Peter Thiel on “The Straussian Moment”

says well we’ve had all these years of
warfare over religion we’ll stop asking
important questions and all these
decades these centuries after the
Enlightenment here’s the world we’ve
reached this is the way I read you you
can correct my reading but let me finish
quoting you instead of violent wars
there could be violent video games
instead of heroic feats
there could be thrilling amusement park
rides instead of serious thought there
could be intrigues of all sorts
in a soap opera it is a world where
people spend their lives amusing
themselves to death close quote
now that is a devastating indictment of
much of contemporary America correct
well it is I mean I think this has been
06:59
the trend of modernity now it’s it’s
07:02
it’s not as though politics has
07:04
disappeared though it’s it’s often just
07:05
gets displaced in various ways but but
07:08
yes I think there is this this
07:10
incredible degree to which we’ve we’ve
07:14
we’ve substituted the realities of
07:18
politics for these sort of increasingly
07:20
fictionalized worlds and and it’s
07:23
probably uh that’s probably a very very
07:25
unhealthy thing there’s sort of a
07:27
slightly different frame that I’ve often
07:29
given on this is is that in in the last
07:33
40 or 50 years there’s been a shift from
07:36
exteriority which I which you know doing
07:41
things in the real world to the sort of
07:43
interior world which is sort of in a way
07:46
can be thought of this also the shift
07:47
from politics to entertainment or
07:50
something like that and and the the from
07:54
a dr. Phil a the powerful frame I give
07:57
is you know almost exactly 50 years ago
08:00
today and you know July of 1969 men
08:03
reached the moon and three weeks later
08:05
Woodstock began and with the benefit of
08:07
hindsight we can say that that’s when
08:10
you know progress ended and when the
08:12
hippies took over the country or
08:14
something like that and then we’ve had
08:16
we’ve had this incredible shift to
08:18
interior tea in the decades since then I
08:20
would include things like the drug
08:22
counterculture I would include
08:24
videogames you know maybe a lot of
08:27
entertainment more generally you know
08:30
there’s sort of parts of the internet
08:31
that can be scored both ways but but
08:34
certainly there all these things where
08:36
we’ve shifted towards the you know your
08:39
world of yoga meditation there’s a world
08:41
of interior culture that sort of and it
11:04
Rene Girard is in some ways the
addresses an aspect of human nature well
it’s it’s good it’s the very thing that
the Enlightenment says no no don’t even
think about such things right
yeah well the Enlightenment always
whitewashes violence it’s one of the
there are many things we can’t think
about an under Enlightenment reason but
one one is certainly violence itself and
and if you go to the anthropological
myth of the Enlightenment it’s the myth
of the social contract so what happens
when everybody is that everybody’s
else’s throat what the Enlightenment
says is everybody in the middle of the
crisis sits down and has a nice legal
chat and draws up a social contract and
that’s maybe maybe that’s the founding
myth the central lie of the
Enlightenment if you will and what
Gerrard says something very different
must have happened and when everybody’s
at everybody’s throat the violence
doesn’t just resolve itself and maybe it
gets channeled against a a specific
scapegoat where the war of all against
all becomes a war can of all against one
and then somehow gets resolved but in a
in a very violent way and so I think you
know what what Gerrard and Schmidt or
Machiavelli or you know the
12:18
judeo-christian inspiration all have in
12:20
common is this idea that human nature is
12:22
problematic its violent it’s um you know
12:25
it’s it’s it’s it’s it’s it’s not
12:27
straightforward at all what what you do

China Rejects Universal Values

There is more to China than it’s current prominence in global affairs. In this enlightening talk, Kerry Brown reflects on China’s rise and invites us to question our understanding of the country, its people and its values. How did China transform within a few decades to the global powerhouse it is today and what does a future with China in the steering wheel hold for the rest of the world?

To Deal With Trump, Look to Voltaire

Advice from the Enlightenment: In the face of crude bullying and humorless lies, try wit and a passion for justice.

We are living through a climate change in politics. Bigotry, bullying, mendacity, vulgarity — everything emitted by the tweets of President Trump and amplified by his followers has damaged the atmosphere of public life. The protective layer of civility, which makes political discourse possible, is disappearing like the ozone around Earth.

How can we restore a healthy climate? There is no easy answer, but some historic figures offer edifying examples. The one I propose may seem unlikely, but he transformed the climate of opinion in his era: Voltaire, the French philosopher who mobilized the power of Enlightenment principles in 18th-century Europe.

.. To those encountering him for the first time, Voltaire can look like a historical curiosity. His archaic wig and libertine wit seem to belong to a forgotten corner of the past. Moreover, he can be considered a conservative. He curried favor with the high and mighty, especially Louis XV. He was so deeply committed to the cultural system developed under France’s previous ruler, Louis XIV, that he would fail any test of political correctness today. And Voltaire opposed education for the masses because, he said, someone had to tend the fields.

