27 December 2010

Abandoning Western Civilisation: Views of an Evolving Professor

Professor Bruce Charlton is a complex person. Having first trained in medicine and psychiatry, over the years, Charlton has lectured on Theoretical Medicine, Evolutionary Psychiatry, Psychology, Epidemiology, Anatomy, and Physiological Sciences. Charlton has published a large number of articles, several books, has championed some original ideas in the area of "psychological neoteny", and most recently has been involved in controversy as editor of "Medical Hypotheses", a speculative medical journal.

One recent article in Charlton's blog, Bruce Charlton's Miscellany, caught my eye: Should Western Civilization be Saved? In the article, Charlton expresses the view that since western civilisation contains the seeds to its own destruction, it can probably not be saved regardless of what is done.

Since much of the Al Fin enterprise is devoted to saving just enough of western civilisation to jump-start "the next level," Charlton's warnings of the impending demise of the west are not taken lightly in the planning offices of the Al Fin Consolidated Syndicates.

Charlton is not the first thinker to declare that the west is doomed. And he will not be the last. But he is a thinker and blogger of considerable depth, and his ideas should be taken seriously.
The self-destroying aspects of the West have always been there, and they permeate or are woven-into the whole.

Western Civilization has always been changing - not merely superficially, but deeply. It has never been stable - not even for two generations in a row.

The West is continually becoming more abstract, more specialized, less Christian.

There is no evidence that The West ever could be stable - and everything suggests the opposite. _BCM
Notice the reference to Christianity. Such thoughts will prove important to understanding his meanings. Charlton was once an atheist, and his change of heart to religious belief casts his ideas under a fascinating lighting scheme. All the same it is best to take a person's words at "face value" (as you interpret the term), and shade the meanings appropriately as you learn more.
The West is perpetually in transition: it has no essence: it is evolutionary.

Those who set out their stall on defending 'Western Civilization' are therefore either defending a process (markets, democracy, 'the Open Society'), and an evolutionary process which might lead anywhere, including to self-destruction of Western Civilization (as, in my opinion, it already has)....

Or else they are really defending some other bottom line entity that is not Western Civilization and would quite likely dispense with Western Civilization at some point in the future: e.g. a nation or group of nations, a race, a ruling lineage (e.g. of monarchs, or castes)... the preservation of which might well necessitate at some point dispensing with what are currently 'Western values'.

In other words, if you favour a process (like democracy, sexual freedom) you must be prepared to sacrifice an entity (like a nation or a race): if you favour an entity you must be prepared to dispense with processes.

So, I am saying that it is strictly nonsense - and destructive nonsense - to claim to be defending Western Civilization.

...The West cannot be saved.

There is nothing to save; and anyway The West has self-destruction built-in, woven-in, pervasive.

How can you save something which so much wants to kill itself?

Take your eye off Western Civilization for just a moment and it will be swinging from the rafters with its own belt around its neck... _BCM
The suicidal references, coming from a psychiatrist who has himself suffered considerable recent tumult, are no doubt very meaningful.

The west is certainly full of contradictions and mutually destructive movements of variable and cyclic vitality. But is it true that "there is no there, there?" Certainly the west can be quite difficult to define and pin down in a comprehensive way. Is the modern west, for example, similar enough to the civilisations of ancient Greece, Rome, and middle ages Christianity, to consider it the same civilisation that is a bit futher along in evolutionary time? Perhaps, perhaps not.

Can you not ask the same questions about any particular human mind? We are full of contradictions, and we all carry the seeds of our own destruction. Each living human is evolving in both constructive and destructive ways.

Civilisations can survive the deaths of any number of its members, of course, so the evolutionary stream of a civilisation is much more interesting to observe.

It is true that a civilisation can destroy itself, or evolve "away from itself." But there are particular essences within a civilisation which can be worth saving, even if such essences are capable of creating instabilities within the system. If you try to remove all sources of instability from a civilisational system, you are left with a stagnant system which will choke on its own offal. At that point, competing civilisations will take over the territory, or a new civilisation will rise from the grave of the old.

