Archive for February, 2017

When did the Righteous start attacking Science?

February 28, 2017

Its probably complicated. It probably began with religions resisting evolution, to increase their inerrancy, and to avoid change. They could argue that by challenging religion, science became immoral. Then it moved into commerce. Business resisted being put to extra costs when science discovered health problems with products. Smoking, for example, became branded as a right, a freedom, its health consequences denied.

So, it became relatively common to attack science for commercial and ideological purposes long before it was mainstream amidst the righteous. Indeed the right used to champion military and commercial science as the way of the future, just as much as the left.

However problems also arose with scientists talking down to and at people, and arrogantly assuring them that their fears about technological projects were misplaced. The failure of official science was marked by the disasters of thalidomide, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, the racist studies of infection, and so on. Commercial science, in particular, was governed by profit, not accuracy or safety. Then there was the use of science as a death machine – agent orange, napalm, nuclear weapons and so on – with little recompense to those damaged by it. There were constant changes in medical recommendations, and a relatively high level of iatrogenic disease (disease generated by medical techniques). Consequently even more people felt alienated from a science they had no input into.

Then, the big move occurred. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the State had expanded to include not only all men with property, but propertyless women, black people and so on, and by the late sixties and early seventies, ordinary people were active within that State, demanding equality, services and the end to elite authority. The righteous panicked.

Samuel Huntington wrote about this “democratic distemper” or “excess of democracy” in his report to the Trilateral commission on The Crisis of Democracy. The power of the people who *should* have power was being disturbed, chaos was emerging. His recommendation was to encourage voter apathy – to get people out of participating in the State.

This was achieved by encouraging distrust of government; so what was the point of people getting involved? The after events of Nixon was used to promote this idea, as was the Vietnam war. The free market was to be trusted rather than political action. Money and business were marks of virtue, everything else was pretense. You were to look after yourself and avoid government ‘interference’. You got out of politics that could impact the ruling class and just guarded your personal property. This was portrayed as part of the way to end elite authority, with the only elites in this view being left wing or governmental – wealth was not a thing that defined elites or marked power differentials. Hence the eager funding of libertarian think tanks. This meant removing what we knew about social action from the public domain. Social ‘science’ (such that it was) was declared to be interfering and communist etc.

These ideas promised to deliver liberty and prosperity for all. They couldn’t and didn’t. We have had 35 to 40 years of them, and they have never delivered. Wages became stagnant, wealth was distributed to the rulers, social mobility collapsed, the State was used to impose restrictions on ordinary people, people became more alienated from governmental processes, commercial media saw their job as largely supporting this order, rather than any alternative, as they were part of the corporate class.

Growing failure meant scapegoats had to be found. It was said to be the fault of immigrants, the fault of intellectuals, the fault of minorities, the fact that we had not got 100% free markets. Anything but the fault of the ideology itself, or behaviour of the corporate class. Once it became clear that science implied that the social order was coming to an end through environmental destruction, it became important to attack science to continue the arrangement and entrench the power.

The attack made use of techniques pioneered by tobacco, religion, libertarians, and so on. It fitted in with the official ideology by making your freedom the freedom to be anti-science and anti-the-authority-of-knowledge, it supposedly demonstrated your ability to think against the grain (as it agreed with the ruling ideology). It allowed political action and involvement. It gave people some sense of importance in the alienated world they lived in….

It helped save the power of the rulers for a bit longer, and they gamble that they will be rich enough to ride out the coming troubles, as money gives you everything…. at least so they think.

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Spirituality in the Anthropocene

February 26, 2017

I keep reading and hearing people saying, or implying, that what we need is a spiritual approach to fix the problems we face. I hear this a lot in the Depth Psychology community in particular.

I think this is fundamentally wrong. Spirituality is not automatically a solution, and ‘rationality’ is not always a problem. Human knowing is very often fallible, irrespective of its source, and this should be remembered, otherwise both spirituality and reason become props for the ego, its limitations and defence, rather than ways of accessing knowledge or relatedness.

