15 comments

  • >I would say that in the West we seem to be living in an age of Agnosticism. People seem increasingly unsure as to what to believe, and this seems to make many people want to search for answers even less. This is reflected not only in society, with the continual gains made in science that question people's beliefs, but also in philosophy. Throughout most of Western history philosophers have sought the truth. But American pragmatism, advocated by philosophers like John Dewey, suggests that truth is the wrong thing to be searching for. Instead pragmatism advocates searching for what works, and this is what we do today.Yet at the same time we still have a desire to find an 'end of history' and the ultimate truth. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century economists claimed to have perfected the economic system and ended the era of booms and busts. People first claimed to have perfected economics with the Central Bank system, but then the Great Depression came. Next Keynesianism claimed the prize, but recessions still came. The process is still occuring today with Gordon Brown (PM of GB) having claimed the 'end of boom and bust politics' prior to the recession we're in today. And the 'end of history' phrase appears in many subjects. It was coined by Francis Fukuyama in 1992 to explain the victory of American Liberal Democratic Capitalism over the Soviet system. Perhaps it's our very failure to find these truths that fuels our agnosticism?

  • >I don't think the West is agnostic. The United States is overwhelmingly Christian – evangelically so – even in the highest offices. I agree that the economic certainties of the 40s-70s (Keynesianism) and the 1980s-2000s (new right economics) are shattered, but there also several 'certainties' that are rarely, if ever, questioned and are held up as absolute truths where to attempt to question them is to invite accusations of folly: democracy, evolution, liberalism. I'm not saying *no one* questions them, but not everyone in the Renaissance was rediscovering Plutarch either. If it's a spirit of the age we're after, agnosticism isn't it. In politics, Fukuyama was wrong when he pronounced that liberal democracy had won the battle of ideologies, but it's also wrong (in my opinion) to claim that liberal democracy is not as fundamentally unchallenged in the west now as it was in 1990.As for what it is, rather than what it is not, I honestly don't believe we can know, but the most likely is a severe clash of civilizations and cultures, owing to inter-mixture in the West and East and the rise of powerful Islamic states, unparalleled since the 16th centuries. Can't get that into a pithy soundbite.

  • >"People seem increasingly unsure as to what to believe, and this seems to make many people want to search for answers even less".I'm not sure what you mean by that. If people are sure of what to believe then surely their 'search for answers' stops, whilst those who are unsure go on searching? It seems a paradox to me.

  • >Westerners are not agnostic on paper no. But then according to statistics I'd probably be recorded as a Christian. How many real Christians do you actually meet in between the age of 15 and 35? Many people say they're Christian, sure. But when you actually ask what they believe it starts to get more hazy and you find that more often than not most people simply haven't read the religious texts. People mean to at some future point but deem other things more important. And fervent believers are even rarer. The percentage of people who believe in God as strongly as they believe the chair they're sat on exists is extremely low. However it does seem that religiosity is higher in the US than the UK and on that I take your point.However the point I wanted to make was not one restricted to religion. In fact I shouldn't have chosen to use the word agnostic. What I meant was something between apathetic and agnostic. For a generation ago most people said that they sought purpose in life, and to follow certain values and principles. Surveys today report distinctly lower figures.And here I am not simply talking about dropping voter turnout and such figures. I am talking about the evolution of Western thought from Liberalism, through Utilitarianism, Communism, Pragmatism and Post-Modernism. Common themese throughout ancient Greek literature tend to be (and still are in the Muslim world) references to the truth, fairness and justice. Yet as Western thought progresses it is becoming happiness, efficiency, what works, pragmatic, relative and such other words. In other words secular Western society has broken down fields of knowledge to such an extent where polymaths have become a thing of the past. People specialise in their career area and become agnostic or apathetic about things outside that realm because they don't have any proof as to how it will help them. People don't often deem things that will neither help nor hinder them relative to them.But calling liberalism, democracy and evolution 'certainties' is extreme even if you accept that some people question them. Democracy and Liberalism have been challenged ever since they were first written about. In fact one of the first things you'll find about democracy in a library is something written by Aristotle saying that democracy was a corrupt form of government where the tyranny of the majority ruled. Recent surveys accross Europe found support for the modern Liberal Democracy has plummeted in the recession. Some of my own family don't even believe in it. Neither do we have (nor debatedly have we ever had) complete democracy or liberal society. Completely undiluted direct democracy involves all decisions taken by all people, down to the adjustments of monetary policy, and second bills on some minute agricutural matter that no one other than farmers knows anything about. And liberalism has many different definitions. But what we have today is certainly not Classical Liberalism. This was challenged almost immediately with utilitarianism and social liberalism. Today people are challenging Liberalism even further, at the government levels proposing greater financial regulations, and in the academic scene new research about group psychology is making the assumption that human beings are first and foremost individuals very debatable.As for the reference to Huntington's Clash of Civilisations I was only speaking about the West. I think Huntington took present differences between different cultures far too far. Clashes between civilisations such as terrorism are very exagerated in how common they are. More tensions are internal. Far more Muslims fight Muslims than Muslims fight Christians and vice versa. However he certainly has a point, as do you. And therefore as a Worldwide age, as opposed to one within the West yes it may be termed an age of clashing civilisations.

