In This Wicked World

Not all the Fourth Turning web site's posts are tied tightly to current events or the theory of the book. There are some quite abstract debates on philosophy and politics which touch only lightly the cyclical theories. This note is from the "Cycles of Morality" thead, which discusses how ideals and morality change from High (50s) to Awakening (60s) to Unravlling (80s) to Crisis (40s).

This thread discusses a number of issues I care about, and a few that are hard to avoid. In particular, Michael Totten's and E. Alan Meece's exchange on the nature of science was well done, if perhaps incomplete. I'd like to extend that, with a twist, then put my two cents in on the liberal v. conservative stuff. Pardon if this gets lengthy.

If I recall correctly, it was Aristotle who proposed that a large spherical iron ball would fall faster than a smaller spherical iron ball if both were to be dropped from a height. This is an example of philosophical thinking. He thought through a theory, stated a reasoned opinion, and published it. Those reading his works, discussing his works, and writing on his works came to respect this theory. Of course, the theory was quite wrong.

Long after his death, the works of Aristotle became classics, not do be doubted. For a time, if one disagreed with Aristotle on any given subject, the Powers that Were would give one a really hard time. This is dogmatic thinking. A given set of texts, whether written by Aristotle, Marx, Locke, or God, is raised in status to the point where disagreeing with the Official Writ is unacceptable.

I think it was Galileo who took a large iron sphere and a small iron sphere to the top of a tower, and dropped them. There was a tie, both balls falling equally fast. This was experimentation. This is scientific thinking. Truth is determined by observation, not by argument or by dogma. Ideally, in proper academic and scientific circles, the mantra is observe, theorize, predict, experiment, confirm, publish, defend, repeat.

Newton took it further. Newton proposed equations modeling the behavior of falling iron spheres, and performed sufficient observations and experiments to confirm his equations. This helped bring physics from a soft science to a hard science. If you have principles that can be observed in nature and confirmed in experiments, you have a soft science. If you have equations, rather than principles, which can be observed in nature and confirmed in experiments, you have a hard science. Repeatable experiments with controls also help move a field of study from the soft to the hard side of science.

As a benchmark in comparing these four modes of thought, let's look at the T4T theory as a whole. T4T clearly isn't yet a hard science. While T4T fans occasionally speak of Azimov's fictional Harry Seldon, no one claims to have a real calculus of human behavior, nor is anyone performing repeatable, controlled experiments.

To what extent, however, does this web site reflect philosophical, dogmatic, and/or soft scientific thinking? In my opinion, philosophical thinking is still very common. These web site discussion pages reflect a bunch of people speaking with one another, exchanging opinions, as Aristotle once stated an opinion that a big sphere would fall faster than a small one. There might be some slight taint of Dogma. To some extent most of us contributing to the site agree that the basic premises of Generations and T4T are true. However, this is more in the nature of accepting T4T a working hypothesis than the blind faith of a true dogma. While there is talk of scientific objectivity, it is hard once a theory has proven itself useful not to start applying it. To the extent we are making confirmable predictions, or pointing at confirmable patterns in the historical record, we might be considered a soft science. Any drift in the direction of dogma might be accepted with caution as long the predicted patterns continue to hold true.

Let's turn ninety degrees, and examine things from another perspective. Assume a fatal car crash is reported promptly to the proper authorities. Among many questions that might be asked, I will propose three. "What is the blood alcohol level of the driver?" would be a scientific question. As long as a technician arrives promptly with the correct equipment, a unique answer within a given level of accuracy can be acquired.

"Is the driver guilty of vehicular homicide?" is a legal question. The correct answer at the scene is "innocent until proven guilty." A formal final answer requires interpreting laws written by the legislature, and executive branch officials presenting proof beyond a reasonable doubt to a judge presiding over a jury of the driver's peers. The governor might also grant a pardon. Legal "truths" derive from an entirely different process than scientific "truths." They are entirely different in their nature.

"Did the deceased go directly to paradise?" is a religious question. While there are established procedures to uniquely answer scientific and legal questions, religious questions are inherently unanswerable.

As we have seen, the science of physics evolved through philosophical, dogmatic, and soft science status, to a hard science. Religion has not "advanced" past philosophical and dogmatic thinking. If one holds up a Bible and argues that the deceased in our example went to heaven, one could equally well pick up a Hindu text and argue for reincarnation. If one rejects dogmatic argument based on inspired texts, and sticks with philosophical arguments, there little to convince one whose primary world view is scientific that paradise exists, let alone that a particular "soul" has traveled there. Scientific evidence supporting the existence of paradise and souls is generally deemed insufficient.

Most religions dwell on "faith" rather than proof or procedure. As long as the religious believers of the world are in blatant and irresolvable conflict over the gods' wills, such systems cannot be compared with science or the local legal systems as a source of unique truth.

The U.S. First Amendment, in guaranteeing Freedom of Religion, seems to promise each individual the right to hold his own opinion on religious questions. I honor this right. Believe what one will. However, any attempt to force any form of religious belief on others is unconstitutional.

I'm not entirely free of dogmatic thought, myself. I'd like to steer philosophical or political debate towards first premises that can be proven or disproved by observation or experiment. Failing that, such debates tend to be endless and unresolvable. However, step on the Bill of Rights and I can get very dogmatic, very quick. Stubborn, too. While I'd like to think the various elements of the Bill of Rights could be justified by rational argument, let us just say that there remains a time and a place for dogmatic thought.

It would be nice if every question could be uniquely identified as entirely legal, scientific, or religious. The procedures for answering questions would thus be clearer. The current abortion controversy as an example of how these truths can become entangled. While it is possible to start untangling this knot, this is neither the time or place.

