By Atayab Naeem
Chapter 5: Individualism
The author describes individualism as: “denial of any principle superior to the individuality and, as a consequence, the reduction of civilization in all its departments to purely human elements”. This naturally means a rejection of any spiritual authority or faculty of knowledge higher than the individual; a path severed from tradition. It reflects the secular viewpoint present today and is fundamentally the idea of humanism which was present at the time of Renaissance. It is a core aspect of modern tendencies. This tendency has always existed in history but was never so widespread. It reflects absence of principles and is a cause of the modern crisis.
“The state of mind we are alluding to consists primarily in “minimizing” religion, so to speak, in turning it into something to be kept on one side and to which one is satisfied to allot as limited and narrow a field as possible, something devoid of any real influence upon the rest of existence which is isolated from it as by a sort of water-tight partition”.
Even religious people today have internalized modern values to the point that their thoughts and actions are not much different to their irreligious contemporaries. Religion has been reduced to performing rituals rather than understanding its deeper meanings.
“Modern man instead of raising himself to the truth, claims to bring it down to his own level”.
Intellectual intuition is a supra-individual faculty and thus cannot be incorporated into Individualism. As modern secular philosophy which originated with Descartes himself dismissed intellectual intuition, it consequently started to treat reason, a purely human and relative faculty, as the highest part of intelligence. This was what was formalized in Descartes Rationalism. This limiting of intelligence led to reason only being used to fulfill practical functions. Individualism inevitably leads to naturalism as everything that lies beyond nature is beyond the reach of the individual. Hence, Metaphysics is no longer possible. Moreover, since naturalism implies things constantly change, reason itself becomes relative and only capable of valid application in certain spheres which as a natural consequence leads to relativism e.g. in “criticism” of Kant or “positivism” of Auguste Comte.
Individualism’s influence on modern philosophers is evident. As its better for each philosopher’s reputation to invent a new system rather than present a truth already observed, they make great effort to create their own systems and attach their own names to it. Here it becomes more important to present problems, however artificial or illusory, than to solve them and the whole process shows a pointless agitation. The desire to be original is prioritized even if the truth has to be sacrificed to it. Traditional civilizations thought it inconceivable for man to claim possession of an idea. If he did, he was in a way undermining authority of it by conceding it to be an individual fantasy. A true idea belongs to everyone capable of understanding it, it cannot be “new” since truth exists independently of ourselves, not as a product of the human mind.
“The significant thing is that at this stage there is no longer even any question of truth, but only of “reality”, limited exclusively to the sensible order and looked upon as something essentially mobile and unstable; intelligence, for such theories, is definitely reduced to its most inferior part and reason itself is no longer admitted, except in so far as it can be made to serve in the fashioning of matter for industrial uses”.
This led to the substitution of “utility” to truth (pragmatism). When philosophy recognized higher truths, this was not able to occur; when it disappeared, this negation was manifested in these new theories of modern philosophy.
Whereas before, knowledge and traditional wisdoms were preserved by being passed down to students often through dedicated schools, this allowed the original orthodox teachings of religion to be passed down in their pure forms. With individualism there also came tendencies to make uninformed individual judgements on religion by untrained people which opened the door to various deviations in the form of numerous sects and divisions among the people. (While open discussions and independent reasoning is important for a critical thinker, individualistic outlook opened the door to untrained private judgements in the masses on issues they could not understand without proper training in special educational institutions). This made it almost impossible to reach agreement upon core doctrine which led to it being pushed aside and discussions shifted to moralism.
Chapter 6: Social Chaos
The solution to the crisis begins with revisiting principles. The social and political realm are but consequences of this instability and show the general mentality. Misunderstanding of human nature and its negation even is represented in the modern principle of “equality”. Two beings who are distinct cannot also be alike at the same time. Each individual has a nature and special aptitude which predispose each person to the fulfillment of a particular function. Imposition of uniformity in every sphere has led to imparting identical education to everyone as if we are all equally fitted to understand the same things by the same method. It is more about rote learning and memory than developing actual understanding and intelligence. Thus, the quality is sacrificed to quantity. This is one of the many negative aspects of standardized compulsory education.
Buzzwords like “progress” and “equality” are blindly accepted today which were ideas that originated in the 18th century. These hypnotizing suggestions from such narratives contribute greatly to maintaining and even aggravating the modern disorder of things. For if they were to be suspended, people would start realizing the error of the current system and move away from it to how things should be according to the traditional understanding. Therefore, even though everything is supposedly open to discussion, foundational or principal errors like these are not, and often suppressed.
