Did the Enlightenment cause a global decline in violence?
Has the modern age seen a widespread decline in violence due to an awakening of western thought and culture in the 17th and 18th centuries? The author and neurobiologist Steven Pinker famously argued exactly that in his celebration of the Enlightment, The Better Angels of our Nature. There has not so much been a decline in violence as a rise in squeamishness. It’s easier to feel less squeamish when the regime’s victims are spirited away to gulags or concentration camps, or when incendiary or nuclear bombs can be dropped from 30,000 feet at the push of a button. If there is a decline in violence, it is due to Christianity. The first condemnation of slavery as an institution in all of recorded history was made by the Catholic bishop and Church Father Gregory of Nyssa, in strikingly “Squeamish” terms, exhorting his congregation to see in their slaves the same image of God that dwells in them, and to free them. If the Enlightenment did anything, it was only to accelerate a process that had been ongoing for centuries. The modern age doesn’t look so hot when you count abortion. Abortion is a typical “Squeamish” issue, where mere squeamishness leads us astray. It’s harder to get squeamish about a “Clump of cells” than a live baby, even though there is no conceptual difference between the two. If abortions are counted as homicides then the modern age sure doesn’t look so hot. The one true sleight-of-hand practiced by Steven Pinker in his account of the decline of violence is that he tries to erase the inherently modern phenomenon of totalitarianism from the legacy of the Enlightenment, so that they don’t get put on the Enlightenment’s balance sheet. Totalitarianism is an inherently modern phenomenon that would have been impossible without the Enlightenment. Late 18th century French society got squeamish about the public torture of Jean-François Damiens – and just a few decades later, they used the hygienic innovation of the guillotine to murder people in the name of Enlightenment values on a scale that would have been unthinkable in the Ancien Régime. The modern age included a laudable squeamishness against tyranny, but it also included a nice dose of utopian hubris, and the special horrors of the modern age are incomprehensible without this Enlightenment idea. The Enlightenment is a glorious thing, but it is also a dangerous thing – it must always be rescued from itself.
Antiwork: Bureaucracy, Not Capitalism, Is Crushing Your Soul Through Jobs
Antiwork conservatives must hide their sentiments the most when among other conservatives because antiwork – or at least, a movement for the lessening of work and improvement of the existential experience of work – clashes with the “Work hard, pray hard” mentality of mainstream conservatives. Joe Average Conservative looks at the world, sees a ruin, and so decides that the only way he can feel good about himself and his society is to argue to himself that if he just does the right thing, eventually there will be a mass awakening and people will mass convert to his values. Nearly one in five workers – a share the study calls “Disturbingly high” – say they face a hostile or threatening environment at work, which can include sexual harassment and bullying. Workers who have to face customers endure a disproportionate share of abuse. Telecommuting is rare: 78% say they are required to be present in their workplace during working hours. About half say they work on their own time to meet the demands of their job. In other words, people are getting demolished by their jobs. A conservative approach to work would have one guiding rule: efficiency. It would do this because in the conservative goal, hard work is a useful pursuit if it is also useful work, as otherwise it is a conceit, fetish or excuse. Most people are strangers to themselves, having been distracted or occupied since a young age, and have no idea why they do anything they do. Without those, the plants grow stunted and exhausted, much like the people who trudge through life like zombies, irate at any deviation from the norm because they are barely able to handle that and any variation threatens their fragile stability. Work shows us that as any organization gets large enough, it succumbs to The Human Problem, which is that over time any group becomes inverted in purpose as it changes itself to accommodate the wider and less selective group that it requires to grow. This is why managers pump up their statistics and then move on to new jobs, leaving a mess behind when the deception is uncovered, and why most workers are diligent about going through the motions but lazy about qualitative concerns and detail management. The Human Problem shows us that no matter what “System” we employ, if we do not create a hierarchy of the best people, purpose becomes inverted. In our current world of work, there are many problems.