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Reason Versus Anti-Reason: America’s Primal Struggle

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The enemy is the unphilosophical spirit which knows nothing and wants to know nothing of truth.”-Karl Jaspers, Reason and Anti-Reason in Our Time (1952)

After the Second World War, Karl Jaspers identified a crucial but neglected bifurcation, one that could best explain the rise of Nazism. Beginning with a general comment about human behavior – “There is something inside all of us that yearns not for reason but for mystery…” – the thoughtful German philosopher proceeded to advance pertinent warnings at far deeper levels. Among other things, Jaspers observed that we must confront the enemies of Reason and Science not only in the “outside world,”[1] but “more dangerously…. inside each one of us.”

               If Jaspers was correct that anti-Reason can inhere in each individual person, in the singular being and not just in the broader society (the macrocosm), it’s time to seek serious explanations and remedies beyond politics. There will, of course, arise various clarifying reasons for citizen bewilderment. Here, as is the case for any multi-layered intellectual quandary, truth may prove counter-intuitive.

               During the incessantly law-violating Trump era in American politics, the United States was never actually “becoming Nazi Germany.” Still, its easily determinable trajectory was both authoritarian and lethal. And though palpably vital differences exist between “then and now,” there were also conspicuous forms of resemblance.

How shall the recent US period of grievous governmental declension best be explained? In part, meaningfully correct answers should be sought “behind the news.”  For example, both the Third Reich and Trump’s presidency thrived upon variously paradoxical juxtapositions of privilege with philistinism. For such a seemingly self-contradictory fusion, the nineteenth century Friedrich Nietzsche (an “existentialist” forerunner of Karl Jaspers) coined a specific term, one he hoped could sometime become universal. This new word of the German philosopher was Bildungsphilister. When expressed in its  lucid and coherent English translation, it signifies “educated Philistine.”[2]

The fearful commonalities are incontestable. As was the case in Germany’s late Weimer Republic years, street-fighters (e.g., Sturmabteilung or SA, Trump’s “Proud Boys,” etc.) made collaborative cause with accomplished professional classes. In the United States, this anti-democratic pattern of mutual support was established before and after the January 6 insurrection. Once again, in 2021 America, the benefits of a higher education proved more-or-less irrelevant to personal integrity.

                Intellectually and linguistically, these are “delicate matters.
Even now, Nietzsche’s Bildungsphilister is a term that could shed useful explanatory light on Donald Trump’s still-uninterrupted support among millions of America’s well-educated and well-to-do. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump several-times commented: “I love the poorly-educated.” Nonetheless, in the end, a substantial fraction of his voter support arrived from the not-so-poorly-educated. Here, recalling philosopher Karl Jaspers’ far-seeing fears of “whisperings of the irrational,” Americans should be reminded of a kindred remark by Third Reich Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels: “Intellect rots the brain.”

               Thankfully, there do remain tangibly meaningful distinctions between German National Socialism and the false ideology of Trump Era American politics. But generally, these distinctions express more of a difference in magnitude than one of any discernible demographic origins. At one level, many Americans remain wholly willing to abide an ex-president (and potentially future president) who not only proudly avoids reading, but who openly belittles history, science and learning.

In time, if not suitably obstructed, such misplaced trust could become lethal for an entire nation.

               The “Trump Era” did not suddenly end with the election defeat of its leader. Hence, more “penetrating clear thought” is needed to understand our still-ongoing American declension. Do most Americans (even Trump’s avowed political opponents) sufficiently object to an ex-president who obviously never glanced at the US Constitution, the very same document he so solemnly swore “to uphold, protect and defend?” Is it even reasonable or persuasive to “uphold protect and defend” a document that has never even been read? Is it reasonable or persuasive that “We the people….” are still not pervasively troubled by such a cavernous intellectual disjuncture?

               Certain key questions ought not be skirted any longer. To begin, how has the United States managed to arrive at such a portentous and dismal place? What have been the pertinent failures (both particular and aggregated) of American educational institutions, most notably our vaunted universities?[3]  

                Once upon a time, in western philosophy, Plato revealed much higher leadership expectations for his “philosopher-king.”  Yet, even if we should no longer plausibly expect anything like an ideal ruler in the White House, ought we not still be entitled to a man or woman who manages to read and think, seriously? 

                Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s Zarathustra warns prophetically: “One should never seek the `higher man’ at the marketplace.” But the generally intellect-free marketplace was precisely where a misguided segment of American society first championed Donald J. Trump. What else should we have expected? In the United States, after all, we are ultimately measured by only one conspicuous standard.

               We are measured by what we buy.

               There is more, of course, much more. The former American president was not “merely” marginal or inattentive. He represented the diametric opposite of both Plato’s philosopher-king and Nietzsche’s “higher-man.” At its moral and analytic core, the Trump administration expressed a wretched inversion of all that might once have been ennobling in the United States. Even more worrisome, we Americans are now stumbling further and further backwards, visibly, unsteadily, not in decipherable increments, but in giant leaps of self-propagating and mutually reinforcing harms.

               Among other debilities, these leaps identify the stain of unforgivable cowardice, especially in certain narrowly-combative sectors of the US Congress.

 Former president Trump never did begin to understand that tangible US history deserves a special pride of place. How many Americans have ever paused to remember that the Founding Fathers who framed the second amendment were not expecting automatic weapons? How many citizens have ever really bothered to know that the early American Republic was a religious heir of John Calvin or the philosophical descendant of John Locke and Thomas Hobbes? How many “successful” US lawyers have even heard of William Blackstone, the celebrated English jurist whose learned Commentaries literally formed the common law underpinnings of America’s legal system?

               There is more. Is there a single Trump lawyer (personal or institutional) who could conceivably recognize (let alone read) Blackstone’s juristic contributions? It’s a silly question.

               Human beings are the creators of their machines; not the other way round. Still, in politics, there exists today an implicit and grotesque reciprocity between creator and creation, a potentially lethal pantomime between users and the used. Nowhere is this prospective lethality more apparent than among the endlessly self-deluded but always loyal supporters of former US President Donald Trump. If these supporters still follow him faithfully, it is because they seek more intense emotional satisfactions than Science or Reason can ever possibly offer.

               But by definition it’s an ill-fated search.

Again and again, these acolytes turn to contrivance, conspiracy and an utterly willful irrationality. Whether the January 6 insurrection was past or prologue remains to be seen.

               Even today, former President Donald Trump’s simplifying “explanations” offer millions of Americans an ill-founded kind of reassurance. Metaphorically, they continue to provide adherents with a ubiquitous and useful “solvent,” one capable of “dissolving” almost anything of any enlightening consequence. At the end of the 18th century Age of Enlightenment, the philosopher Immanuel Kant urged Europeans: “Sapere Aude”: “Dare to know.” Above all else, the Trump minions’ uninterrupted “fight” against Science and Reason expresses a fierce struggle against this helpful mantra, against the indispensable sovereignty of human intellectual freedom.

               What’s ahead for the United states? Soon, even if Americans should somehow manage to avoid nuclear war and nuclear terrorism – an avoidance not to be taken for granted in the dissembled aftermath of Donald Trump – the swaying of the national “vessel” could become unendurable. Then, the phantoms of great ships of state once laden with silver and gold would no longer lie forgotten. Then, perhaps, we could finally understand that the circumstances that sent the compositions of Homer, Maimonides, Goethe, Milton, Shakespeare, Freud and Kafka to join the works of properly forgotten poets were neither unique nor transient.

               These circumstances were recurrent and remain palpably menacing.

               In an 1897 essay titled “On Being Human,” Woodrow Wilson inquired about the “authenticity “of Americans. “Is it even open to us to choose to be genuine?” he asked. This American president had answered “yes,” but only if the citizens could first refuse to cheer the dreadfully injurious “herds” of “mass”[4] society. Otherwise, as he had already understood, our entire society would be left bloodless, a skeleton, dead with that rusty death of broken machinery, more hideous even than the biological decomposition of each individual person.