It is important to note that often the front-line propagators of such ideas of “progress” and “equality” are themselves deluded and duped by them and do not truly grasp the true nature of things which is why they are able to bring a strong and contagious conviction to the task which would otherwise be hard to simulate and fake. Nonetheless, for these ideas to have been put into circulation, there would have had to be people who understood the true nature of such ideas and consciously spread them. This is backed by sentimentalism which is essential to control the masses. Identifying these suggestions and critically examining them dispels their hold on one’s mind which they had when we blindly accepted them.
If democracy is government of the people by the people, that is by its nature, a contradiction. The ruler and the ruled are in a complimentary relationship; one cannot exist without the other nor can they be one and the same thing. Modern rulers take special effort to make people believe the lie that they are self-governing. It is supposed that the opinion of the majority determines the law which makes the people feel empowered. However, it is important to note this can be easily manipulated and molded. Movements can be started to manufacture opinion. This also allows “collective psychology” to come into play in the sense that generally people in crowds react or act in the way not on the average level of its elements but the lowest. Emotional impulses hinder reflection, and this is used to sway public opinion to the point that people who in normal circumstances would have realized the error of a certain thing are unable to do so when part of a group of people.
Moreover, it is not always those officially in power who engage in such things. This is another reason why incompetent politicians make their way to public office as it makes little difference; they are in some sense just the emanation of the majority. Opinion of the majority is by default composed of incompetence due to ignorance of the people. It is always the case that the experts of any subject are limited in number (minority) and thus this leads to the tyranny of the majority. All of this is based on the law of greater number and brute force and this is how democratic ideas relate to materialism. Both of which emphasize superiority of the multiplicity of material which only exists in the material world. Even the elite of today are considered to be those of excess material wealth and not of spiritual power.
Democracy has also been tried to be incorporated in the intellectual realm in the sense that it is used as a criterion of truth (universal consent) as individuals are only accounted for numerically. The spiritual order of things on the other hand recognize the inherent quality of something and truth of universal principles where it is not the law of number that counts.
Discussions of these issues on secular grounds puts anyone against it at a disadvantage and shows the hold it has over them. The discussion needs to begin on principles since that is where the difference lies.
Chapter 7: A Material Civilization
Materialism referred here is not about the philosophical term but the general mental outlook prioritizing the material order and its preoccupations above other things whether of speculative or practical nature. Secular science and its methods are confined to the study of the sensible world but with it prevails the attitude which proclaims these methods as “scientific” to the exclusion of all others, as if implying science cannot exist unless it deals with material things. Although generally, religious people engage in these sciences too, it cannot be said it is particularly atheistic. However, it does have a de facto materialism (practical) in effect which makes it all the more subtle. This is why, for the modern human, nothing exists apart from what can be seen, touched, measured, counted or weighed. With such a material science widespread in practice, how can humans in such environment be anything but materialists?
Moreover, even when the possibility of something existing beyond the material is acknowledged, it is quickly dismissed as “unknowable” and this attitude of negation and indifference prevents them from giving it further thought. This is more dangerous than simply negating it as negating something does still require it to be given thought. Even when the possibility of other dimensions/worlds is speculated about today, it is done with the likeness of space and time and corporeality of our terrestrial world. The transgression of imagination in this aspect which should otherwise remain alien to it as this can’t be known through imagination alone goes to show how deep rooted this mentality is.
Another claim of modern science is the attempt to reduce quality to quantity, with its obsession with quantitative point of view and measurement. To the point that it is supposed that there can be no science or scientific laws except through quantitative measurement. Even in a field like psychology which by nature is beyond it. What the modern human fails to understand is that property of measurement is inherent only in matter i.e. its indefinite divisibility unless it is assumed this property is present in everything else that exists which amounts to basically materializing everything.
As language expresses the mentality of the people, it can be noted that the word “reality” is generally used with the connotation of the physical world alone and nothing beyond it exists or is treated as illusory. As mentioned before, this is also present in religious circles where understanding has been reduced to a superficial level. Practical materialism is therefore now present in both religious and irreligious people.
“Prestige of modern science in the eyes of the general public rests solely on upon the practical results it makes”.
This ingrained attitude of pragmatism and materialism is also present in the “common sense” of today. Under such a mindset, it can be considered that industry is no longer an application of science but rather the object of science even though science is ought to remain completely independent. Humans beings have thus restricted their intellectual ambitions to invention and construction of machines and domination and manipulation of matter and humans have thus become, as Bergson put it: “a tool for making tools”. Effectively becoming a slave intellectually by specializing and working in a particular way to maximize quantity and minimize time loss.
