A couple of years ago, before I allowed my brain to be recruited by the seamy world of political indignation, I was content to pass the time of an essay happily exploring such philosophic conundrums as why there is something rather than nothing, or whether it is possible for a copy to be greater than its exemplar. I have told myself that after November 5th I will no longer vote, or permit my beautiful mind to be cluttered and sullied by concern with the fate of humankind. I will go for depth instead of outrage, and see to the business of getting myself smart enough to die.
Such thoughts presuppose that a life of political activism is a world apart from a life of art, poetry, contemplation or metaphysical speculation, and that these respective zones of human concern are not related or contiguous in any way. I do believe this. There is an essential brainlessness about political thought and the brutal military "science" that proceeds from it. Moral utopias are interesting speculations, but unlike the Socratic musings of my fellow philosophic elitists they require broad consensus to reach any kind of visible telos in the world. Debates over how men should live move quickly from classroom to battlefield venues. Just as it is ludicrous that clerics should carry guns, it is unseemly for thinkers in the idealist-rationalist tradition to give a shit who wins Presidential elections. God to God, Caesar to Caesar, someone said.
If you grant that pragmatists and Machiavellians are not really philosophers (but merely a species of naive realists who put some sort of operative order to the world as it appears to most of us), you would think that the two areas of concern, call it inner and outer, or à priori and à posteriori, or holocosm and merocosm, or moral and acquisitive, or divine and mundane, would be non contiguous and mutually exclusive, the world perhaps proceeding from its ground in a relation of nonreciprocal contingency, a thing to be explained but not embraced. Understanding that life is a dream gives us no set of rules about how to conduct ourselves in slumberland. The point of applying our attention to it, normally, is to learn how to wake up from the dream, and stop having it altogether.
But it doesn't happen that way here on the ground. Heidegger, whose initiating formulation "Why is there something rather than nothing?" is about as pure a statement of the primordial query of the human mind as could be imagined, somehow moved his thinking along from the nameless origins of being to an advocacy of the National Socialist agenda of mid-20th century Europe. Huh? What?
Plato, author of the Republic, but also of the sublime Phaedrus, in which the chariot of the soul is pulled upward by the white pony of truth and downward by the dark and unruly pony of worldliness, is today demonized as the granddaddy of Leo Strauss, the absolutist, the advocate of aristocratic rule, the philosopher king, the noble lie, the enemy of democracy, the mentor of the mentor of George Bush, an idiot whom I loathe beyond all loatheable things. My man Plato gone bad, somebody's excuse for gunning down tens of thousands of human beings who haven't done anything to us, knowing that the cave of his allegory is nothing but demented shadows, yet sits down and writes the Republic as though just plopping a correct structure onto our disconnected opinions could somehow make philosophers of us all.
My man Augustine, who contemplated Cicero and the Divine Plotinus, is demonized as the enemy of feminism and the author of the just war theory. Why would anybody whose life has been devoted to discovering how it is that the world comes into existence at all, suddenly plunge himself into the hinterlands of the creation, or buy into the politics of Yoknapatawpha County or the sordid ego trips of pseudoevangelical pipsqueaks in Midland, Texas like a common yokel? I would like to think that if I were as wise as Heidegger, the squabbles of my contemporaries would fall away like so much silliness against the grander and more inclusive metaphysical truths in contrast to which such petty epiphenomenal concerns are mere sidebars.
My man Dante suggested that a mystical descent from the first things to the mundane and finally the infernal might take the form of a spiral, sort of like the Guggenheim Musuem in New York, where time takes us in lateral turns while eternal principles shine straight down from top to bottom, whether we like it or not. The imperial model, the picture by which an absolutist king rules by divine right, not out of a depraved love of despotism, but out of a wish for human society to be a reflection of God's cosmos, gave way in the late 18th century to the republican model. In France, libertè, egalitè et frateritè, in Jeffersonian America, government of, by and for the people, and in Germany, the rational, humanistic, prophetic ravings of Immanuel Kant who, having dealt at length with the perennial questions of metaphysics, turned his mind, at the end of a bloody century, to the practical concern of how men, swinish and belligerent as they manifestly are, might contrive to live in peace.