The potential problems with spirituality seem as important to me, in terms of our ecological problems, as is the use of science or technology to ‘control’ nature.

For example, in Western and many other traditions, spirituality has been used to deny the reality of nature, or used as a means to get out of nature or to diminish nature. Christianity and Islam have both taught that our true life is elsewhere. It is not in nature. Nature is a snare, at best a distraction to be mastered. Reality is found after death.

Intensely spiritual people can believe and intuit strongly that everything is in the hands of God, and that humans can do nothing to hurt the cosmos. They can be both calm and beautiful as they destroy the world. They could for example, think it is their duty to cut down forests and destroy fertile fields to bring forth their temples, unaware of what they are doing, or even condemning those who protest as heretics or unspiritual. They can be passionately devoted to killing people or animals as sacrifices to the Gods.

Perhaps one of the most harmful ideas ever proposed, is the spiritual idea/experience usually associated with Plato, that the real is perfect and unchanging and not of this world. This may completely alienate people from any engagement with life and the natural world as it is, as that is constantly in flux, birth, death and decay. The acceptance of such an idea, and the spiritual practices around it, may mark our initial separation from Nature, and our attempts to control it rather than live with it.

There is nothing inherent in spirituality which leads to a beneficial interrelationship with natural processes. Spirituality can impose a hostile order on the world as much as any reason.

Similarly, while we may want to forget, war can be intensely a matter of spirituality. Not just for zen samurai, Vikings, Nazis, shaolin monks, warring Tibetan temples, jihading Muslims, Crusading Christians, and Aztec warriors gathering sacrificial prisoners, but to ordinary people who may frequently tell you that they felt more alive, more connected and more meaningful when the war was on. Not all people feel this way, of course, some live in terror and die in agony. However, this aspect of spirit should not be forgotten.

People can see the position put forward here as an attack on valuable experiences. However, I want to suggest that ‘peak experiences’ or ‘spiritual experiences’ have little to do with ‘spirituality’. They are, in some ways, frequently ‘mundane’, they seem to happen irrespective of whether a person is particularly spiritual or not. They might imply connection, or simply the sheer strange presence of something different from yourself. Spirituality has little to do with this, and is more like a theory of everything or an approach to the world.

Whatever it is, spirituality is often assumed to be good, and in opposition to whatever is bad – many people seem very confident of that. Indeed, contemporary spirituality is often defined by opposition. It is opposed to logos, it is not science, it is not reason, it is not materialism. People also seem to assume that logos, reason and so forth have the dominant position in the world, and are therefore responsible for the destruction we observe. However, even a brief look at our politics should lead to that particular theory being cast aside. Reason, whatever its failings, is not even vaguely dominant. If it was then we would be seeing some attempts to deal with climate change. Science is largely captive to State and commercial interests.

Given the oppositions people set up, it becomes too easy for spiritually aligned people to say science is the problem, and spirituality is the solution, when they may well be both parts of the problem and solution. The Sacred and the Profane are perhaps not separate… Personally I was relieved to discover that anthropologists decided this distinction was not present in many societies.

Historically, spirituality has grown up alongside (and with) logos, science, materialism, reason; and similarly they grow out of it. As mutually dependent, both ‘sides’ are as responsible for our problems as anything else.

Jungians might be expected to sit with these opposites, rather than to declare one side responsible for harm and the other good. We might find that both are necessary, to correct the other, or we might find that we discover something new.

???

February 25, 2017

I wonder how many Americans voted for increasing the vulnerability of endangered animals, because corporate profits are more important than bald eagles and wolves and bears and other crap like that.

Disturbance in the rank

February 25, 2017

Deposed Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott is continuing his campaign of not sniping or undermining his government, and indeed, as he suggests, it might be a good idea to discuss right wing policies and why they could be unpopular – but lets discuss the real ones:

1) Boosting the wealth of the already wealthy

2) Cutting the income of everyone else

3) Making government services punitive, unless you are handing public property or service to the ‘private sector’

4) Doing nothing about climate change, as that might conflict with one and two.

