Independence run rampant
Since this sketch is not intended to be anything but a hint, let that be enough to show the general tendency of human development since the Reformation, and let us take stock of where we are.
The result of all of this process--or at any rate, the stage we are at in the process--is that every human being, and every phase of every human being's life, is regarded as totally independent of everything else, with cooperation having only an economic motive of self-fulfillment--leaving in human beings a vast hunger for an aspect of their lives that they don't even realize exists.
Marriage and the family now are based on rights and the economic sort of cooperation. Self-interest is assumed to motivate marriage, and agreements are made by which the partners cooperate for their mutual benefit; and when this no longer occurs, they separate. Mothers claim absolute rights over their own bodies, even when there are children within them; I have had nursing students of mine defend a woman's right to make her fetus an alcoholic or a cocaine addict by her drinking or taking cocaine while pregnant. Children even after birth are to be cared for only in such a way that this does not interfere with the self-development of the parents. But they too have rights against their parents, and can have abortions without the parents' even knowing about it. The family is assumed to be a small democracy, and children are often treated like little adults, having much more say over their own development than they can safely use.
Needless to say, once marriage is regarded in economic terms, as a question of rights, bizarre marital arrangement like same-sex marriage have sprung up, since homosexuals have a right to "define their world," as the Supreme Court has said, and therefore claim a right to the benefits and even the name of marriage. Any discrimination in favor of real marriage (now called "traditional" marriage) on the grounds of its benefit to children and the society is immediately countered with the "argument" that this is discrimination against homosexuals.
In economic relations, everything is, of course, rights and compensation; but there is the refusal on the part of those who provide necessities to see that they are exploiting those who are the beneficiaries of their service, and are making them as much economic victims as beneficiaries. Not having any notion that cooperation is also a part of human nature, they see no reason for lessening their self-fulfillment so that others can live human lives.
In politics everything is rights also; but "rights" turns out to be "interests" of the people who have Approved Victim status. Those groups like churches which have a view of humanity which involves cooperativeness as its motivating force, turn out to have no rights, and can be vilified and insulted and persecuted in the name of the freedom and dignity of the individual. But the "individual" is not the individual, but a person belonging to a given class; these people are to be given special help toward equality--often at the expense of their being able to act as equals. Whenever government intervenes positively on behalf of the downtrodden, it does what guarantees permanence in the status of being downtrodden.
In thought, truth has become totally individualized, with one person's truth being the "truth for" him. This is true even in science; even physics nowadays is increasingly politicized, with "truths" based on the shakiest of evidence being used to advance a given political agenda. Physics has seemed to have discovered that the mere act of observation colors ineluctably what one is observing; and so this most objective of all sciences is saying that it is radical subjectivity. And if that is true of physics, it is all the more true of other sciences.
The sciences themselves are increasingly specialized and fragmented. Even multidisciplinary studies like physical chemistry are really specializations dealing only with the very narrow area of overlap between the disciplines, not a combination of the whole of both of them. The language, too, of any science is deliberately esoteric, to exclude even other scientists from the area. Even though other scientists might easily grasp the approach, they cannot simply read things outside of their own discipline, because to do so they would have to learn a whole new language.
In religion, respect for others' opinions and autonomy has taken over any question of factuality; and this not only between religious groups, but even within them. Catholic Theologians are demanding the "right" to "dissent respectfully" from Church teaching; Catholic nuns are interpreting their commitment to poverty, chastity, and obedience as the road to self-fulfillment and "freedom from oppression"--which turns out to be militant sexism in reverse. The Church is supposed to modernize and become democratic, with the dogmas accepted on the basis of "consensus," not facts.
In morality, the one evil is intolerance; and this view is promoted with absolute intolerance of any dissent whatever. In the name of "free speech" censorship abounds; in the name of "tolerance" those who hold that certain things are actually true and that others are morally wrong are viciously put down.
This is no longer something that is characteristic of one society. With modern communications, the cultural attitude has spread through the whole world. Now every society to a greater or lesser extent is doing the same thing and looking on things in the same way--except for Islam, which has remained back in the medieval mode of thought. But how long it can hold out against modern influence is a question. I suspect that its war against the Western world was its own version of "suicide by cop" that certain criminals engage in when it attacked the United States and had the misfortune of having George W. Bush as President. It looks as if the war in Afghanistan and Iraq is going to lead to the Westernization of Islam, and that the religion will wither away into a formality. This, I think, is to the good, because there is much in Islam, such as the treatment of women and the incredibly harsh punishments that is anti-human.
But the condition of the present Western world is, I think, the result of the fact that the modern world was infected by Galileo and Descartes with the disease I spoke of at the very beginning of this book, volumes ago: that truth is basically subjective, and that we can make something be what we want it to be by simply declaring it to be that way, and stating that this is a "fact for" us and must be respected. But with all this power, we are impotent; for all our claims to reality, we are empty, and our emptiness is being driven home to us harder and harder as the days go on. Radical subjectivity means that everything is a dream; Kant's subjective objectivity is essential nothingness; and it has finally worked itself out in most of its implications in every area of our lives.
From the point of view of the thesis of this part, it is the absolute antithesis of love. Love is talked about a lot, but it means self-fulfillment and the economic relationship, not self-forgetfulness or expansive generosity.
But everything has become so fragmented and compartmentalized, with people's lives at cross-purposes with themselves (not to mention each other) in so many and such complex ways that it cannot be anything but a negative moment in development; it must necessarily collapse, with the cooperative side of life somehow to be reinstated.
And I think that at the moment, since as I see it the core of this was the shift in thought brought about by the Reformation, the way to advance beyond this stage toward sanity once again (because there is no going back) is to show how Galileo and Descartes were wrong, but how the legitimate problems they saw were real problems, and how these problems can be solved.
That is what I have attempted to do by this book. I think it shows how life in all of its aspects can make sense; and my hope is that it can make some contribution in tying together all of these loose ends of our lives into a coherent whole, in accordance with what Paul told the people of Colossae: "And over and above this, put on love, which is the cord that ties perfection together; and then the Prince's peace should govern your hearts. This is what you were called to when you all became a single body."
I have no idea how valid these ideas of mine are, still less how they are ever to be disseminated in such a way that (if they are true) the world which so desperately needs to know them will ever find them out. I simply have put them down here so that after I die and fulfill my ambitions, they will be available to be found. As I write this, the prospect seems hopeless (as does the prospect for the survival of the world); but then, Socrates died and Jesus was crucified as a small-time crook.
Have faith, George.