New World Order

The direction of history

We are heading towards a single integrated world order, sometimes called the New World Order. Humanity is converging in three major ways, intellectually, economically and politically. The spread of religions and ideologies made it possible to unify different peoples under the same set of ideas. Trade and money enabled the cooperation between strangers all over the globe. And the increased cooperation between nation states is paving the way for a closer integration of governments.1

The world is now run by a global elite of business people, politicians, bureaucrats, engineers, journalists, scientists, opinion makers, writers and artists. No matter where they live, whether it is New York, Buenos Aires, Shanghai, Dubai or Cape Town, these people increasingly have the same interests, the same viewpoints about the world, the same culture, and increasingly live similar lifestyles. The individuals in these elites have more in common with each other than with their fellow countrymen.1

The need for global cooperation

Global issues such as climate change, human rights, international crime and financial markets often require international agreement and cooperation. The Old World Order was based on the sovereignty of nation states, which means that there was no higher authority than the nation state. All nation states were equally sovereign, at least in theory, and their power was restricted only by the treaties they signed voluntarily.

Nowadays nation states are increasingly under pressure to conform to global standards as actions of one nation affect other nations as well. The global elite makes decisions on these issues. The elite believes that it acts to the benefit of mankind and that we need more international cooperation or even a global government. This is reflected in the words of the British politician Denis Healey, who had been involved in Bilderberg Conferences in which members of the elite gathered in secrecy. He told the Guardian:

To say we were striving for a one-world government is exaggerated, but not wholly unfair. Those of us in Bilderberg felt we couldn’t go on forever fighting one another for nothing and killing people and rendering millions homeless. So we felt that a single community throughout the world would be a good thing.2

It is hard to get a clear picture of the influence of meetings like Bilderberg. It seems that these gatherings influence the political agenda. For instance the European Union has been discussed at Bilderberg and it may well be that these meetings helped to create the European Union by making the elite agree on the agenda. As Europe had just been ravaged by two world wars, it might have seemed a good plan.


The New World Order is sometimes seen as a new form of feudalism. The share of the wealthy of global wealth and income has increased in recent decades. A 2017 report from Oxfam points out that the world’s eight wealthiest people own as much as the poorest 50%.3 Nation states are losing their grip on large corporations and billionaires. Until now there is no global government and there are no sufficiently binding international treaties, so nation states end up competing against each other to please large corporations and billionaires.

Deep state

Politicians come and go but many other government officials often remain within the governmental institutions for a long time. Most of these officials aren’t democratically elected. They tend to believe that they work in the best interest of their country. These people can yield significant influence and obstruct democratically elected officials. Unelected officials, and most notably those in the intelligence agencies, are sometimes referred to as the deep state.

Conspiracy theory

Some people claim the elite has a secret plan to create a New World Order where ordinary humans will be mere serfs. Rather than seeing the emerging oligarchy as a result of social and economic developments, they believe it was deliberately planned. The plan is believed to be worked out in secretive meetings like Bilderberg.

Corruption in politics can be so pervasive that people seek refuge in conspiracy theories. In the United States politicians need to fund their campaigns. They often accept money from large corporations and wealthy individuals so that they may represent the corporations funding them rather than the people electing them.

Conspiracy theorists often invent and mischaracterize facts and intentions in order to spin them into their narrative. On the other hand, traditional media ignore their journalistic duties by under reporting or ignoring issues that can threaten the social order. With the advent of internet and social media everyone can start a website and become a source of information and opinion. And so traditional media are losing their grip on the public opinion.

Global government

Whether or not some kind of global government is desirable is a matter of debate. The more power is concentrated, the more pervasive the corruption is likely to become. On the other hand, some issues can only be dealt with on a global level. But the more people agree on what needs to be done and how differences must be settled, the less need there is for a centralised bureaucracy. That may require rational debates in politics and direct democracy standing at the basis of decision-making.

Natural Economic Order

What the New World Order will look like is difficult to tell. History often takes unexpected turns. In 1916 Silvio Gesell published his book The Natural Economic Order in which he proposed a tax on money. His ideas stand at the cradle of Natural Money. His book was first published in German and named “Natürliche Wirtschaftsordnung”, which can be abbreviated to NWO. If Natural Money is to become the money of the future, this would be a peculiar coincidence, but there may be a secret plan for a New World Order the elite is unaware of.