The urge for stability can be taken too far, with fatal results for dynamic systems of all kinds -- from human brains to civilisations.

It is absolutely crucial that humans who are capable of doing so should learn to think "one level up" from Charlton's fascinating discussion. I am certain that Charlton is capable of such meta-thought. But many people who choose an orthodox ideology later in life (or at any time in life) can be resistant to lines of thought which may compel change.

Suffice it to say that Al Fin Futurologists conceive of a next level civilisation which owes a great deal to modern western civilisation -- particularly to western thought, from the European renaissance through the writing of the US Constitution.

Given the significant changes in the human substrate of the next level, the resulting civilisation will "feel" different, and will derive much of its stability from the underlying agreed-upon principles of outlook. But the next level as conceived by the Al Fin Syndicates contains far more dynamism than conventional western thinkers can typically imagine.

You must have that tension between stability and dynamism.

More from Charlton's blog later.

More: This short essay by French Philosopher Andre Glucksmann should be read alongside the short article by Charlton. By looking at "the original birth of freedom" in Athens, it is perhaps possible to see more clearly some of the strengths and weaknesses of western civilisation. Glucksmann admits the instability inherent in freedom, but accepts the risk:
Athens did not perfectly succeed, and it eventually collapsed—just as our own democracies may someday collapse. I do not believe in the eternity of systems, even our own. Those founded on the attempted negation of chaos and the suppression of freedom will, I hope, collapse sooner. But those founded on freedom may be destroyed by the imbalance inherent in their constitutions, an imbalance that animates and sometimes consumes them. _CityJournal

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Blogger Robert said...

Evolution of White House Menorahs:
There's been a prominent "Menorah":
1.) NEAR the White House (out of the way in a park) since 1979,
2.) IN the White House since 1993,
3.) in 2001, President George W. Bush began the annual tradition of a White House Hanukkah Party in the White House residence,
4.) In PUBLIC VIEW outside White House on the Ellipse, i.e. from the commonly-viewed side (south side):
5.) By 2010 the giant outdoor White House "Menorah" has become either the 1st- or 2nd-largest in the world.

Monday, 27 December, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, and your point is that American Jews have amassed too much power. Come to Israel and witness Jews who are plumbers, cashiers, firefighters, and pretty much look down on their American Jewish brothers who come to lord it over them with their trust fund money. Israel is falling apart and as this is the peak of American Jewish power, then Israeli and American Jewish destinies will converge whether they like it or not.

Anyway, this is off-topic to Al Fin's thought provoking post, which could be debated on for hours. In short, all history up until now was just a prelude,intro or incubation period. Chapter 1 starts now. The body of the west began in the near east in mesopotamia while the soul in pagan neolithic europe with the whole heroic aspect of the man against nature thing. The Jews are the ones who set the rules or acted as a regulating mechanism, which was adopted by the church who held the keys to knowledge. They were the media companies of the day, but much more feared and powerful. The past is nothing compared to what the future may hold.

Monday, 27 December, 2010  
Blogger Fjordman said...

To repeat what I have written elsewhere: No, Western civilization cannot be saved, it is already dead. All living entities, right down to bacteria, fight for their self-preservation. The West is no longer fighting for its self-preservation, which means, by definition, that it is no longer a living entity. Western civilization is dead. Loving Western civilization today means loving a corpse. It's effectively a form of necrophilia.

That doesn't necessarily imply that the European peoples are dead, though. Perhaps what we today call Western civilization will in the future be seen as merely one phase of European civilization. The ideas of universalism and "progress" towards ever-greater egalitarianism and equality have run their course and come to their logical, but self-destructive conclusion. The must be replaced by entirely new concepts to relight the white man's inner fire.