Bridging such impossible gaps seems to be the object of much human thinking, since we ourselves bridge the impossible gap between sublimity and depravity. So let us, for the moment, entertain these imponderables and consider whether, as some European scholars have recently queried, Immanuel Kant would have invaded Iraq.
Would Immanuel Kant have invaded Iraq?
Yes, well, some essayists at opendemocracy.com (don't go there... they'll pester you for money) actually had this peculiar debate not long ago, a variant on the popular theme: Would Jesus drive an SUV? One guy, a British philosopher named Roger Scruton, took another look at the maestro's 1795 essay Eternal Peace (Perpetual Peace in his translation) and decided that yes, Professor Kant, the utopian visionary who dreamed of a League of Nations, a federation of sovereign republics dwelling like sovereign individuals side by side in mutual respect, would indeed have preemptively attacked Iraq, ripped its hapless ruler from the smoking ruins of its society and demanded the reinvention of its culture in submission to international law. A German respondent, Antje Vollmer of the Green Party, contended that invading Iraq was definitely not a Kantian thing for us to have done, but seemed unable to say exactly why, except that Kant was a nice man and the invasion of Iraq was not a very nice thing to do. Another German, Herfried Münkler of Berlin's Humboldt University, presented an erudite and balanced view, and framed the relevance of the debate nicely for the year 2004. Now that this important question has been asked, I suppose we have no choice but to put the matter to rest.
Lest my reader wander away to his television set, I had better start with Münckler. Briefly, he points to the 1990s (the end of the cold war and east-west polarization) as a rare point in history where a longstanding world order is suddenly defunct and the designation of a new world order is up for grabs. Ideologically there are two contenders for a peaceful world: The Dantean (imperial) design and the Kantian (republican) design. Qualifiedly, Münckler views the European Union (and to a limited degree the United Nations) as children of the Kantian vision, an organization (European though not yet global) of free and independent republics immunized from war by the cost-benefit analysis of happy commerce versus stupid hostility. This is opposed to the American vision, insular and xenophobic and disproportionately powerful, which sees its advantage in a more imperial model where it is our way or the highway. Münckler notes that the expansion of commerce and democratization has indeed, as Kant predicted, eliminated war between modern states. We are, however, still some distance from eternal peace, due to primitive and dysfunctional states at one end of the spectrum, and 800 pound gorillas like the United States at the other.
Roger Scruton's take on this, titled Immanuel Kant and the Iraq War, opens up some interesting cans of worms. For pretending to entertain the question whether Professor K, who died exactly 200 years ago, would have approved the Iraq invasion, Roger leads off with some strange disclaimers. The relevant essay (Eternal Peace: A Philosophical Sketch, 1795, which we will momentarily explore in excessive detail) was written, says Roger, late in Kant's life "when his intellectual powers were failing." In addition to this disappointing fact, he asks us to take into account that Kant's political philosophy, unlike Jefferson's, was merely an intellectual canter on his part, a utopian fantasy, never meant to be implemented by real men in real history. Moreover (in case we have not by now left the intentions of Kant far enough behind, Scruton declares that "times have changed" and the dangers confronting Kant's world are not comparable to those confronting ours. Whereas a "superficial reading" of Kant might lead one to conclude that he shared the Enlightenment view that man is a free being guided by rational choice, it must not be forgotten that the gentle professor also believed that reason is prone to overreach itself, and therefore distrusted reason. Thus positioned to make of Kant's ideas more or less anything he pleases independently of their author, Scruton procedes to interpret the writings of this addled, outdated and misunderstood thinker in a way pretty much opposite of what most of us have come to think.