Gesell was inspired by natural selection like many of his contemporaries. He viewed competition as beneficial to mankind, and that effort and talent instead of money and privilege, should determine one’s economic rewards. Gesell realised that the Natural Economic Order will not arise spontaneously as it requires choosing money that allows for negative interest rates. In the preface of The Natural Economic Order he wrote:

The prosperity of mankind, as of all living beings, depends in the main upon whether selection takes place under natural laws. But these laws demand competition. […] Only then shall we be justified in hoping that humanity may in time shake off the burden of inferior individuals imposed upon it by thousands of years of unnatural selection – selection vitiated by money and privileges.5

1. Sapiens: A Brief History Of Humankind. Yuval Noah Harari (2014). Harvil Secker.
2. Who pulls the strings? (part 3). The Guardian (2001). [link]
3. Just 8 men own same wealth as half the world. Oxfam (2017). [link]
4. 10% of Americans like Congress: Are they nuts? Dean Obeidallah. CNN (2013) [link]
5. The Natural Economic Order. Silvio Gesell (1916).  [link]

one ring to rule them all


A very successful ideology

Perhaps the most successful ideology ever is multiculturalism. For thousands of years it has seen an endless sequence of victories. There were a lot of temporary setbacks, but the long-term historic trend is unmistakable. The world is gradually becoming one with the help of multiculturalism. Multiculturalism was initially thought of by kings who conquered an empire of different peoples and wanted to rule them all. These different peoples could keep their own customs and settle most of their own affairs as long as they didn’t pose a threat to the social order. This brought peace and stability, which improved trade and prosperity. For example, Cyrus the Great, who ruled around 550 BC, was one of the first to use multiculturalism to rule his vast empire. He respected the religions and traditions of the peoples he ruled. For instance, he helped the Jews to go back to Israel and rebuild their temple.

Multiculturalism has been imposed upon conquered peoples with force but the alternative was often more wars. If the empire lasted long enough, these peoples together began to form a common culture and became one. Over time smaller cultures became integrated into larger cultures. This happened, for example, in the Roman empire. Many Roman emperors came from the provinces such as France, Africa or Arabia. When the empire finally collapsed, the conquered peoples didn’t reappear as independent nations. They had become Romans.1 Roman culture was dominant. People in the rest of the empire took over many customs from the Romans while the Romans took over some customs from the provinces. The world is closely interconnected nowadays so a global culture may emerge without conquest.

Why do many people think multiculturalism is a failure? Most importantly, it is hard to believe that multiculturalism is great when foreigners come to your country in large numbers and remain loyal their tribe. This can threaten the social order. If large numbers of immigrants keep coming, and if they don’t adapt and get a lot of children, the nature of society can profoundly change over time. Many people in Europe and the United States fear that it will not be for the better. If Europe becomes like Africa or the Middle East, then hardly anyone currently living in Europe will consider this to be an improvement, not even the people who came from Africa and the Middle East. Similarly, many people in the United States fear that the their country can become like Latin America, and hardly anyone currently living in the United States would consider this to be progress either.

Proclaiming that multiculturalism is a failure when it is on the brink of final victory is a form of historical ignorance. It may seem hard to foresee how the future global culture will look like but if war can be avoided and human civilisation doesn’t collapse then all the peoples of the world are going to be integrated into a single global culture. There will still be differences but tribes will become less important. There will be a framework that allows for everyone to coexist relatively peacefully and gradually integrate into the global culture. This process may require a similar level of education, governance and democracy all over the globe, and a rational approach to matters of importance. Currently this seems a bit of a stretch to say the least, but the more people become educated and can be made to agree on using rational debates to revolve differences, the less need there will be for an elite to guide them, or for the use of force to maintain the social order.


Setting matters straight

Many people believe that their own culture is superior. Every nation desires to have a sense of pride about its cultural heritage but it is hard to come up with valid arguments why this or that nation, tribe or religion is superior to others. Yet, there is something that can’t be ignored either. Many people desire to go to Europe or the United States, and not somewhere else. This has something to do with oppression and poor living conditions elsewhere. One can surmise from this that if the rest of the world becomes more like Europe or the United States, this would generally be seen as an improvement. Cultural superiority thinkers are eager to point out that this is because of the superiority of Western culture. But what is this so-called cultural superiority?

It can’t be moral superiority for sure. Huntington wrote that the West didn’t win the world by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion but rather by its superiority in applying organised violence. He believed that the West is still hated because of this.2 But is this really true? Most people in developing nations realise that they are shaping their own future. People in other parts of the world can’t blame their former colonisers until eternity. Most people in Indonesia don’t hate the Dutch for being their former coloniser, despite the oppression, exploitation and killings that took place during the colonial era. The Indonesians hardly think of the Dutch any more. And blaming the Dutch doesn’t help them.