                In every society that seeks to endure (as Emerson and the other American Transcendentalists had already recognized), the wittingly scrupulous search for Reason is most important. Looking ahead, there can be a “better”American soul[5] (and thereby a more Reason-directed national politics),  but not before this nation can first acknowledge a prior obligation. This antecedent requirement is a starkly overriding national responsibility to overcome a still-menacing “herd” culture.

               Per Karl Jaspers’ apt warnings, this means a primal obligation to uproot an all- too-often triumphant Anti-Reason.

               Even after its final destructive explosion of lawlessness at the US Capitol, the Trump presidency managed to end without igniting a catastrophic war.  But for the United States, even that presumptively “happy ending” might still represent little more than a temporary reprieve. Unless we can finally begin to work much harder at changing this polity’s consistently core antipathies to Intellect, Law and (above all) Reason, Americans will have to face periodically perilous eras of collective decline.

               The “trick” will be to alter the nation’s direction in time. Philosophically, to change this lethal trajectory will call for a manifestly far-reaching national victory of Reason over Anti-Reason. Once such a victory is finally achieved, the United States could finally begin to fashion a future based upon more than distressingly illiterate conspiracy theories and rancorously foolish ad hominem diatribes.

               America’s most genuinely primal problem is not a struggle against any one species or another of “enemy” (whether foreign or domestic), but a recalcitrant segment of United States citizens which “knows nothing and wants to know nothing of truth.” Until this is changed, millions of Americans will cling fiercely to evident and dangerous nonsense.

               Until this is reversed, enlightenment and survival will remain in dire peril.


[1] We were all originally warned about confusing “shadows” for reality by Plato (The Republic). See, by the present author, Professor Louis René Beres, at Horasis (Zurich): https://horasis.org/looking-beyond-shadows-death-time-and-immortality/

[2] The first language of the present author, Professor Louis René Beres, was German. Born in Zürich, this is his own translation.

[3] See by this author at The Daily Princetonian: Louis Rene Beres, https://www.dailyprincetonian.com/article/2018/06/a-core-challenge-of-higher-education

[4] See especially Jose Ortega y’Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses (Spain, 1930).

[5] Sigmund Freud maintained a general antipathy to all things American. In essence, he most objected, according to Bruno Bettelheim, to this country’s “shallow optimism” and its seemingly corollary commitment to crude forms of materialism. America, thought Freud, was very evidently “lacking in soul.” See: Bruno Bettelheim, Freud and Man’s Soul (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1983), especially Chapter X.

LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue. His twelfth and most recent book is Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel's Nuclear Strategy (2016) (2nd ed., 2018) https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy Some of his principal strategic writings have appeared in Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); International Security (Harvard University); Yale Global Online (Yale University); Oxford University Press (Oxford University); Oxford Yearbook of International Law (Oxford University Press); Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College (Pentagon); Special Warfare (Pentagon); Modern War Institute (Pentagon); The War Room (Pentagon); World Politics (Princeton); INSS (The Institute for National Security Studies)(Tel Aviv); Israel Defense (Tel Aviv); BESA Perspectives (Israel); International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; The Atlantic; The New York Times and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

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The Silicon Valley’s ‘Code Peasants’ and ‘Code Overlords’

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The most numerous tech workers in Silicon Valley would be programmers. Their stereotypical image was keeping their heads down, busy in their coding and programming, and even spending their whole life doing so. At times they were touted as “code peasants”. Yet this is not necessarily static and unchangeable. Some of these “code peasants” took advantage of the loose corporate culture of Silicon Valley companies, and evolved to become “code overlords”, i.e., those who prioritize their side jobs over their main jobs. This has eventually become a culture that these “code overlords” hold tight to, and refuse to let go.

About half a year ago, someone went to Cancún in Mexico, during the time that was not the peak tourist season, yet he found out the hotels there were almost fully booked. A local friend of this person who was “working remotely” told him that such was already a case since a year ago. Most of the people staying in the hotels were employees of American tech companies, and they were there for the so-called “remote working”.

Although the American government announced that the country is now fully open and that companies require employees to return to the offices, for these “code peasants” in the past and “code overlords” now, they are reluctant to get back to work. Hence, hotels at the seaside of Cancún are still overcrowded. Why are they willing to spend their time there, even if that means they could possibly lose their job? This requires looking at the problem from a new perspective.