The point of all of the above is that philosophical, moral and religious "truths" are inherently unresolvable. If one really wants to answer a question, one must state it scientifically. One must develop a theory or state an observation in such a way that its truth can be verified through experiment or observation.

This should not be read to imply all philosophy and religion are worthless. If Aristotle had not conjectured about dropping two balls, Galileo might not have thought to perform the experiment. Philosophy is valid as a spawning ground of new sciences. Unprovable conjecture argued without provable evidence is not entirely worthless or meaningless, but the objective ought to be to state one's theory or thought in an objective and realistic enough way that one can examine nature or perform an experiment to prove the theory.

Nor do I automatically reject religious thought, religious truths, religious thinkers. I'll accept the label "secular humanist." In laying the base values for my beliefs, I created a web page that featured the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, and the I Have a Dream speech. Between them, a lot is said about what America ought to be, and how America should face crisis and awakening. Yet all three contain references to God, were written by believers, and in part were written to further His perceived Will.

I would argue for the same principles as Jefferson, Lincoln and King, based on obervable class struggle, turnings, and progress, rather than on unkowable divine purpose. Good ideas can be stolen from unprovable sources. Until a true science of human behavior has taught us to live together in peace, much age-old wisdom has been passed on as parables, commandments and myths. The energy spent trying to conceive of a Divine Being worthy of being worshiped by Man should not be discarded.

The difficulty is in establishing what part of the religious mythic systems are advantageous in a high tech world, and which are outmoded relics of the agricultural age. In general, Industrial Era and Information Era cultural tools such as elections, labor unions, stock markets, and refereed scientific journals are created to adapt to change and to provide forums that balance opposing interests. Agricultural Era systems worked for stability, and to concentrate power to a privileged ruling class. Agricultural Era cultures were (and remain) authoritarian, while balance of power is a key principle in modern civilization. While the major religious systems contain much hard won wisdom collected over many centuries, it is not difficult to make a case favoring Industrial and Information Era democratic and industrial innovations.

I'm not ready to worship an authoritarian god who wishes to be called "Lord." The classic religious systems, IMHO, mix too much First Wave authoritarian garbage in with the Wisdom of the Ages. While I have a few disagreements with Marx, his "opium of the masses" line has some merit. The Priesthood was among the traditional First Wave ruling classes, and it shows.

On to the liberal v. conservative dialectic. Is this debate philosophical, dogmatic, or scientific? It seems likely during any liberal v. conservative debate, each debater thinks his or her own arguments are based on established scientific principles observable in history, while the other guy is stubbornly dogmatic. To a cynical outsider such as myself, both systems seem too often dogmatic. I'll not propose to define dogmas which I do not believe in. I'll thus address the two positions from the outside, from the perspective of T4T.

John F. Kennedy was ready to "bear any burden, pay any price" to win the cold war. He was willing to commit the resource of the nation to reach the moon. His successor, Linden Johnson, in much the same spirit, declared war on poverty. These things together reflect the best of the GI generation during the awakening. "Identified problem, solved same." The classic tax and spend liberalism of the 60s resulted from a civic / hero generation ready to do what it takes to get the job done.

They were wrong in at least one respect. One cannot be as effective in saving someone as in helping that someone to save himself. Thus, just throwing welfare money at poverty wasn't going to work. However, I cannot help but honor the GIs for making the attempt, and the Boomers for flowing along. It was a noble thought, from a noble time. That time is long gone. As the GIs and their work ethic faded from the scene, their flavor of tax and spend liberalism became more and more discredited. There is less belief that hard work and good intentions will solve big problems. There are certainly fewer willing to do the hard work, to pay the high taxes, or to bother with good intentions.

I associate the current flavor of conservatism not with a generation, but with the unraveling. In many ways, unravelings get a bum rap. It is easy to see the positives in a crisis, high or awakening. It is easy to dump on an unraveling as a time of moral decay where the nation lacks focus or direction. The positive element of unraveling is individuality. Silent, boomer and Xer alike, we've done our own thing, found ourselves, and charged the experience to the Reagan / Bush deficit spending credit card binge. Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what a six digit campaign contribution can do for your special interest group. Yet, when the time comes for the nation to unite and move in one direction again, we will have explored the potentials of many alternatives.

Awakenings and crises are times of change, favoring liberal philosophies, but not a single Liberal Philosophy. The philosophies evolve radically. New ideas and ideals are inserted in each awakening. New institutions and infrastructure implementing these ideas and ideals come in the following crisis. There is a cycle of morality, yes, but there is also progress. To some extent, the problems faced by the prior generation of prophets have been solved before the following awakening. The next generation of prophets will be attacking different problems, with different ideas, and different ideals. They will champion a different flavor of liberalism.

Highs and unravelings are times for the conservatives. Perhaps, after an awakening or a crisis, a rest is necessary, and might even be deserved.

Yes, I'm a boomer. There is a Peter Paul and Mary song, dating from the last awakening, retelling the biblical tale of Samson and Delilah.

If I had my way
If I had my way in this wicked world
If I had my way, I would tear this building down.

This country, this world, are both flawed. Clinging to the old ways, refusing to adapt, can last only a few more years. A crisis is coming. At some point, the debate between 80s conservatives and 60s liberals will become moot. The majority will be radicals. Crisis brings on fundamental change greater than any anticipated before the crisis begins.

Is this a dogmatic position, based upon the classic and unquestioned wisdom of Saint William & Saint Neil? Is this a philosophical position, one of many points of discussion to be considered on this web site, presumed equal to the others and unprovable? I'd prefer to think it is not. This is a projection that a pattern observable in past crises will continue in the next. It is a testable prediction. Alas, it may take 20 or 30 years to see if the predicted pattern holds true.