5) Removing regulations which try to make people in corporations vaguely responsible for what the corporation does.

6) Trying to hide the effects of the real policies on ordinary people, by attacking ‘outsiders’ such as: Muslims, gays, refugees, ‘intellectuals’.

7) Blaming the media when people on the right look incompetent, even when the media is on their side.

8) Breaking out the Champaign whenever they succeed in (2)


What surprises me, is that supposed contemporary ‘conservatives’ do not seem to believe in conserving much.


They don’t want to conserve the checks and balances that have evolved to protect traditional values and life from business. They don’t want to preserve the environment, ecology and beauty of the countryside from the ravages of business. They don’t want to preserve the climate of the last 10,000 or so years. They don’t want to preserve the ability of people to get a decent education if they are not wealthy. They don’t want to preserve government from corruption by business. And so on.


They certainly never talk as if they do.

Capitalism and ecological crisis

February 25, 2017

Is capitalist culture responsible for the Anthropocene?

While there are obviously variants, and capitalist culture is not the only culture, it seems to have a fundamentalist grip on our government and media; it is vitally important and cannot be ignored as a probable factor.

Some common features of capitalist culture might include:

1) Money is the measure of all things and all virtues. If something is not sellable or not privately owned it is not worthwhile. On the other hand, if it makes money it must be good (with very rare exceptions).

2) Wealth = virtue and power. Government ideally should serve business and profit alone. Attempts to regulate ecological damage from business are controversial as they could impede wealth and virtue.

3) You must fill spiritual yearnings and desires for recognition by consumption. Buy, buy, buy endlessly. The point of living is to buy. Freedom is the power to choose between products or brands.

4) All businesses must expand operations, and expand profit, to stay attractive to investors. Expansion means more consumption of material, and more destruction of nature. In capitalism production drives destruction.

5) Pollution is a way of cutting costs for a business, increasing profit and spreading the burden of cost to others. It is a straightforward business decision.

6) Nature is passive, and therefore inferior. It suffers the impacts of society. It is there for our taking and raping. It gives and gives and gives, and requires nothing back.

7) Most of what is measured as wealth is owned by a very few. Eight people are supposed to own the same as the lowest 50% of the global population. Supposedly, forty or fifty Banks own or control most of the corporations in the world. Similarly, most of the pollution is produced by a very few, but owned by the many.

Consequently, some call this age the capitalocene, as not every human society contributes to ecological disaster equally. However being capitalist is unlikely to protect you in the end.

Diminishing difference

February 25, 2017

There is a rather weird form of argument I often find used by Americans.

It goes like this: ” ‘A’ is bad and ‘B’ is hugely bad. This means that you should not have a preference between the two as they are both bad.”

This is like saying if I have a choice between a cold and meningitis, I should not chose the cold. If I have a choice between Stalin and Pence, I should not protest about the possibility of Stalin.

So it goes: Clinton was probably going to continue the Bush wars in the ‘Middle East’ – ok that’s bad.
Trump has threatened to use nukes in the Middle East, supports Russian tactics in the area, and wants to exterminate members of ISIS and their families, and of course continue the wars with massive increases in military spending. Trump also threatens US allies, to make it more likely the US will have to do this by itself. Hugely bad.
The argument is that you can’t possibly object to Trump as they are both equally bad.

Clinton supports Wall Street. bad
Trump supports Wall street and wants total deregulation to allow companies to rip people off without the remotest fear of being held responsible. Hugely bad.
But there is really no difference.

Clinton is said to be sympathetic to fossil fuel companies (despite Republicans previously arguing that she wasn’t) – ok bad.
Trump will support fossil fuel companies, force constructions of pipelines, allow fossil fuel companies to write his policies (not just on energy but apparently on foreign affairs), remove controls over pollution and environmental damage and so on. Hugely bad.
No difference, so can’t object to Trump.

