Modern society searches for a new paradigm that is both ideologically forward-looking, and pragmatic. China may get there first.
When all your efforts fail, stop and think. You probably have gotten hold of a bad assumption and it’s sabotaging you each time you try to act. Because the assumption is part of your personality, it influences everything you do and so it all fails.
If you’ve ever searched the house for your glasses only to find them on your head, or gone looking for your keys only to find them in your pocket or hand, you know how frustrating it is to carry the cause of your failure with you.
When we talk about civilization change, we’re talking about changing such an assumption — and in doing so, changing society at its most fundamental pivot point. If we’re insisting up is down, to insist up is up becomes a radical act, and one that most people will violently oppose.
Then twenty years later, it becomes the norm, and we wonder how people could have been “so ignorant” as to oppose it.
Since the 1500s, when our liberal revolution started, the world has been moving on two fronts. The first is technology, which would have expanded with time anyway; the second is toward a liberal democratic view of the universe, which we recognize as modern liberalism.
We can envision liberalism as a fundamental assumption underlying modern civilization. Here’s a good summary from John Kekes:
The view of human nature at the core of the liberal faith is thus that human beings are by their nature free, equal, rational, and morally good.
The assumption of liberalism is that we needed a justification for throwing out the kings and idea of God, so we created a new notion: equality. In it we’re all the same, or at least should be, so we’ll act that way. In order to assume equality, we have to assume that we’re all good, intelligent, and capable of making the right decision if only we’re given the right opportunities, education, and information.
We’ve been working on this assumption since the pompously titled “The Enlightenment,” which was essentially a scam. People wanted to get rid of kings and the assumption that there was a divine right, or even single right way, to do anything — even if it was based on reality and the gods were a symbol for how reality worked, much like science is a symbolic representation of reality.
All of our bloviation about “equality” and “morality” is not the reason for our actions, but the justification for them. Kind of like when you accidentally buy an extra quart of ice cream, and then guiltily shrug it off with “well, we’ll use it anyway eventually” even though you’re planning to take it off to the TV room and eat the whole thing.
China, as the nation that has accelerated the fastest into modern times, coming about 500 years in the sixty-year postwar period, is starting to re-think its fundamental assumption that guides its civilization. Instead of picking ideologies that react to material or demographic changes, it is picking a positive ideal — the opposite of a reaction, this is a goal toward which society shapes itself, instead of the other way around:
Communism has lost the capacity to inspire the Chinese, and there is growing recognition that its replacement needs to be grounded at least partly in China’s own traditions. As the dominant political tradition in China, Confucianism is the obvious alternative.
The party has yet to relabel itself the Chinese Confucian Party, but it has moved closer to an official embrace of Confucianism. The 2008 Olympics highlighted Confucian themes, quoting “The Analects” of Confucius at the opening ceremonies, and playing down any references to China’s experiment with communism. – Christian Science Monitor
This type of ideological mutation is going to be mated to another change which is both ideological and practical — namely, the change from doing things electively “because they’re right” to doing things practically “because they work.” Liberal logic works backward: we act as we want to as individuals, then find a justification through a universal, abstract and absolute good like equality, altruism, justice, etc.
Conservative logic works differently. We study the world, find what is possible, and then work toward it. Instead of using backward logic where we justify ex post facto our actions, we set a goal and strive toward it, recognizing that a pure result — an emotionally and personally satisfying one — is unlikely. But we do what is right nonetheless.
With China’s actions, we see a shift away from justifications like economics and demographics, and a shift toward positive preferences, which create a goal toward which we strive. In the USA, we can see the other half of this equation in the shift toward the pragmatic from the emotional. This is the precursor to a massive shift from liberal logic to conservative logic, as you can see in the strong words of Detroit’s new Mayor:
In his strongest statements about shrinking the city since taking office, Bing told WJR-760 AM the city is using internal and external data to decide “winners and losers.” The city plans to save some neighborhoods and encourage residents to move from others, he said.
“If we don’t do it, you know this whole city is going to go down. I’m hopeful people will understand that,” Bing said. “If we can incentivize some of those folks that are in those desolate areas, they can get a better situation.” – Detroit News
In turn, this makes us re-consider evidence that happy people make exploratory decisions, and sad people make painful but repetitive decisions. This part of human nature means that 99% of the people active at any given time are repeating a failed idea, as if waiting for a tiny awakened minority to start exploring a better path. Not necessarily a new path; just a less obsolete one.
Reading that knowledge into history, we can see that our worldwide flirtation with liberalism has continued because we are miserable, and so keep repeating the sad logic of the last 500 years while not re-checking our assumptions. As multiple problems with our environment and social instability cannot be checked any longer, look for a sea change away from the liberal ideal toward a pragmatic, conservative one.