In Cancún, an invisible supply chain of American tech companies has actually been formed. To put it simply, it is because “remote working” is not efficient at all, as it is based entirely on personal ethics. Even if things can be maintained, no major work can be done through such means. The result of this is that many businesses of American tech companies have to adopt outsourcing. Thus, everyone in Cancún becomes each other’s outsourcer. While receiving the company’s salary and benefits, those who work remotely here are helping other companies in outsourcing business. At the same time, they can also enjoy Mexico’s tax relief policy. Their daily consumption is only one-third of that of the United States. Surely these people have a good life there.

For these people, forcing them to return to their companies and stick to a 9 to 5 job, that would mean zeroing-out their side income, and this is tantamount to a crime against humanity.

For such a loose corporate culture failing to deliver proper work, is it an accidental phenomenon, or has it become a common practice?

While we cannot say that everyone in the so-called Silicon Valley culture is like what is described above, there is no doubt that many of them are. Some say that the high-tech “code peasants” working in Silicon Valley companies are not much better. One such worker revealed that he joined an underground work group in the company, which was actually a discreet carpenter organization. When the riots in Portland were the most intense, they went around making wooden fences for shops. They covered each other, divided the workload, and always ensured that two people could work outside every day. This persisted for more than a year, and the company’s administration had no clue about it.

Maybe we can also cite an even more impressive case. There is one employee who appeared to go to the office daily to work, yet he spent a year writing a long science fiction novel in the company’s café. Many scenes in the novel are completely based on his company, even with some names of the characters unchanged. It is only after this is known that his “side job” was discovered.

There is another tech company in Silicon Valley that specializes in intelligent manipulators, and it too adhered to the so-called “Silicon Valley culture”. It is said that because long-distance driving became popular during the pandemic, as a result, 30% of the electrification of RVs in California at that time was completed by employees of this company in their “spare time”, and all these businesses had nothing to do with the actual company.

When personal spare time is mixed with working time, the efficiency certainly will not be high. Hence, all working time may become spare time, not the other way around. Elon Musk, who wants to do something now, made a drastic reorganization of Twitter, with the intention of dismantling the Silicon Valley culture. Those who are not willing to work under him would have to move on, to be replaced by others. It is definitely not that Musk does not understand Silicon Valley companies and their culture. On the contrary, it is precisely because he understands too well of the flexible work and the so-called Silicon Valley culture that is so hyped up by schools of business and management.

Now Musk is fighting this war against the work culture of Silicon Valley, against these “code overlords” alone. As a technology capitalist, he is the Don Quixote in this circle.

Final analysis conclusion:

The legendary “Silicon Valley culture” has mutated. For those who advocate flexible and remote work, “working time” has become “spare time”, and the “code peasants” have evolved to become “code overlords”. Elon Musk’s current massive layoff of the Twitter team is actually a challenge against such “code overlords”.

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U.S. has a vital interest in avoiding going to war for a lie

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Photo: Bundesregierung/Denzel

Last time, it was a U.S. president, George W. Bush, who dishonestly took America into a conflict, but that at least was against a weak Third World nation. The consequences were still disastrous: thousands dead and tens of thousands of wounded Americans and hundreds of thousands dead Iraqi civilians, trillions of dollars wasted, and a Middle East in flames.

But what Zelensky would do is much more serious, writes “The American Conservative”. He called the Poland strike “a really significant escalation” requiring a response, even though the issue would have nothing to do with Ukraine had the missile been launched by Russia.

In this case, entry into the war could trigger a major conventional conflict highlighted by use of tactical nuclear weapons, or even the use of strategic nuclear strikes around the globe, from Russia to Europe to the U.S. That would be a catastrophic result for all concerned, including Ukraine.

But the missile was not from Russia, and the U.S. has a vital interest in avoiding going to war for a lie. Upbraiding Zelensky, as Biden apparently did, isn’t enough.

This isn’t the first unsettling surprise by Ukraine for Washington. While the attack on the Kerch Strait Bridge was legitimate, it could escalate the conflict in dangerous ways for the U.S. So too could strikes in border Russian regions near Belgorod, and the assassination of Daria Dugina, a Russian propagandist, not combatant.