.. So, forget the wig. But reconsider the wit. Nothing works better than ridicule in cutting bigots down to size. “I have never made but one prayer to God,” Voltaire wrote, “a very short one: ‘O Lord, make my enemies ridiculous.’ And God granted it.” The first of the two most powerful weapons in his arsenal was laughter: “We must get the laughter on our side,” he instructed his auxiliary troops in the salons of Paris.

.. Ridicule works outside salons. We in America have Stephen Colbert on television. We had H.L. Mencken in the newspapers and Mark Twain in books. Yet wit can sound elitist, and Voltaire cultivated the elite, especially in his youth, when he celebrated wealth, pleasure and the good things of life. His poem “Le Mondain,” written in 1736, is an apology for worldly luxury — “the superfluous, a very necessary thing,” he wrote, in opposition to Christian asceticism.

That was Voltaire the young libertine. But now, in our contemporary crisis, I propose that we look also to Voltaire the angry old man. It was in his old age, during the 1760s and 1770s, that he wielded his second and most powerful weapon, moral passion.

In 1762 Voltaire learned about a case of judicial murder. The Parlement (high court) of Toulouse had condemned a Protestant merchant, Jean Calas, to be tortured and executed for supposedly killing his son, who supposedly had intended to convert to Catholicism. Not only were the suppositions wrong, but strong evidence pointed to Calas’s innocence.

Voltaire seized his pen. He composed the “Treatise on Tolerance,” one of the greatest defenses of religious liberty and civil rights ever written. He also wrote letters, hundreds of them, to all his contacts in the power elite — ministers, courtiers, salon leaders and fellow philosophers, working from the top down and manipulating the media of his day so skillfully that he created a tidal wave of public opinion, which would ultimately lead to the recognition of rights for Protestants in 1787, nine years after he died.

Voltaire ended many of those letters with a rallying cry, “Écrasez l’infâme” — “Crush the vile thing.” For him, the meaning of “l’infâme” could be extended from intolerance to superstition and injustices of all kinds. The opposing notion of tolerance shaded off into broader values, including civility — the virtue that we need so much today and that Voltaire identified with civilization. Voltaire saw the triumph of civilization over barbarity as the ultimate good inscribed in the historical process. He made the message clear in his most ambitious work, “Essai sur les moeurs et l’esprit des nations”— “Essay on the Manners and Spirit of Nations” — a survey of world history that he first published in 1756 and revised and expanded until his death in 1778.

What more can we aspire to in the age of Trump? The opposition to bigotry and the defense of civil rights once again call for a commitment to the cause of civilization. They require moral passion seasoned with wit.

Richard Rohr Meditation: The Source of Action

The effectiveness of action depends on the source from which it springs. If it is coming out of the false self with its shadow side, it is severely limited. If it is coming out of a person who is immersed in God, it is extremely effective. The contemplative state, like the vocation of Our Lady, brings Christ into the world. —Thomas Keating [1]

.. I founded the Center for Action and Contemplation in 1987 because I saw a deep need for the integration of both action and contemplation. Over the years, I met many social activists who were doing excellent social analysis and advocating for crucial justice issues, but they were not working from an energy of love. They were still living out of their false self with the need to win, the need to look good—attached to a superior, politically correct self-image.

They might have the answer, but they are not themselves the answer. In fact, they are often part of the problem. That’s one reason that most revolutions fail and too many reformers self-destruct from within. For that very reason, I believe, Jesus and great spiritual teachers first emphasize transformation of consciousness and soul. Without inner transformation, there is no grounded or lasting reform or revolution. When subjugated people rise to power, they often become as dominating as their oppressors because the same demon of power hasn’t been exorcised in them.

We are easily allured by the next new thing, a new agenda that looks like enlightenment. And then we discover it’s run by unenlightened people who, in fact, love themselves first of all but do not love God or others. They do not really love the Big Truth, but they often love control. Too often, they do not love freedom for everybody but just freedom for their own ideas.

Untransformed liberals often lack the ability to sacrifice the self or create foundations that last. They can’t let go of their own need for change and cannot stand still in a patient, compassionate, and humble way. It is no surprise that Jesus prayed not just for fruit, but “fruit that will last” (John 15:16). Untransformed conservatives, on the other hand, tend to idolize anything that lasts, but then avoid the question, “Is it actually bearing any fruit?” This is the perennial battle between idealism and pragmatism, or romanticism and rationalism.

If we are going to have truly prophetic people who go beyond the categories of liberal and conservative, we have to teach them some way to integrate their needed activism with a truly contemplative mind and heart. I’m convinced that once you learn how to look out at life from the contemplative eyes of the True Self, your politics and economics are going to change on their own. I don’t need to teach you what your politics should or shouldn’t be. Once you see things contemplatively, you’ll begin to seek the bias from the bottom instead of the top, you’ll be free to embrace your shadow, and you can live at peace with those who are different. From a contemplative stance, you’ll know what action is yours to do—and what is not yours to do—almost naturally.