Scruton's best point is that Kant was a utopian, an opinion with which I agree. Kant was not, like Jefferson, a spokesman for an actual revolution, and therefore had no real plan for bringing people here and now into a new status quo. "A League of Nations can establish a genuine rule of law only if its members are also republics." Otherwise nations remain in a natural state of rivalry. That is to say, until the system which ensures peace is established and perfected, the system can not work at all. Until the respect for human rights internal to every member nation treats each citizen and neighbor as an end in himself, those nations are rogues and despotisms, and to confront them with violence for the sake of lasting peace is within the "just war tradition" and "a paradigm of legitimate belligerence." States which violate the moral law are illegitimate, and their disappearance is a good thing, realistically speaking.
Scruton does not give us a list of nations which, by dint of such moral imperfection, would be best eradicated. Bush would include the 35-40 countries which have the mere capability of building a nuclear weapon. Certainly tyrannies like Saddam's Iraq fit the bill. Dictatorships like China, military juntas like Cuba, hegemonic kleptocracies like the United States, monarchies like Saudi Arabia, theocracies like Iran, drug cartels like Columbia, basket cases like Haiti, all would make Roger's hit list unless some intermediate criteria were invoked. Causing nations and individuals to disappear is normally a fairly unreasonable procedure. At first glance it would seem that having reached that course of action one has more or less taken leave of Kant. Castro found himself in a similar ideological predicament circa 1960 when, immediately after his revolution, he was criticized for several weeks of non-stop firing squads by which he dispatched hundreds of vanquished members of the deposed Battista regime. "Look," he reasoned. "We are trying to establish a democracy in Cuba. You tell me. How are we supposed to have a democracy with these guys who oppose democracy running around on the streets. Hm?"
I hate to do this to you, but at this point I think we had all better take a field trip to the source and have a closer look at Kant's Eternal Peace. You and I are products of a really poor educational system, and this puts us at the mercy of carnies like Dr. Scruton who flag their credentials at us and assume that we will take their word for things. It will be an instructive diversion. We will be better people for it, armed with the veritable words of the master and filled afterwards with scholarly authority and power. As a service to both of us, I have condensed the whole essay into colloquial English. I could be trying to fool you, so please feel free to plow through the original yourselves. (Before I die I plan to make the Transcendental Aesthetic into a country and western song. Another first for Vox Clamantis)
There, was that so bad? Now that we're steeped in Kant, let us make short work of the outrageous assertions of the inscrutible Professor Scruton.
The intention of the enforcing agencies which bring about this possibly impossible federation of free yet compliant states is of some importance to Scruton's argument, as it was to Kant. He assumes that the United States has taken on the task of enforcing international law out of the highest of motives. "Suppose," he supposes, "that there is a larger power, which is a republic anxious to spread republican government around the world, motivated perhaps by some version of the Ideal of Reason that Kant puts before us in Perpetual Peace."
"Suppose," he blithely proceeds, "that the republic goes to war intending not to possess the territory or resources of the despotic state, but with the intention of creating the conditions in which its people can decide for themselves on their form of government."
I can suppose no further, dear reader, and neither can you. A republic? Who the hell is he talking about? Sweden? There is not a single indication extant that our noble republic has any intention other than strategic military bases in an oil-rich region, the occupation and control of its indigenous people and the expropriation of their resources. George Bush is not a champion of human rights, he is a common thief.
At no point did a federation of free and compliant states telegraph Yul Brynner and the boys back in Crawford to please send some magnificent gunslingers to save Western Civilization from Oilcan Saddam and his terrible weapons. At no point. No grateful kisses from little French girls this time around, fellahs.