There is tremendous influence of economic factors on people’s lives today such as industry, commerce, finance. Politics is dominated by this too. So much so that a theory which explains everything through economic factors (Marxism) alone also shows this mindset. Material development has had its advantages but at what cost? Many things of great worth have been sacrificed for this one type of development. All the intellectual higher forms of knowledge and spirituality are lost. If these are weighed, its advantages don’t outweigh the disadvantages. Inventions are done at such a momentum today that we don’t fully understand their effects. This is leading to climate change and environmental damage which may bring our own destruction.
“the modern West cannot tolerate the idea that men should prefer to work less and be content to live on little; …it is taken for granted that anyone not producing material thing must be an “idler””…. “There is only room for outward action including those most completely devoid of meaning.”
Can we really be sure the modern human is happy because machines have made their life easy or are they more agitated now that life has become complicated? By creating countless more artificial needs, there is now greater likelihood of lacking something, and so this course leads to more and more needs than can ever be satisfied. This leads to the never-ending pursuit of making money as that is needed to maintain this façade. In such an environment, it logically follows that only strongest materially have the right to exist. There then comes envy and hatred of those who possess more wealth. The irony is that there is so much material inequality despite the equalitarian theories chanted so frequently.
There is also the case of how the West deeming itself superior to all other civilizations is forcefully imposing its conception of “progress” and “welfare” onto other civilizations, ignoring the fact that not all peoples are the same and not all even want the modern restlessness and mania which seems to end up happening rather than the welfare which was supposed to be achieved. This cloak of progress and ambition is used to mask their ambition of conquest and economic expansion. They subjugate the other people, rob them of their own civilization and culture, impose their own institutions and customs upon them which were meant for another race. All in the name of welfare so they too can indulge in the meaningless chase for material.
Chapter 8: Western Encroachment
Whereas before the Western influence over the East was that of political and economic domination (colonialism), only through the material sphere i.e. violence, commerce and controlling their resources. Western urge to proselytize is now poisoning minds and killing spirituality in the East. The mental subjugation was only possible after physical subjugation and hence it can be said that the West was only able to assert its influence everywhere by brute force.
Now even Orientals can be found who have westernized themselves completely via their exposure to European and American universities, forsaking their tradition for the modern outlook. They are ignorant of their own tradition. While the West often thinks this vocal minority represents the actual orient, their influence among the locals is not as widespread or deep in fact. Nonetheless, this westernization in eastern lands is gaining ground and hence the true spirit of the eastern tradition retreats further into more closed off circles. Sometimes these people are politically against the West, however, care is to be taken as that is based on nationalism, a concept entirely based on the western outlook itself. Moreover, their methods of resisting the West are often the same as the West. In a way it can be said that the ideas spread by the Western domination are rebounding back on them. It seems that either the world would end by these resulting disputes between nations as has happened in recent World Wars or the self-destructive course taken by the current progress of science will result in some other catastrophe. Though necessary at this point, this adoption of Western methods to defend against the west unfortunately puts the East at the risk of also being overtaken by the modern outlook which would be the end of the traditional outlook altogether.
This subjugation has obviously led to a general dislike of the Western nations in the East. And in their sheer hypocrisy, sometimes the West can be seen acting like victims when receiving this hostility.
“When a Western people resists a foreign invasion this is called “patriotism” and merits the highest praise, but when an Eastern people does the same thing it is called “fanaticism” or “xenophobia” and deserves nothing but hatred and contempt. Moreover, is it not in the name of “Right” and “Liberty”, “Justice” and “Civilization”, that the Europeans have claimed to impose their dominion everywhere and to prevent others from living and thinking differently from themselves?”
Chapter 9: Some Conclusions
The purpose of the book was to provide the reader a starting point to understand the issues that plague the modern civilization based upon the application of traditional data. Something which is based on the higher truths rather than sentiments or current conventions and to protect them from “idle canvassing of individual opinions”. If people really understand the basis of the modern world, it would eventually cease to exist, since it is based on negation of universal truths and ignorance itself. Although not everyone has to realize these truths fully, it would be enough for a small intellectual elite to take up this task and become guides for the masses to prevent the impending doom. In this case a change may be able to take place without a catastrophe uprooting mankind. Even if that is not possible, this work nonetheless needs to be done as that would act in preserving this tradition from perishing and work done in this sphere is never in vain due to its very nature.
The current time is that of confusion where it’s difficult to even separate “the grain from the chaff” and where false “prophets” preach of numerous ideologies which are ironically often manifestations of the modern error itself in different forms. There is no need to be disheartened as confusion and error can only enjoy temporary triumph due to their very nature. A partial disequilibrium is essentially part of a greater equilibrium. Therefore, the truth must not be abandoned, and the work needed to be done must not be ignored.
Link to part 1: Crisis of the Modern World – LUMS RELIGIOUS SOCIETY