  • >still in the age of globalisation i reckon.i don't think there is any dominant philosophy that is ruling the age so out goes democracy, islam, etc.possibly the scientific progress in the last 50 years could be considered the most prominent event, but that is another pillar of the globalised world as this information is passed around.

  • >If we're talking about the world as opposed to the West then I agree. The clash of civilisations is the counter-struggle against globalisation so the two go hand in hand.Some might claim it's odd that this 'clash of civilisations' wasn't present a hundred years ago though, as many academics claim we were more globalised then. After all relative capital flows were greater, and migration was relatively bigger.However I think there are many other aspects of globalisation. To me globalisation is not solely about the interaction of states, but largely also about the interaction of people. Hence the rise of the internet and the media makes globalisation much bigger today.

  • >Rob, I agree that terms like liberalism (the evolution of which, at least in Britain, I consider to be an area of relative personal expertise) and democracy are flexible, debated and have evolved, in most cases, away from their 'pure' forms. However, to label a zeitgeist one has to go beyond what TH Green thought about liberalism, or what Chomsky thinks about democracy, or even what you or I might think; I think that we need to consider the everyday political and usage of those terms and ideas. If you refer back to justifications for the invasion of Iraq, especially when the WMD argument was shown up for what it was, there is constant reference to 'axis of evil', justified regime change etc. The sub(and not-so-sub)text was always that a) there is good and evil in the world, qualities which are held to be absolute in certain states and cultures; and b)'freedom', 'toleration', elections, 'democracy' etc. are (to borrow Stellar and Yeatman) 'GOOD THINGS'. I'm not going to pretend to you that Iraq is a liberal democracy but to make it liberal and democratic is the party line explaining the invasion and one swallowed by a lot of people. To me, there are no certainties and I imagine you are similar, but most people aren't like that. Now, I acknowledge that in such instances 'democracy' and 'liberalism' are merely parroted without thought to represent nice, warm, fuzzy notions of fairness and freedom and such. Thjis doesn't mean they are totally without meaning though – toleration, participation, some form of social democracy are broadly accepted by most people in the west. Witness western party politics, which is utterly dominated by the centre-right to a degree unheard of even 20 years ago. Where is the party advocating an end to government? Where is the party advocating state ownership of the means of production? Where is the party proposing the introduction of Sharia Law? Or the party advocating the full privatisation of healthcare and education? Where they exist, they are on the radical fringes and not getting votes. The mixed economy, representative government and social liberalism are fundamentally unchallenged in a period where these shiboleths really ought to be (one would have thought) facing their biggest challenge in 80 years. Intellectually, I agree we are agnostic (but, I'd argue, almost by definition intellectuals are agnostic and have been for a long time; to leave anything unchallenged or unimpeachable to me suggests a deficiency of thought), but a spirit of the age depends on more than those who, without being too elitist about this, bother to contribute seriously to a website like yours or even think of questions like this.

