously and at rare intervals – but still dominated by reason. You may observe the results of that.

The conflict of reason versus mysticism is the issue of life or death – of freedom or slavery – of progress or stagnant brutality. Or, to put it another way, it is the conflict of consciousness versus unconsciousness.”

Not quite, I think, but fighting talk nevertheless. Without the battles at Marathon, Thermopylae and the Straits of Salamis, Western civilisation would not exist – at least not in its present form. Aristotle, born about 100 years after Thermopylae, would have been a Persian slave and, without him, we might very well not be having the reasoned and sober debate which has so captured the public imagination about the newest Satan, Global Warming. Twenty-five years ago, we were taught with equal seriousness that a new ice age was imminent and a nuclear winter was a distinct possibility. Both were derived from an imperfectly grasped Aristotelian response. It would seem that we are no nearer to globally workable policy after Copenhagen than before it, if indeed workable policy or ‘doing something’ is an appropriate method for dealing with a problem that we cannot even define accurately.

It has been alleged that everyone is either a Platonist or an Aristotelian. Broad-brush, intellectuals are Platonists, everyone else is Aristotelian.

Plato supposed there to be two realities – a higher realm of timeless, abstract perfection and the degraded, illusory world we think we perceive with our senses. For Platonists, “higher truths” are revealed to an intellectual elite-presumably by the gods-and cannot be communicated or explained to the masses, who stubbornly cling to “common sense” – reason and logic.

Aristotle, the father of logic, held that there is only one reality, the world we perceive by our senses. For Aristotelians, all knowledge is derived from sensory observation by a process of abstraction and conceptualisation. Aristotle rejected Plato’s mystical, elitist tendencies and held that by adherence to logic we can and must make rational sense of everything. This being so, and with our cultural history, why are we failing to make sense of what is manifestly happening around us? If the Earth is getting warmer, why can we not predict accurately exactly why, hence what can be done to maintain the status quo? Perhaps the answer lies outside of Aristotle’s logic; instead it belongs to Plato’s ‘higher thought’. Perhaps the Earth itself is the mystic tyrant, bending us all to its will. One way or another.

The image is of the last stand of the Spartans at Thermopylae, refusing to submit to the slavery of King Xerxes of Persia.

One thought on “Mystic Tyranny

  1. It appears the recently blogged scepticism of your earlier posts was borne out in reality. Imagine that. Probably the most enlightening thing I've realized since beginning my sojourn in the land of sand and 'inShallah' is that the Western (logical) mindset is just that… a cognitive schema. I think we've missed a lot by pathologically denying the mystical when considering reality.
    Global Warming is a “logical construct” based on data collected over such a miniscule period (in relation to time itself) that one could be forgiven for wondering if the idea (and the phrase) will drop off the hot topics list as did 'Nuclear Winter?' What will we be freaked out about 25 years hence? Let's apply some logic to the question…shall we?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.