Is there no superiority in ideas whatsoever? During the last 500 years science has completely altered the way we live. That happened because European scientists began to believe that when observed facts contradict religion and tradition, facts should take precedence. In other parts of the world tradition and religion held precedence. This made Europeans the masters of the world for a while until other countries followed the same path. Europeans were so successful in spreading their cultures that today billions of people have adopted significant parts of these cultures. Indians, Africans, Arabs, and Chinese learned French, English and Spanish. They began to believe in human rights and self-determination. They began to adopt Western ideologies such as liberalism, capitalism, communism, feminism, and nationalism that emerged in modern Europe.1

People in Europe weren’t more rational than others. There were rational people all over the world but they didn’t challenge existing wisdom and religion to the same extent Europeans did. Most Europeans remained religious, but when facts contradicted their religions, they learned to deal with it. People in Europe began to separate religion from worldly affairs so that these became different realms. This is reflected, for example, in the separation of church and state. As the search for new knowledge began to take off in Europe, Europeans used their new knowledge to conquer the world. But would things have been better if the Chinese or the Africans had developed science and conquered the world?

Reason overcame religion in Europe. Many social, economical and political experiments have been tried in Europe that have not taken place anywhere else. Europeans developed models for society called ideologies. Tens of millions of people were killed in wars of conquest and clashes of ideologies. The Europeans made more historical errors than anyone else, simply because they had so many ideas to try. And there have been two destructive world wars for the most part caused by errors made in Europe and for the most part fought in Europe. In this way the Europeans had more opportunity to learn from their mistakes than anyone else. You can call that cultural superiority if you like, but it might be better to call it experience. And it would be a waste of time and cause unnecessary suffering to go through all these historical processes including all the wars, again everywhere around the globe, only to discover what you could already have learnt from studying history. In this sense Europe can still be a guide to the world.

Us and them

Us and them
And after all we’re only ordinary men
Me and you

Humans are group animals. We divide humanity between us and them. Us is the good people and them is the evil others that act differently, look differently, have funny accents and wear peculiar outfits. Welcome to human nature. This is who we are. In modern times it becomes harder to identify who are us and who are them. People differ in skin colour, religion, political preference, or some other quality, so that it is still possible to make these distinctions. And that helps to feel good about yourself because us is the good part of humanity. Even if you think you’re open-minded you are likely to consider the narrow-minded others as the evil them. When you are an outsider, and subject to exclusion and regular bullying, life isn’t so great. The us and them question is often narrowed down to racism and discrimination.

There is no reasonable basis for racism but discrimination is a more difficult issue. People have the right to associate with the people they prefer. And most people prefer the company of their own kind. This often leads to exclusion and bullying and making certain groups and people feel inferior. Should that be allowed? And what about the problems caused by cultural differences? A lot of people from specific ethnic groups have difficulties in finding a place in society. These groups often dominate the crime statistics. Is it because they are discriminated or because they don’t adapt very well? The answer is often both. It helps when everyone agrees on that and that this issue should be resolved. There is a good chance that it will happen over time and it helps if everyone is willing to work on it. Multiculturalism has turned so many thems into usses in the past that this trend may continue until there’s no real them any more. That may be of little solace to those who are discriminated or suffer from the misconduct of people from certain ethnic groups, but we shouldn’t lose perspective.

To a hippie flowers and love can do wonders. Indeed, bringing people together can sometimes do miracles. A nationalist may think that everyone should stay in his or her own country. And indeed that could have saved us from trouble, but in the end nations will disappear and the world will become one, unless human civilisation fails, that is. Immigration can revitalise a nation but it can also destabilise it. Most immigrants seek a better life and want to work hard. They are on the move because they don’t see opportunities in their home countries.

But many immigrants aren’t successful and have trouble adapting or are not willing to contribute to society. Ignoring the facts or distorting them isn’t helpful. People from different cultural backgrounds have different views about what is acceptable conduct and what is not and this can lead to conflict. But these conflicts can be seen as historical processes that have to be resolved so that a common ground can be reached. Bigotry as well as political correctness don’t contribute to solutions. In a rational debate all genuine concerns are brought into the open. This requires both honesty and respect, which can be very difficult indeed as people tend to have very different ideas about honesty and respect to begin with.