  • >Actually my point was the opposite. The dictionary definition of an agnostic is either "a person who believes it is impossible to know whether God exists" or "a person who claims that the answer to some specific question cannot be known with certainty". The term does not imply truth seeking, nor does it imply challenging existing status quos. Hence I argue not that academics are becoming more agnostic (although one could say more people are embracing some tenents of postmodernism). What I was saying is that the average person presented with questions of the kind this site seeks to address, simply walks the other way. I think (yes without evidence; as you say this is just speculation and guesswork at present) that most people believe they cannot know the answers to such questions and that they are therefore not worth asking. You say that no one questions democracy and liberalism yet neither do many lay people think they are a great idea. It is just that most people aren't willing to investigate the nature of these concepts, or question existing aspects thereof.This is why I use the word to describe the zeitgeist (spirit of the times (I had to look that up)) as agnostic, as it goes at least some way toward describing how people are thinking today.

  • >Well, in that case we do disagree: I genuinely think that notions of liberty, democracy etc. are and remain essentially accepted and unchallenged as 'good things'. I have no way of proving my point quantitatively, and neither have you, so I guess we've reached an impasse on this one.I will come back and try to be more constructive about this – i.e. think about what I think the spirit of our age actually is, rather than what it is not.

  • >Actually I've changed my mind. Ages aren't defined based on the thought patterns of the average person. They're based upon all the other things that go into the history books. As more and more people have become educated and the exchange of information via the web, the huge number of book publishings etc increase this age is not likely to be looked back upon as one where people were acting agnostically. But how about 'The Technological Revolution' or the 'Information Revolution'. In a world which is becoming increasingly more globalised we are seeing a vast advance of technologies, and a rapid expanse of the information network with more and more people 'logging in'. The era from the late 18th century to the end of the 19th is often known as the age of industrial revolution. Isn't it likely that this age will be seen in a similar light based on what people in the future think we advanced which is useful for them?

  • >To back up this point a little better (seen as I completely abandoned my earlier argument) I'd just like to give the following info:2005: Mankind created 150 billion gigabytes of data20010 forecast: Mankind will create 1,200 billion gigabytesDuring 2009 American drone aircraft flying over Iraq and Afghanistan sent back 24 years worth of footage.The history of computing and the internet has literally taken the world by storm. It was an incredible achievement when the first portable mechanical calulator was invented. And this was only 1948! In 1969 the first node was connected to APRANET, the internet's ancestor and by no means its equal.This sort of rapid change seems to me to be very comparable to the industrial revolution.

  • >Also, one more thought: it could be described as the age of business/corporations. Corporations have grown in size to the extent that many now rank among the richest and most powerful entities in the world.

  • >the age of stupidity.when everyone gave up caring about anything other than big brother and the x factor. When binge drinking on the weekend became an attempt to break up the monotiny of a life dedicated to tweeting and facebooking a lot of crap when you really should be doing your pathetic 9-5 job, waiting for your next opportunity to sit idle and lonely infront of the tv; eating sugary, salty ready meal crap out of the giant, festering monopoly that is Tesco's.

  • >Aren't you pessimistic? We are undergoing enormous social, religious and technological change. The things you describe hinge on those changes.Yet we are certainly nor more 'stupid' than we ever were. About 82% of the world's population over the age of 15 is now literate. That's higher than ever before!However you do have a point about meaning within people's lives. Unfortunately I can't remember the source but last month I heard that a survey had been carried out asking people whether or not they sought meaning and the greater truths/answers in life. The answers proved that far less people are interested in such answers or pursuits today.

  • >Many institutions limit access to their online information. Making this information available will be an asset to all.

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