Kant would not only have opposed the invasion of Iraq, he would have opposed the coronation of George Bush (along with Saddam and every other fraudulent bigshot on our stupefied planet.) He would have opposed the deterioration of the republic and the decay of the rule of law which led to the possibility of this and future idiocies. He would have reminded us that greed is not good, that steadfastness is a military, not a moral virtue, that there lies within men and their coalitions an unsleeping monster, and that we are held safe from the collapse of decency and the horrors of which we are capable only by the institution of lawful order and the spirit of republican government. He would have suggested that we can not afford the luxury of a "me" generation or the assumption that the sleep of reason will be forestalled by the administration of SAT exams. He would have favored the empowerment of a federation of nations dominated by none, with none held by the others to be a "beacon of hope" except by example. He would have placed his faith in the power of human intelligence to eventually craft a world in which the witches and dictators and greaseballs simply dissolve in the light.
The Golden Rule
Kant put the unkempt house of metaphysics in order, organizing its sloppy mystical effusions and intuitive leaps into a precise philosophic language. He was concerned with the Empiricism of David Hume, which persists to the present day as the naive realism by which the patrons of Scottish pubs resent being told that the glasses of beer they hold in their hands are not actually there. Kant had no problem with the objective reality of der lager-an-sich (as I myself do), but correctly pointed out that its color, flavor, wetness, temperature, extension and duration were provided by the drinker. Taking seriously anything subsequent to the scant formal possibility of a world should have been beneath his dignity, but he did it anyway, dreaming of social harmony and suggesting how reasonable people ought to conduct their political affairs in the categorical dreamland where they seem to live and move and have their being.
As I dimly recall from a survey of ethical systems in my distant college past, the arguments given to us by most thinkers for behaving ourselves tend to focus either on the need to achieve rectitude with the Deity (the easy, pre-humanist stuff), or on fulfilling the demands of some vision of the authentic life such as good citizenship, human felicity, inner peace, the blessings of personal integrity. Nothing amounting to a Mosaic imperative (follow these rules or we will get together and stone you) has presented itself to the present day - with the exception of Kant, about whose imperative I will have somewhat more to say. The Department of Ethics has always been located down some side hallway in the social edifice, a little like the EPA during the Reagan Administration, characterized by it's then-directoress as a "nothingburger." If we fail to behave ourselves in the perennial quest for personal self-perfection, we simply join the billions of moral derelicts who have gone before us. The consequences are merely personal. If we fail to behave ourselves as social animals we perhaps pollute the larger community in some ways, but given a halfway functional legal and penal system and the fact that human civilization surrounds us like a sea, how much harm can one person do? It's like peeing in an Olympic size pool. The world, even at the current level of moral non-compliance, seems to absorb the poisonous karma of the worst of us well enough that we can let our children play out of doors. For this reason, an absence of immediate consequences, ethical concerns are routinely swept aside when the concrete rewards of money, power and poontang loom unphilosophically on our radar screens.
I still have a handful of Kant anthologies at home, ancient Modern Library texts purchased brand new for under two bucks at a university bookstore in the middle of the last century. I must have understood them at some time long ago. Those are my underlines and asterisks plowing deep into the dense hinterlands of the Prolegomena and the Metaphysical Foundations of Morals, my miniature handwriting and expansive commentaries cramming the margins of the Critique of Pure Reason. I remember having had at one time a detailed and scholarly understanding of the Categorical Imperative, and must have demonstrated this in essay exams and term papers in those days, before the fog of age rolled in. The other day I was alarmed to discover that I could not even make an approximate statement of the CI, so far has the eye of my fox been replaced by that of my hedgehog. Digging it once again out of the text would have been possible, had the text not congealed, from lack of use, into incomprehensible academic gibberish. Finally I just looked it up in an online encyclopedia. "Wa'al shuckin's," I exclaimed. "That ain't nothin' but the goddamn Golden Rule!"
Here is what the Categorical Imperative has to say about how we should behave. (1) Always behave as if your action were to become universal law. (2) Always regard the people toward whom you behave as ends rather than means. The Golden Rule, lest the gentle reader has forgotten it, says: Treat others as you would wish to be treated. A sort of condensation of the above Kantian items into a single, rememberable directive.