Clinton supports a State.
Trump supports the State and massive police action, removal of important data from websites, large scale, deportations and threatens any independent comment and the judiciary. Appoints more people with vested interests to his Cabinet than anyone in living memory.
This is obviously the same thing.

Even if my facts are wrong, and I hope they are not, these strange argument patterns are what I experience almost daily.

Fake News

February 15, 2017

What would be being said if we had a vaguely left wing media?

This is my attempt an opinion piece for such a fictitious venue.

The situation is dire. For the last nearly 40 years both mainstream parties have been pursuing the neoliberal vision of endless vaunting of free markets and business. They have repeatedly said that acting on these assumptions will lead to greater liberty and efficiency. Here at the Global Left we recognise that these predictions have always been wrong or were possibly deliberate lies to begin with. On the other hand, our own predictions about neoliberalism have been validated. With its enforcement; the economy has become permanently unstable, the median wage has stagnated, most ordinary jobs are insecure, industry has closed down, social security and education have been eviscerated, government services for ordinary people have declined or become punitive, public/collective property has been sold off, business fraud is mainstream, welfare for corporations has increased, business competition has declined, the tax burden has shifted to the middle class, people have become alienated from politics, every policy is decided by whether it profits established business, virtue and values go out the window, the right has started culture wars because it needs to distract people from reality, and there is a general retreat from democracy into authoritarianism.

By now we have plenty of experience of ‘privatisation’ and of ‘public-private’ partnerships, and we know what this means. Invariably in privatisation, income for the high-level executives increases magnificently, the workers who provide the service are cut back, maintenance and resilience decrease, services for ordinary people decrease, and prices increase. In public private partnerships we suddenly find it impossible to find out how much we the tax-payers are paying or what we have given the company because of ‘commercial in-confidence’. What a wonderful arrangement – for business. Nothing for us.

This is, we might suspect, the kind of situation ‘free markets’ always lead to.

We have also learnt, if we needed to, that capitalism is completely unable to deal with ecological crisis because it is too tied up in maintaining business as usual or profit, and it is the main cause of the problems. Put simply the response of capitalism to ecological crisis has been to hire people to lie for it, and pretend there is no problem. Neoliberalism is still loudly cheered on by business funded think tanks, as despite its overt failure to deliver for the people, it does deliver for the corporate sector. Neoliberal governments have also tried to supress knowledge, stopping public servants from mentioning climate change, forbidding scientists from speaking in public, destroying libraries, clearing websites of information, trying to stop research funding. You might think that this would attract attention among those who claim to be suspicious of governments, but it apparently doesn’t.

Corporations have lots of money to throw about and purchase liars, because of the political restructuring which has gifted them with a much greater share of the wealth generated by their workers, and because ‘truth’ has become whatever makes a profit. Most of the media is also owned by the corporate sector, acts in that sector’s self-interest and takes this propaganda for granted. Neoliberalism has proved of wondrous benefit to corporations, but a curse to everyone else. We say that capitalism is strong and does not need the coddling it gets from neoliberals. Indeed it is better for it to face its customers as equals.

As we all should know, the Great Economic crisis of 2008 onwards was primarily caused by two factors: firstly financial corporations joined together extremely risky investments and sounder investments and sold them as ‘safe’ with the full approval of credit ratings agencies; secondly the mortgage industry deceptively sold people mortgages which they could not pay off with the aim of repossessing their houses and selling them for more than they were mortgaged for, taking the repayments with them. These two frauds were combined to make an even more unstable product which people were encouraged to invest in. The whole basis for the booming economy and the resulting collapse was fraud, and having so much money which was not going into wages or to the productive economy. Neoliberals sat back and cheered the triumph of the free market and claimed the only problem was that there were still some regulations which tried to prevent fraud. President Bush’s solution was to throw tax payers money at the elite benefactors from the fraud, without any oversight. President Obama was declared a socialist for asking these corporations to treat further tax payer monies as loans. A real socialist would have made sure the money got to the ordinary folk being defrauded, so they could keep their homes at the rates they agreed to, and not be losing their life savings and be thrown onto the streets, even when mortgage companies could not produce the paperwork that gave them the right to throw people out.

