Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The world in September '39 : as divided as it had ever been, as divided as it had always been, as divided as it always would be

Seventy five years on, we still can see the differing value systems that divided modern liberal and conservative capitalist from modern communist and socialist from modern fascist and nazi.

But we now see something that they themselves could not see : just how united ,in so many ways, that these variants of High Modernity actually all were with each other.

If we want truly fundamental divisions, I am afraid that historians are daily revealing that we won't find it in what the socialists and nazis and capitalists of 1939 actually did , in practise, as opposed to what their high blown rhetoric claimed they believed they would do.

But a deep and enduring division did divide the world in 1939, as it does in 2013 and did in 1739 and will continue to do so till the End of Time.

The percentages of individuals on each side of this division probably remains roughly the same in each new generation.

But, more profoundly, the cumulative, collective, effects of the current strength of each individual's conviction does vary widely, depending on times and places and even upon immediate circumstances.

This varying strength gives rise to our habit of naming contrasting eras of human history to mark the varying strength on both sides of this Great Divide.

Age of Plato versus Age of Aristotle, Classicism versus Romanticism, High Modernity versus Post-Modernity.

Underlying each different era, I wish to argue, we can see the varying strength of the convictions held by collective humanity, each member holding one of two simple but profound assumptions.

Half of us believe that deep down, physical reality is much simpler and much more predictable than it currently appears to be.

The other half of us believes that deep down, physical reality is much more complex and dynamically unpredictable than it currently appears to be.

Now if I wanted to appear academic, I would at this point hasten to say that these two positions are but idealized extremes on a wide and subtly changing continuum of what real people actually believe.

But I won't say that because I don't believe it.

I believe that these two are the only positions held on this issue given that people hold them as deep, unconscious, 'gut' reactions rather than as something carefully and consciously thought out.

And what really matters is the intensity with which they hold one of these two positions at any particular time and place and on particular issues.

I believe that Henry Dawson always held that reality was more complex than it appeared, just as Howard Florey almost certainly believed that reality was much simpler than at first appeared.

The pair's different deep assumptions surfaced most famously in their fiercely held wartime support for either naturally-made penicillin or man-made penicillin.....

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