Well, you say, I do remember being asked to recite that on demand by my third grade teacher, Miss Goodie Twoshoes. But where is the imperative? Isn't the Golden Rule just another recipe for being nice?
And if you decide not to be nice, and are not burdened by the belief that the universe is micromanaged by a rule-happy father surrogate who will cast you into hell if you become a disappointment to Him, what happens to you? If you are Attilla the Hun and choose instead to set fire to Europe and put everybody's heads on pikes, how does the Golden Rule rise to the authority of an imperative on you?
Interestingly, it is when you expand the GR into Kant's CI that the Miss Manners version we were taught suddenly grows teeth and commands the attention of survivalists as well as behavioral aesthetes.
My friend Sandin's mother used to say "What if everybody did that?" to which Sandin would reply "Everybody doesn't." Kant isn't your mother, asking you to imagine a world where everybody is a selfish little boy or girl like you are. He isn't saying that you should pretend your actions have become universal laws. He is saying that your actions do become universal laws. The rules become the rules because we say so. When we decide it's okay to pick pockets, then fine. Picking pockets is now universally okay, and whereas you may have benefitted from your initial thievery, you will be relieved of your loot by the thieves you have thereby created. Do unto others becomes the karmic What goes around comes around. It is worth noting that the second item in the CI is what greases your action and lets it slip so easily into the broader playground. We treat people as means (bearers of cash) to an end (our own enrichment) when we pick their pockets or sell them a bogus Rolex. When we use people, the action is transitive, passing along through them, into others, etc., popping up later in various unhappy ways. People are dehumanized to the extent that they are exploited - that they are not acknowledged as persons, whereas acts directed toward people as ends in themselves fall into the general area of love, tending to create friends and allies. So whether or not you have a guardian angel or anybody at all who cares a damn whether or not you are a nice person, it is still a good idea to be a smart person.
It is smart, for example, when you have a limited number of enemies, not to acquire more. Given that you already have these enemies, but enjoy a military or deterrent advantage over them, it is smart to keep things that way, i.e. to keep the playing field lopsided in your favor. It is smart to be economical and not squander your resources making a small, inexpensive conflict into a huge, burdensome conflict. It is not intelligent to go to a great effort to be worse off than when you started. This is for dummies, not for smart people who understand the Golden Rule.
Okay, you can see where this is going. Bush (by which label I of course mean the corporate machinery that has inexplicably chosen this poor stooge as their spokesperson) is using the people of Iraq as a means to the obvious end of oil and military bases. Torturing people for information might be construed as "using" people, by some long stretch of the imagination. So both parts 1 and 2 of the CI have been horrendously violated by our Iraq adventure, and the consequences are not simply that we should be ashamed of ourselves. There is a bill in the mail. Because the Golden Rule is really a law, like gravity. Like inertia.
Kantian Ethics in the News
Let's get away from abstractions and look at things in the news. It is hard to say whose bad behavior congealed into standard practice with modern targeting techniques. The Palestinians are beyond angry at the Israeli army and its Zionist bosses and the Jewish citizenry that hires them, and so the selectiveness of the bus bombs they utilize is really is not of great concern to them. Likewise, if the F-16 rocket reprisals "targeting" the apartment buildings where selected Hamas functionaries live tend to take out a few extra families, this is close enough for Sharon & Co. Up in Baghdad, Iraqis lob mortar shells into the Green Zone, on the assumption that everybody upon whom these could possibly land would be Americans or their running dogs. Car bombs, likewise, have evolved in lethal radius to where the driver does not need to pinpoint the exact vehicle in the motorcade containing his fat, collaborationist pig of a victim. And American rockets in Fallujah, seeking the surgical excision of Abu Musab al Zarqawi, target the center of a sort of "probability vector" that shows up as a fuzzy spot on a computer generated map, and always take out a dozen peripheral people whether their guy is home or not. Collateral death of non-combatants has, by mutual agreement, become acceptable practice. Somebody (we'll never know who) did it first, and it became universal law, just like Kant said it would.