Multiculturalism is on its way to final victory. It might help when people agree on some basic norms and values as well as the predominant culture. The modern world is shaped by Europe, and most notably scientific progress. A tacit acknowledgement of this, and acting accordingly, should suffice. There’s no reason to use these facts to offend or humiliate others. There should be room for an acknowledgement of the achievements and benefits of other cultures. It is also not helpful to think that European culture is evil because of all the bad things that happened in the past.

Civilisation is just a thin veneer that can easily disappear. If the world descends into chaos, no culture, religion or ideology can protect us from the beast that lives within us all. That is perhaps the most compelling reason for being a cultural relativist and for embracing multiculturalism and allowing a global culture to emerge. It is not an achievement to be born with a specific cultural heritage nor should it be a reason for blame. On the other hand, overcoming the limits of your own culture and contributing to a better future might be an achievement, and you could be faulted for failing to do so.

Featured image: One Ring to Rule Them All. Xander (2007). Public Domain.

1. A Brief History Of Humankind. Yuval Noah Harari (2014). Harvil Secker.
2. The Clash of Civilizations And the Remaking of World Order. Samuel Huntington (1997). Simon & Schuster.

The Last Supper

Born of God

Early Christianity

Scholars agree that it was Paul and not Jesus who defined Christianity as it is today. The earliest extant written sources of Christianity date from decades after the alleged death of Jesus. Early Christians depended on oral traditions and writings that do no longer exist. Oral recounting is notoriously inaccurate and the evidence of redactions in Gospels makes scholars agree on very little about Jesus of Nazareth, except that he really existed and preached around 30 AD. Perhaps, the earliest written sources have been destroyed on purpose. But why? And is it possible to shed some new light on the origins of some of the peculiar dogmas of Christianity?

Bible: Only God Knows What Jesus Really Said
Bible: Only God Knows What Jesus Really Said. Loesje.

The earliest Christians may have believed that Jesus was a reincarnation of Adam, that Mary Magdalene was a reincarnation of Eve and that Eve is a Mother Goddess and gave birth to Adam, hence Jesus was the Bridegroom as well as the Son of God. This post is part of a series called God Is A Woman And Jesus Was Her Husband. It is advised to read the following articles first in the order suggested below:

Born of God the Father

The Gospel Of John states that Christians are born of God the Father.1 This suggests that the gender of God has been altered in the texts and that God could be a Mother. But if early Christian leaders have been removing evidence of God being a Mother then how they could have overlooked this? The answer probably is that they didn’t. The Gospels were written in Greek or translated into Greek.

Greek mythology allows for such a peculiarity. The goddess Athena was born from the head of the male god Zeus. Nevertheless, if the original sources from which the Gospels were compiled were oral stories or written texts in Hebrew or Aramaic, this phrase might reveal the gender of God, as being born from a male deity is a particularity of Greek mythology . The next question might be why? Such a construct could have made a great compromise at a time when many Christians still knew that God is a Mother.

The Jewish deity Yahweh is male so for Jews it may have been easy to accept the change. For others this may have been different. Syria was one of the first areas outside the Jewish territories where Christianity had spread. The acts of the apostles discuss the church in Antioch in 42 AD.2 As there were a substantial number of Christians in Syria already, it would have taken decades to erase an idea like God being a Mother.

The Gospel of John may have been written to cater this particular need, which may have been to bridge the gap between the newly introduced doctrine of God being a Father and the widespread belief that God is a Mother. The letters of Ignatius of Antioch indicate that the Gospel of John was widely used in the early Syrian Christian community.3 This is the Gospel referring to Christians being born of God the Father. In this gospel Jesus called his mother “woman” and not “mother”.3 Calling her “mother” would have caused confusion if Jesus referred to God as Mother too.

Perhaps the most compelling evidence can be found in the Odes Of Solomon. Ode 19 stands out as it has the following lines:

A cup of milk was offered to me: and I drank it in the sweetness of the delight of the Lord.
The Son is the cup, and He who was milked is the Father.
And the Holy Spirit milked Him: because His breasts were full, and it was necessary for Him that His milk should be sufficiently released.
And the Holy Spirit opened His bosom and mingled the milk from the two breasts of the Father; and gave the mixture to the world without their knowing.4

This clue is important for a few reasons. First, it is an old text. It already existed around 100 AD so it probably was even older. Second, it circulated amongst the earliest Christians in Syria. Third, there are no other Christian texts mentioning any gender related attributes of God. Here God is definitely depicted as female despite being called Father. It gives further substance to the argument that the phrase being born of God points at God being a Mother.