If Ukraine were operating entirely on its own, such actions would be its business. However, it has succeeded beyond any expectation only because of allied, and especially U.S., support for the Ukrainian military.

Washington also should further open diplomatic channels with Moscow, as appears to be happening, at least to some degree, given reports of CIA Director Bill Burns meeting with his Russian counterpart last week. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin have also engaged with Russia, but such conversations need to be broadened to discuss possible political accommodations.

The U.S. also needs to address the Europeans, especially its most fervent hawks, who tend to be among the most lightly armed.

For instance, the Baltic states — small nations with minimal armed forces and niggardly defense efforts for governments claiming to be under imminent threat of conquest — are regarded as the most likely to engage in “freelancing,” as when Lithuania sought to block traffic between Kaliningrad and the rest of Russia. Everyone knew who would be ultimately stuck fighting the war that might result if Moscow’s forces had decided to shoot their way through, and it wasn’t Vilnius.

It is easy to sacrifice someone else’s lives and money, which is essentially what most U.S. “allies” believe is their role in both bilateral and multilateral security partnerships. Washington submissively agrees to defend them, as is its duty; they generously agree to be defended, as is their right. That relationship is no longer sustainable.

America’s foreign aid should be tailored to American interests, and Washington should rethink what has become an increasingly dangerous almost “all-in” proxy war against Russia.

The U.S. should scale back military aid to Kiev, and especially Europe.

Operating as Europe’s patsy is a serious problem, even in peace.

The time for the Europeans to take their defense seriously is long overdue. But that will happen only when Washington stops doing everything for them. America’s military remain busy around the world. The Europeans should secure their own continent, relieving the U.S. of at least one needless military responsibility.

Zelensky’s misleading missile gambit reinforces the necessity of a change in course for Washington.

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Thanksgiving, The World Cup and Sports Celebrities

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Forty-six million turkeys surrender their lives so Americans can celebrate Thanksgiving.  It is an occasion where traditionally families gather together for a scrumptious meal of turkey and trimmings, numerous side dishes and pumpkin pie, followed by … college football on TV — that is American football, a game somewhat similar to rugby. 

The holiday is meant to commemorate the first Thanksgiving when the pilgrims who ventured to America gave thanks for a good harvest.  It was a time when a poor harvest could have meant famine in winter.  Never now in our sophisticated world where we import grapes from the southern hemisphere (Chile) for consumption in winter and many fruits are available year round.

This year there is the added entertainment of the soccer World Cup in Qatar, being played out in eight  purpose-built stadiums, seven new and one refurbished.  Most will be converted for other uses after the event, a change from the past.  

The US now has a team that held England, where the game was invented, to a draw.  The favorites remain  the Latin American powerhouses like Brazil and Argentina but the Europeans can on occasion pull off a surprise.

Why certain games are popular in one country and not another is difficult to explain.  India and China, the world’s most populous countries, are absent at the World Cup.  On the other hand, India is a powerhouse in another British game: cricket.  And China remains a top performer at the Olympics.

The crowd turning out for cricket matches, particularly between arch rivals India and Pakistan remain unmatched by other sports played there, even field hockey where the two countries have also been fairly successful. 

Leveraging sports celebrity into a political career is also possible but success on the cricket pitch may not always be transferred to administrative competence.  Imran Khan’s innings as prime minister led to members of his own party defecting, and ended when he lost his parliamentary majority.

Still attracting large crowds of supporters who are entertained at his rallies before he himself appears, he is asking his supporters to march to the capital — echoes of another leader this time in the US, Donald Trump, who has just announced a bid for re-election.

Meanwhile, Imran Khan has been secretly recorded planning illegal tactics and barred from holding political office by the courts in Pakistan.  Exactly how he plans to rule if his party or coalition were to win is not clear — by proxy perhaps.

If all this is not enough, he has become notorious for doing U-turns on policy leaving his party members and supporters scrambling in his wake — a reminder if ever there was of the old Chinese curse:  “May you live in interesting times.”

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