In the US, Donald Trump correctly diagnosed the dissatisfaction of working America with this neoliberal economic mess.  However, as we predicted, he is trying to fix it with more of the ‘solutions’ that caused the problems in the first place: tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, removal of regulations which tried to prevent corporations from poisoning people, removal of regulations the previous president re-introduced which tried to make corporations even vaguely responsible for the fraud and deception they carried out, cut backs to welfare programs and increased spending on the military. This is made more attractive by a little protectionism promised on the side, but not yet delivered; and we can be sure that when it is delivered, it will be delivered to protect useless or powerful companies.

Let us be clear, tax cuts for corporations do not generate jobs, they simply lead to higher executive salaries, more money for stock holders and more money to gamble on financial markets. In neoliberalism, mainstream ‘jobs’ are simply a cost to be eliminated.

By preserving the problem, President Trump has not ‘drained the swamp’ of his cabinet, but brought new infections. He has business finance controlled by representatives of financial corporations, environment by polluters, and so on. Mr. Trump will not do anything that will endanger his apparent business interests or the business interests of those he is allied to; to hell with anyone else. He is, of course, continuing the culture war, to try and convince his supporters he has something in common with them. Hopefully this is failing and, as we can see, many people are protesting and standing firm for American tradition and the rule of law, rather than the rule of presidential whim.

It is ever the way that the ruling class will cling to their basis for power, even when it is bringing about general destruction.

During the primaries, we tried to ignore Trump and, when that was impossible, covered his business scandals and incompetancies, especially the ways that he cheerfully sacrificed his workers and creditors for his own benefit. We covered his obvious vengefulness (which increases the probability of war and governmental repression of his enemies), his inability to understand ecological issues, and all his other lazy ignorance, but the rest of the media gave him free publicity, or asked him questions about his favourite bible verse. His reply “an eye for an eye” did show something about him, but it was not elaborated.

In Australia we warned that Tony Abbott was not going to be an improvement on Julia Gillard. He was a hardline neoliberal head kicker, who wanted to impose his version of Catholicism on everyone. However, our rivals in the Murdoch Empire and the Fairfax Flutter, did their absolute best to promote him, rewrite his past, and attack Gillard and Labor. The result was as we expected. We ended up with a Prime Minister with a marvelous sense of his own entitlement and completely unable to negotiate. His first budget collapsed under the weight of this inability, the number of election promises it broke, and the attempt to fix Australia’s debt by kicking ordinary Australians and making them carry the burden. Furthermore, as we might expect, he fled from the environmental crisis into support for the coal industry at all costs, with the added bonus of attacking renewable energy whenever possible. It is conceivable that he headed the worst, most delusional, government in Australia’s history.

We had hoped that when this self-generated political crisis reached breaking point that Malcolm Turnbull might take his party into some vague encounter with reality, but so far he has knelt before the lunatic and failed right and refused to do anything to tackle our problems. He continues the fixed genuflection towards capital and wealth, as is most clearly shown by his staunch attack on minor union fraud, as contrasted with his happiness for the banks to regulate themselves when almost every other week the business pages fill with stories about the latest fraud and deception against small customers. These financial frauds have amounted to billions. If real, as alleged, they are major crimes, and yet nothing is to be done. Similarly we have revealed how large companies are routinely defrauding workers of their legal wages. But nothing is to be done.

Such large scale theft by business is of no concern to the government at all, indeed they are more likely to make it retrospectively legal than they are to prosecute. Neoliberalism implies the doctrine that if a business is big enough, then any fraud is acceptable if it primarily affects ordinary people. Profit is God. Class war on ordinary people is a duty. We say, profit is useful but it is not everything.