The Golden Rule is really a law, like thermodynamics. We need to get over this idea that it has anything to do with niceness. Bush's people used the occasion of 9-11 to seize the moral right of preemptive attack and the suspension of domestic freedoms in the name of public safety (a tried and true technique for taking control of the big steering wheel) and thereby amended the rules. Lo and behold, a batch of crazy Chechens blow up three hundred Russian school children, a heinous act immediately billed as "Russia's 9-11," and Vladimir Putin (a former KGB commie) makes the identical declaration, that Mama Russia will now take out her enemies anywhere on earth, and put Gorbachav's glasnost and civil rights bullshit on hold for a bit in the name of public safety. The election of regional governors by popular vote will, he proposes, be abolished. Many of us have expressed surprise and alarm at the possibility of a resurgent soviet despotism and militarism. But this, children, is how universal laws are made. Not by Jimmy Stewart up in congress, but by some idiot (our President and his team of geniuses) inserting, unchallenged, a new deed into the historical record, thereby amending universal law automatically, just like Kant said it would.
Some conservatives are both educated and evil, and can not take refuge, like Bush and the religious right, in a lack of schooling. Henry Kissinger, for example, is fully aware that Kant's principle of universality is a basic moral truism for the behavior of states. The rules and permissions, that is, apply to everybody. "The 2002 National Security Strategy, and its implementation in Iraq, are widely regarded as a watershed in international affairs," writes Noam Chomsky, who then quotes Kissinger as approving the new doctrine with the reservation that the right of aggression can not, of course, be a principle available to every nation. Henry's immense hubris insists that this right is something we can grant or withhold, and that it will not be automatically taken. Putin (and his Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov) have recently declared their embrace of the Carter doctrine reserving the right of military force to ensure access to markets and energy supplies. They have announced the deployment of new state-of-the-art, possibly hypersonic missiles in response to our use of tactical "bunker busters." Nuclear programs are proceeding without any grant of permission in North Korea, Pakistan, India, Iran, Israel and other places almost as though Kant's principle of universality were actually a law, like action and reaction, like hydraulics.
The targeting of heads of state is a practice that most of us secretly approve. We cheered when the IRA lobbed a mortar round into Maggie Thatcher's back yard on Downing Street. Dubyuh would love for us to believe that the evil Saddam H. tried to whack his dad, and maybe it is true. Certainly we tried to take Saddam out, and similar contracts have been issued on Peron, Khaddafy (his kid, Saddam's kids), Arafat, innumerable Hamas potentates, etc. United Flight 93 was headed for Pennsylvania Avenue, which explains why Bush is more paranoid than, for example, myself. It gets personal, as it should. Everybody's ass should be on the line, especially those who pick fights. We are talking about the rules of heroism here. As immensely satisfying as it is for all us foot soldiers to contend that presidents should duke it out mano à mano, like the Arthurian warrior kings they pretend to be, it is arguably a little dumb for presidents themselves to write the murders of one another into the laws of war, thereby creating a world in which survival odds are better for infantrymen than for chief executives. Pay raises smart. Assassinations not smart.
The dumbest rule change the Bush people ever advocated was to nullify the Geneva Accords. We have a technological advantage on conventional battlefields. But as we have clearly seen, our enemies today are redefining the battlefield as well as the combatants. Nobody can put up a defense against a bunker busting nuke today, but, you may have noticed, we are not finding a lot of bunkers to bust lately. Some methods of warfare, such as psychological warfare and urban guerrilla warfare (terrorism) and industrial sabotage and torture are cheap and universally available. There is also no defense against random kidnappings and internet beheadings. Unlike high grade plutonium, we can not restrict access to ammonium nitrate, to used tires and gasoline, to electricity and broken glass and video cameras and bigassed serrated knives. Why would anybody in their right mind affirm the legitimacy of torture, removing those few remaining shreds of prohibition from modern warfare, given that our enemies are potentially so much better at it than we are? Aren't you surprised that the Freedom Hatin' Evil Doers have been so restrained in the amount of misery they could bring upon the infidels if all the stops were pulled? It is not fear of reprisal that moderates the behavior of men, even in war. It is common decency. (Per Ann Frank. Per Fadda Joe.) It is moral consensus. It is never wise to lower the bar, depravity wise. The moral playing field is self-leveling.
