In this lesson, you’ll learn about the cultural context of world affairs and how these affairs work. You’ll learn about modernist rationalism.
Modernist rationalism is the radical assumption that world society should prioritize the use of reason as an end in itself. It is the basis for modern science and technology. It makes today’s industrial production and distribution methods, modern transport, communication systems, contemporary medical knowledge, and forms of entertainment possible.
All the descriptions and explanations of world affairs—except for those provided by religious extremists—are rationalist ones today. That means they all promote the capacity for observation and experimentation. As such, their proponents are not supposed to make assumptions. And yet they smuggle in assumptions regardless. These become the basis for each particular account.
Every society in every age has known about human reason and has used it to improve its quality of life. The ancient Chinese used it to further human knowledge much more than many realize. It was the ancient Greeks, however, who began to picture the world in a systematic way using mental detachment. Christianity prevented these early attempts from realizing their original potential. With the Renaissance, however, a road was built between the Middle Ages and modern times. Beginning in Italy, thinkers rediscovered ancient Greek philosophy. The result was not only a flowering of the arts but also a new respect for detachment and evidence-based thinking. The Italian Renaissance was followed by the European Enlightenment. This challenged the medieval worldview and ultimately replaced it with a scientific one. It questioned the authority of the Christian church and that of the monarchy as well. It made possible both the American and French revolutions. It also led to rationalism underpinning all the affairs of the modern day, including world affairs.
What does prioritizing reason mean? People are born into a social context. If it’s a rationalist context, then they’ll be taught to pull themselves away from it. They’ll be taught to create a mentally distanced version of themselves that is in but not of the world in which they live. They’ll learn to talk to other people who’ve learned to distance themselves the same way. They’ll learn to create a meta-society of the mind. It’s here that the modern sciences are made—both natural and social. Rationalism means becoming alienated. It means reducing reality to what’s compatible with the scientific method.
In the next lesson, you’ll learn about those marginalized by modernist rationalism: women, environmentalists, first peoples, post-colonials, and the poor.
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