As I stated in my review of Byron M. Roth's book The Perils of Diversity, the French writer Guillaume Faye predicts a real collapse at some point between 2010 and 2020. I am tempted to agree with him. I don’t think the current political and economic order in the Western world is stable at all. On the contrary, I suspect we are fast approaching a serious historical discontinuity that will sweep aside today’s suicidal liberalism. It’s a house of cards that will collapse as soon as the geopolitical tectonic plates make a sudden shift, which they will.

My personal opinion is that the euro as a currency probably won’t exist a few years from now, and may well take the European Union down with it. I view this as a desirable outcome since the EU constitutes a primary engine behind the ongoing destruction of European civilization and the peoples who created it. I also cannot see how the escalating debt crisis in the USA can be resolved without social unrest of some kind. Frankly, I will not be surprised at all if the rising tensions we are witnessing, and episodes such as the Muhammad cartoon Jihad in 2006, will by future historians be viewed as early skirmishes in an impending world war, triggered by the implosion of the Western world order. If we are lucky, out of the ashes will emerge a new generation of European civilization, with a different mythology and concept of morality.

Tuesday, 28 December, 2010  
Blogger Bruce Charlton said...

Thanks for discussing this so constructively.

If you haven't already seen it; an encapsulation of the high tide of my previous atheist-, pro-modernization-, system/ process-favoring self is available online at:


That is where I have come from.

I think that the way out from the 'process versus entity' dichotomy is some version of the idea that civilizations have a 'soul' - but I think this is only coherent in a religious, super-naturalist context.

So that a person is essentially neither a process nor a (changing) entity, but a soul (and eternal).

A civilization is not, however, eternal - but perhaps there is an analogous fashion in which there can be the soul of a civilization which can be retained (in whole or in part), as well as lost; despite changes of form and strcutures?

Bruce G Charlton

Tuesday, 28 December, 2010  
Blogger kurt9 said...

Virginia Postrel talks about this issue in terms of dynamism vs stasis. Her book "The Future and Its Enemies" is quite good. Naturally, I prefer dynamism to stasis.

Tuesday, 28 December, 2010  
Blogger Sojka's Call said...

A very interesting post. I read both the Bruce Charlton and Andre Glucksmann articles. While Glucksmann appealed to my intellect and presented a very logically laid out argument, Charlton's post seemed to touch something else (emotion, soul, I am not sure).

The data is still percolating and hopefully a real opinion will emerge. Suffice it say, I believe Western Civ as we know it is going to change rapidly.

One thing that came to mind reading Charlton was that the Western world seems like a character with an Id in complete dominance of the personality. Maybe that was deliberate but I did not have time to read much of his previous writings to see if that is a analogy he has used in the past.

Tuesday, 28 December, 2010  
Blogger Sword S said...

A collection of organisms competing for survival*(a species) can last for millions of years without decaying, withstanding the tides of entropy. Natural selection, functions like an error correction filter, ensuring the preservation of fitness... Under some conditions it can function like a complexity ratchet, leading to progress.

Yet single organisms who do not have internal selection mechanisms as robust as natural selection, suffer from internal corruption. From things like aging and cancer.

This fact applies to other systems in the world, such as nations. Without adequate mechanisms to keep corruption, to keep the tides of entropy at bay, the probability of systemic collapse increases.

Tuesday, 28 December, 2010  
Blogger kurt9 said...

I looked over Charlton's blog. He appears to be heavily into religion. The problem I have with religion is that it does not necessarily promote the development of human capital, not to mention promulgation of competence and productive accomplishments.

Those of us who seek the open future share a common set of values. Pro-freedom, pro-free-market, openness, innovation, productive human accomplishment, pioneering, and radical life extension. Religion is fine as long as it supports and promulgates these values. However, many of the promulgators of religion that I read on the net often express skepticism, if not outright hostility towards the above values, making me question the usefulness of religion as a tool.

Tuesday, 28 December, 2010  
Blogger al fin said...

I am indebted to Professor Charlton for highlighting this issue in an intriguing manner.