It was Kant's hope that despite the fact that men are not generally moral creatures motivated by duty, but rather political creatures motivated by self-interest (prudence), a basis for peace might still be found "even for a people of devils, if only they have intelligence." Alas.
The Outlook for America
The other day my brother Jim looked up from his Fantasy Football picks long enough to ask what I would do about terrorism if I were President. I directed him to the several dozen pages I've already written on the topic, and the mountains of even better stuff that others have written. It's an ok question I guess, except for being unanswerable in the demented frame of discourse from which it arises. I have never had the slightest idea, for example, what a terrorist actually is, apart from a hostile doodoo head we don't like very much. If there are parties out there, for example disaffected Saudi jihadists, with whom we have come into conflict so that we have begun to terrorize one another, these groups and our problems with them need to be addressed in a more specific way than most Americans are accustomed to. But the thrust of Jim's question is fair enough: If I had George Bush's job today (and conceding, as I do not, that he cares about eliminating deadly hostility toward American interests, as opposed to the ruthless furtherance of American interests despite the "terrorism" it ignites) what would I do? I said this in something I wrote the day after 9-11, but Chomsky just said it better yesterday, so we'll use his: (1) "The appropriate response to terrorist crimes is police work." (2) "We can... address the myriad grievances, many legitimate, that are the root causes of Islamic militancy."
Would this be effective? Given the distance we have traveled into error, I doubt whether it would make much difference in our lifetimes. Like ending global warming, like slowing down on an icy road, if we stop making things worse right now it might be another fifty years before things stop getting worse. A lot of people have blood revenge issues with us today, and these people and their children will have to grow old and die before we are safe in tall buildings or cute middle eastern restaurants. It is a moot point anyway. We are plenty dumb enough to remain lost for the forseeable future.
Apart from the faith that America will not succeed, I am not an optimist and I am not volunteering to clean up this mess. I look, I ponder, I seethe, I speak. Just now I toss out a little Kant, since some of what he has to say puts todays events into perspective, even offering a few archaic remedies. We can still appreciate the thrust of Kant's hope for the rule of reason. Intelligence will prevail even if we ourselves perish (fiat justicia, pereat mundus.) We may be a nation of invincible Dantean soldiers, mandated to institute God's Holy Empire upon the earth, but we are living in a far stranger Kantian world, where Mother Nature and the dynamics of relativity take their course over obsolete Newtonian absolutes and the inevitable, unfathomable scramble for life trumps the folly of iron kingdoms.
From the age of the Enlightenment it was another fifty years before the importance of psychology in human events began to crawl into focus, and another hundred before the possibility of a collective death wish would assert itself against Kant's appeal from intelligence and sanity, first in the thoughts of thinkers and then in the trenches of Verdun. Peace is all well and good if we are talking about enlightened people, who wish to be alive and happy. But we are clearly not so constituted. We are multi-layered, dark, complex, deceptive, devious, treacherous beings, sporadically violent, spiritually conflicted, unknown even to ourselves, and given to aiming guns at our own heads. We are capable of defiant ignorance and fierce loyalty to the common paradigm no matter how ineffectual. That such clueless travelers as ourselves have not yet perished from head-bumping injuries is the best argument yet posed for a benevolent Providence. Left to our own devices we would (and yet may) drown in our toilets.