What can we do? As we have said, in Australia, Labor is a neoliberal party of a slightly less rigorous bent than the current government. When in government they failed to take on the mining corporations, they failed to promote their own climate policies, they did nothing to recapture tax revenue lost through various corporate tricks. They spend as much time attacking the Greens as they do attacking the Government. However, they are clearly better than the current bunch of incompetent, endlessly self-pleased baboons. So we would suggest that you vote for them in the lower house and press them to shed this stupid affectation that corporate business is the only valuable social and individual activity. For the upper house vote Green. The Greens do not have the experience of government that Labor does (although any ignorance, intransigence and stupidity is less a problem for them than it is for Trump as many of them have some experience and don’t have to engage in self-deception to the same extent), but they will at least attempt to recognise that we live in a time which requires urgent change and not endless thumb twiddling and praise of CEOs.

You too can get out in the streets and protest, write to your MPs talk to your friends, participate. Democracy is about participation. The government depends on you. It is your servant, however much neoliberals want it to be your boss. Don’t allow them to shout you down and talk you out of politics. Organise locally, get your community involved in deciding their future, rather than leaving it to the corporate sector. If you are not the solution, then you are betraying your children or other people’s children. In the terms of a well-known Hopi Indian speech: “You are the people you are waiting for”.

Neoliberal Rorts

February 5, 2017
In Australia, politicians from all sides do things like rort expenses. However those on the right seem particularly prone to do this and in a big way. Why?

We could argue that they are stupid. After all, after one important politician loses her position because she chartered a helicopter to make a 20 minute car drive (or whatever) to a party fund raising event, it could seem problematic to charter an aircraft to fly a normal commercial route? Apparently not.

While it is tempting to dismiss the right as inherently stupid, I don’t think this can be done. They do not seem stupid.

What is probably the problem is that the right is composed almost entirely of ‘neoliberals’; that is people who think that the free market is good/god, and that wealthy people should be rewarded and poorer people punished. Wealth is the only value, and it should reward virtue.

As they are virtuous people (because they believe in , defend, and act on neoliberal principles) it follows that they should be entitled to wealth like corporate executives are.

So by claiming transport costs, holidays in resorts, or charter flights on the taxpayers, they are not being criminal, or stupid, they are simply carrying out the principles of neoliberalism.

In the same way, Centrelink fishing for overpayment and threatening people on social security is also part of neoliberalism. According to the theories and hopes of the right, virtuous people, living in the market, should always have a full time job, and if they don’t they are rorting the system and should be punished.

Of course they are primarily punishing those people who have managed to get some work but, in neoliberalism, punishment of relative poverty is always appropriate.

Politicians on the right are also more prone to lying, because of their commitment to neoliberalism, as the only evaluation is profit. Whatever makes a profit is true.

The reality is that giving corporations more power through free market talk and tax cuts has not delivered liberty or prosperity for most people, as was promised. It has delivered stagnant wages, a punitive state, ecological destruction and cultural warfare (as a distraction).

If the right accepted this truth, then they would have to recognize that the last 35 years of right wing policy has failed, and they would have to change. It is easier to continue to lie and rort the system, while hoping they will survive, even if their electorate does not.

So the argument is that they rort because they are dedicated in hope to a failed system and its values. For them, there is still no alternative which would maintain the power and wealth of the establishment. They rort to make neoliberalism true.

Mssrs.Trump and Putin

February 5, 2017

Mr. Trump has just said, in an interview on Fox, that the US is as murderous as Russia and we should not criticise Russia as a result. While possibly true (although US Presidents don’t usually have their opposition killed), this is probably a preview of how his administration will behave.

I keep reading right wing support for Trump’s happy affair with Mr. Putin. We probably all know that if Hillary Clinton or other Democrat or Labor politician was probably helped by continuous Russian propaganda and lies, had close financial ties with Russian Oligarchs, would benefit from relaxing sanctions against Russia, and was considered a favourite of Putin, that the Republicans and their apologists would be howling for blood.