I intend to explore particular strains of thought regarding the decline of the west in the future.

Not so that we can all commiserate over the loss, but rather so that we can rescue the particular aspects of western civ which will contribute to a robust and open-ended next level civilisation.

Tuesday, 28 December, 2010  
Blogger kurt9 said...

I understand that. However, Charlton strikes me as a bit of a luddite. He certainly favors stasis in favor of dynamism. Stasis always leads to zero-sum game, which means that the criminals get to solidify their position on the top. Stasis means "rule by criminal looters".

Wednesday, 29 December, 2010  
Blogger Bruce Charlton said...

I have posted a blog entry today which I hope may contribute to this analysis:


Bruce G Charlton

Wednesday, 29 December, 2010  
Blogger kurt9 said...

I stand by my previous point. If Christian religion supports the values that I cited in my previous comments, then its fine by me. If not, I see no point in it.

I will also say that dynamic societies that value productive accomplishment will out compete and surpass those societies that do not. It is a "red queen" competitive world. Innovation and productive accomplishment are the fundamentals of true sustainability.

Wednesday, 29 December, 2010  
Blogger al fin said...

Professor Charlton's points about the need for group cohesion at the civilisational scale are quite pertinent.

Fjordman also makes some valid points about the west's ongoing decline.

Modern western secular societies seem to exhibit multiple "death wishes" and a general lack of any unifying sense of purpose.

The ascendancy of a suicidal leftist political correctness in every aspect of our lives should be taken as a bad omen -- unless the leftist overseers of PC are dislodged from every area of control in society.

I am in favour of a secular society with true meta-cultural cohesion. (consider the differences between "multi-culturalism" and "meta-culturalism")

The metacultural society allows for freedom of religion -- but it is not fooled by the fascist, supremacist totalitarianism of fundamentalist Islam, as the moronic PC multiculturalists are fooled.

Wednesday, 29 December, 2010  
Blogger kurt9 said...

Professor Charlton's points about the need for group cohesion at the civilisational scale are quite pertinent.

Transhumanism (as a movement) and the space movement should be sufficient for this purpose.

Modern western secular societies seem to exhibit multiple "death wishes" and a general lack of any unifying sense of purpose.

That's why they need transhumanism and a vigorous space colonization movement (like the old L-5 Society).

Thursday, 30 December, 2010  
Blogger painlord2k@gmail.com said...

@Kurt9, if you looked at the polemics between the Italian transhumanists you would understood that Transhumanism alone is not enough.
There are transhumanists that wrote about the Nazi's SS as a prototype of the future political soldier of Europe. The Political Roots of "Overhumanism"

Friday, 07 January, 2011  
Blogger painlord2k@gmail.com said...

Transhumanism is not enough.
The problems of the italian transhumanism are an example of this:
The Political Roots of "Overhumanism"

Chrome Plated Jackboots

It would be easy to simply brand the main overhumanist writers as fascists (or neofascists, or neonazis), but that would not give the full picture, even if that seems to be their personal, cultural and political background, and even if some have gone as far as to publicly label themselves as fascists, or to describe the "much despised" Waffen SS as "a model for the future, a European army of political soldiers".

Friday, 07 January, 2011  
Blogger kurt9 said...


Transhumanism combined with libertarianism are sufficient. Transhumanism serves to provide the long-term societal goals and libertarianism protects and promulgates individual liberty. Obviously nothing else is necessary for an advanced technological civilization.

Saturday, 08 January, 2011  
Blogger kurt9 said...

Professor Charlton's points about the need for group cohesion at the civilisational scale are quite pertinent.

Transhumanism is not enough.

You guys are the ones claiming that group cohesion is necessary. I don't. I think we're better off without it.

If we are to have any kind of group cohesion, transhumanism is the only basis of such that is acceptable to me. I find all others to be offensive and will have nothing to do with them.

Saturday, 08 January, 2011  

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