Mysterious attractor undermining global civilization as currently imagined (Part #1)
Produced on the occasion of the G8 Summit (Deauville, May 2011)
and the much-acclaimed historic declaration of Barack Obama to the UK Houses of Parliament:
There are few nations that stand firmer, speak louder and fight harder to defend democratic values
Our action, our leadership, is essential to the cause of human dignity.
And so we must act, and lead, with confidence in our ideals.
The vital importance of consensus is acclaimed everywhere. Any challenge to it is deprecated, considered a regrettable misunderstanding by the misguided, or even demonised. The absence of consensus is however evident in every domain, whether religious, scientific, political, or otherwise. The so-called global civilization is a quarrelsome environment. Appeals for consensus are typically pathetic exercises in tokenism in their effective influence on the reality of psychosocial dynamics. Vast resources are nevertheless allocated on the assumption that consensus will be achieved.
Is it possible that the quest for consensus, as currently imagined, will be considered pathological by the future?
An approach to the challenge has been helpfully made in the highly controversial study by Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion, 2006), from which the above title is adapted as a "methodological device". His argument is directed against the core belief of religion. However that core belief constitutes an understanding of ultimate "consensus" around which worldwide communities have formed. As he demonstrates, that understanding has proven to be divisive throughout history -- with each religion deploring the untruth which others cultivate. A merit of his study is that it treats the focus of such discord as a singular delusion transcending the particularities of any one religion. Perversely it offers an integrative perspective to which religions themselves have proven completely incapable of giving form. Dawkins treats it as a formless delusion with numerous unfortunate consequences.
Dawkins' critics have noted that he and his cohorts are simply promoting the "religion" of atheism using the scientific rationale (Greg Taylor, The Atheist Delusion: Answering Richard Dawkins, New Dawn, 1 May 2007). The following argument endeavours to integrate this latter view with his own perspective by recognizing that both religious believers and critics desperately endeavour to promote a form of consensus which may itself be essentially a delusion. The suggestion is that implicit in Dawkins' argument is an excellent criticism of the delusion of consensus for which he has chosen "God" as a convenient symbol -- effectively a surrogate for "consensus".
The question raised in what follows is therefore: Has Dawkins' approach been taken far enough? Can it be fruitfully extended to other domains where there are vain attempts to promote consensus -- on the assumption that every reasonable person should agree, once they are aware of the facts? These notably include political beliefs and the strategies they engender -- as is most evident in the tragedies of never-ending territorial disputes, as in the Middle East.
The desperate quest for consensus is also evident within particular scientific disciplines, and across the broader spectrum of disciplines -- on the assumption of the possible future emergence of some form of unity of knowledge, even implied by the concept of a "university". The questionable nature of any "consensus" within the scientific community has recently emerged with respect to the purportedly vital challenge of climate change, for example.
The argument here is not a plea for a simplistic form of relativism, nor a case for nihilism. Rather it is an argument for exploring the nature of the consensus delusion in order to arrive at a more fruitful understanding of what "consensus" might otherwise imply. However, in following the conventional pattern of calling for consensus on the merits of this initiative, it also fruitfully brings into play the paradoxical challenges of self-reflexivity. What is the nature of any consensus on the delusional nature of consensus?
|The consensus delusion exemplified|
|On the occasion of the G8 Summit (Deauville, May 2011) it was noted that the group had failed in its solemn pledges of aid to developing countries made in 2005 ( G8 has 'cooked books' over Gleneagles aid pledges, The Guardian, 18 May 2011). Of relevance to the unique defence of "democratic values", acclaimed by Barack Obama in his historic address to the joint UK Houses of Parliament (25 May 2011), is the cost of the effort to impose those values on other cultures. This is now measured in trillions of dollars -- and hundreds of thousands of dead in Iraq and Afghanistan, with uncounted millions otherwise affected -- a financial cost borne by countries faced with insurmountable deficits impacting severely on the well-being of their own populations. The "democratic values" have been further marked by the hundreds who remain incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay, uncharged, and complicity in the pattern of extrajudicial interrogation, renditions and executions, all purportedly in the name of democratic justice. |