They would be pointing out that Putin is a dictator with no regard for free speech, free markets or democratic process. They would remark that he is an aggressor in a number of places in the world and seems determined to expand Russian ‘influence’ in eastern Europe and the middle east to the detriment of Western interests. They would not be saying, ‘this is normal great power behaviour and ok’.

They would be pointing out that Putin would not support anyone who he really thought could make America great again. They might say that his support should be seen as condemnation. But its a Republican and the Righteous who benefit, so all is wonderful, and objection is just political bias.

Let us be clear, a balanced and easier relationship with Russia would be great and possibly of huge benefit. But Trump seems determined to have this peace at any cost, while having war with China, which is not so great.

Why Is China such a problem for him and Russia such a non-problem? Basically, they are very similar, except the Chinese don’t have quite so many forces introduced into other countries recently.

The only real difference I can see, is that the Chinese believe in Global Warming and doing a little about it. Putin either does not, or does not care.

This seems to be the real commonality between the Righteous and Putin. Chinese people can object to pollution in China – a right which seems to be being removed in the USA, and in some places here.

So really what we are seeing is an alliance of happy polluters and poisoners.

Western Mind II

February 5, 2017

I’m still cautious about characterising groups of people as having a particular mind, as in statements about Western Rational minds or whatever. As I’ve said previously this rationality does not seem much in evidence, amongst more than a very small segment of the population.

However, my main point is that Western Rationalism is historically, and still, a religious/spiritual position.

If we want to date its arrival (which is a highly suspect process), it probably comes with Thomas Aquinas, who was initially suspected of heresy.

Aquinas’ position, in so far as it can be simplified by me, is that the human mind is an image of God’s mind, and therefore functions similarly to God’s mind and can understand that mind within limits.

Aquinas also argued that God, being perfect mind, was not arbitrary but coherent, and that logical thought could show truth about God and creation.  In this he was influenced by Aristotle and the Islamic recovery of Aristotle. The accuracy of our logically worked out claims about God and the universe was a product of the accuracy of our premises, and some of those premises came from faith or revelation, and some premises were obvious to all. God did not hide deliberately from creation. God could be reached by logic and human endeavour.

Scientia was the working out of logical consequences from our premises, as best we could. It was secure knowledge, or knowledge that was as secure as we could gain. If our premises were true, then so would be our conclusions.

This position has become known as scholasticism. It often embraced an earlier idea, that explanation should be simple, and should rely on the minimum number of premises. Ultimately an aesthetic choice lies at one of the hearts of rationalism.

Scholasticism appeared to became a dominant paradigm, although the Church still admitted the Augustinian tradition that God was not constrained and could constantly intervene and change things if He so chose. God was ultimately beyond human comprehension. Mysteries were present and inevitable.

The Church also accepted the ideas that God was love and available to all who were focused on Him, as exemplified by St Teresa and St Francis – however it was always suspicious of these people; they tended to be unpredictable. Franciscans were ordered to work for the inquisition to keep them in line.

The mystical tradition is, in many ways, anti-nature. Resolution of earthly sorrow comes with death and/or the journey to heaven. The earth is to be left behind. Many western mystics joyfully died relatively young. This leaving earth, is despite Jesus healing bodies, which might imply bodies had some significance, and despite the promise of the resurrection of the flesh on Earth at the day of judgement. Strangely scholasticism can be more pro nature, seeing God as symbolized in nature, or nature supported by emanations from God, or as present in the mind of God (Mathew Fox’s dialogue with Aquinas Sheer Joy, is good on this.)

Politically these ideas had consequences. The rational and the mystical spiritual traditions are democratic, possibly a little anarchic. If you can persuade others of the rationality of your truth, then you can do so. Any previous truth is vulnerable to a better argument or demonstration. Truth was no respecter of persons. The mystical says God speaks to everyone, and everyone is equal in this respect (we are all sinners) although has to agree to be vetted, as Teresa’s writings were vetted and sometimes suspected of heresy.

However the faith tradition is always a matter of interpretation, you have to have the right faith and this is decided, usually by a group of old men, who then enforce this on everyone, as it is vital for everyone’s spirits/souls. Only a few vetted people can participate in these discussions. This spiritual route tends to be authoritarian. It is the force that vets the other traditions.

In the background we have alchemy. Alchemical practice tends to be based on experience in the spirit, imagination and material. It is not so much logical as empirical. Logic breaks down in alchemy as you can see in some texts. Alchemy is not authoritarian, there are no groups of alchemists enforcing orthodoxy; it is largely a matter of individuals and small groups working with texts that are incredibly hard to understand and yielding to nature.

Empiricism is often opposed to rationalism, as it does not claim you can work things out in advance – its stronghold was in chemistry and medicine, where practitioners don’t know if stuff will work or not, until it is tried. Empiricism is taught by nature, or by an oscillation between nature and psyche, not by logic.

Protestants tended to break with rationality. They were faith dependent, and in the early days heavily authoritarian (apart from the mystical free spirit types). They heavily attacked scholasticism which they saw as justifying catholic authority not their own, and of course of misunderstanding the importance of faith. The post crusades Islamic position also tends to be faith based rather than ‘rationally’ based. The tendency of this tradition is to fossilization (we try to replicate the past and its rules according to authority) or widespread splintering in which faith becomes a matter of experience and mystical aspiration arising from a text (more like sufism, but the protestant splintering is much more public).

One consequence of this breakdown was trying to find certainties to base faith upon to try and heal the social breaks. What became science probably grew out of this endeavour. It tried to avoid theological conflicts by leaving the soul and mystical experience to religion. The soul of the scientist was to be level headed and ‘sober’. It was not supposed to be ecstatic. It took over the idea of the logicality of creation from the scholastics and merged it with the empiricism of the alchemists. Empirical events confirmed the correctness of scientific logic and the glory of God. Science was supposed to be determined by nature and humble before nature. Nature was the arbiter, although there is another stream which speaks of mastery of nature, which appealed to Empire builders, although the language usually used of dominion and mastery comes from Christianity.

Lots of people began to observe nature with an intensity that was possibly new to this part of society, gathering insects, counting worms, drawing birds and plants and so on. Science leads to romanticism, both as continuation and as reaction.

What science achieved was an anti-rationalism. The cosmos was revealed to be larger, smaller and more multifarious than anyone had suspected. The universe was for all practical purposes infinite; vast beyond human conception. The micro-verse was full of small creatures to an extent also beyond human conception. Even the ordinary level revealed the multitude of different species of insects. If God created the cosmos for humans then this God was a God of massive excess. For some people this massiveness meant they could no longer see the universe as home. It was not rational to see humans as special. This excess was revealed by empiricism, humble observation and letting the universe speak.

In any case, the majority of people followed their local traditions as always, generating endless fractioning.

In this situation, scientists could not avoid normal human usages of imagination or mysticism, but by the 20th Century they generally did not talk about it, although it is worth noting that our interest in dreams was born in what Freud and Jung insisted was empirical science.

Similarly, our knowledge of climate change comes through science, through comparison of data, and imaginative application of theory. It does not come through intuition or the spirit. People of the spirit have generally been slow to acknowledge the problems and have been major opponents of recognition, especially those with authority over faith.

All of the approaches described here, which constitute a massive simplification in themselves, are spiritual in the sense they imply a transforming relationship to a wider sphere/field, and are not confined to the individual. They are also rational and irrational, empirical and non empirical to varying extents

One way to characterise the Western Mind, to the extent that it exists, is as mess; as mixtures of all kinds of incompatible ideas, attitudes and processes. It is never coherent – and that is probably a good thing. It varies with groups and with individuals.

Even if one tradition becomes temporarily dominant and likes to pretend it is ‘master’, the others just get on with life and make challenges for their own dominance.

Sometimes one tradition is announced to be ‘master’ simply so it can be blamed for everything that went wrong, in an attempt to force people to choose its main competitor.

Saying there is a Western mind, or whatever, deletes this multiplicity, including the part that is critical of whatever is singled out!