The role of Paul

Paul turned Christianity from an obscure Jewish sect into a religion with universal appeal. He altered the message of Christianity so that it was not only meant for the Jews, but for everyone. To do this he made a few compromises, most likely with the consent of other apostles. The adaptations allowed Christianity to expand outside its Jewish origins. It made Paul a controversial figure with Jewish Christians. Over time the non-Jewish Christians began to outnumber the Jews so that Paul’s views won out in the end.

Jesus referred to himself as the Bridegroom5 and the Kingdom Of God is represented as a wedding banquet.6 Hence, the wedding mentioned in the Gospel Of John could have been Jesus’ marriage. It could explain why his mother was occupied with the lack of wine at the party.7 Jesus started doing miracles at this wedding by turning water into wine.8 If Jesus had been married to God, this marriage may have turned him into the Messiah, and that might explain why he started doing miracles from this point on.

Paul was a Jewish scholar. He may have aimed to bring Christianity more in line with the Jewish religion. God being a woman and Jesus being Her husband didn’t fit into this picture. And so the idea of Jesus being married to the Church may have been invented similar the existing concept of God being married to Israel. This brought up new controversies for Jesus had to become God. These issues were resolved by introducting the Trinity, which is God consisting of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The next question may be why the early Christian leaders would have dared to alter the gender of God? It is written that Paul experienced a psychosis in which Jesus appeared to him and called him.9 He wasn’t called by Mary Magdalene. Paul joined Jesus’ followers shortly after Jesus allegedly died. According to the Gospels Jesus did all the miracles. Perhaps Jesus was the only person who experienced evidence of Mary Magdalene being God. Paul may not have believed it and other disciples may have had their doubts too.

Even more importantly, the idea that Eve took Her son Adam as Her husband is lewd. It also made the relationship between Mary Magdalene and Jesus problematic. Perhaps Paul and the other disciples felt that it was better to remove the evidence. Accepting this explanation leaves us to deal with the issue.

The story of Eve and Adam is not an excuse for incest. The tale of Eve and Adam is a myth. It probably never happened. The Jews took their creation myths from Babylon where they were in exile and adapted them to their own theological needs. This was not known to the early leaders of the Church.

During the decades between the alleged death of Jesus and the time when the Gospels were written, a lot of information was lost or distorted. After forty years most first-hand witnesses were gone and different stories were circulating. It wasn’t difficult for Paul to tweak the narrative and it may even have seemed a good idea too. The Gospels do not suggest that the Bride Of Christ was the Church. Yet, it may not have been Paul who brought his up. Ephesians, the letter in which this idea is introduced, appears to have been written a decade after Paul’s death by one of his followers. Also the seven demons that allegedly troubled Mary Magdalene were not mentioned in the oldest sources of the Gospel Of Mark but were added later on.

Equality of the sexes

The surviving records of Jesus’ words and teachings indicate that Jesus believed women to be equal to men. The equality of men and women is rather peculiar within the context of a patriarchal society. Paul saw women as full partners in the Christian movement. The Didache, an early Christian text dating from the first century, implies equality of the sexes. Later on patriarchy was re-established. The texts have been edited to reflect this. For instance, 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 has been added later.10 It contains the claim that the man is the head of the family.

Gnostic gospels

The Gnostic Gospels portray a close relationship between Mary Magdalene and Jesus. One passage names her as Jesus’ companion.11 Another mentions that Jesus loves her more than the other disciples and kisses her often.12 A third notes that Jesus loved her more than the other women.13 The Gnostic gospels don’t suggest that Mary Magdalene was God nor do they portray a marriage between her and Jesus.

The Gnostics were a group of mystics that claimed to have some secret knowledge about Jesus’ teachings and the nature of reality. Jesus claimed that his kingdom is of another world and can’t be observed.14 The Gnostics believed that our physical reality is a trap forged by an evil creator god that keeps us away from the Highest God. The idea of physical reality being separate from the immaterial world of ideas comes from Greek philosophers like Plato. Greek culture influenced the Jews and the early Christians. Gnosticism stressed the importance of individual experience. Gnosticism was banned after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire.

Gnosticism developed gradually from the second century onwards. The Gnostics and the Church started out from the same sources, probably at a time when the evidence of God being a Mother was already suppressed, but not the evidence of Jesus’ close relationship with Mary Magdalene. The different agendas of both groups brought about different modifications. To the Gnostics a close relationship between Mary Magdalene and Jesus probably wasn’t a big issue. For the Church this may have been a different story as Christian theology made Jesus divine. An intimate relationship with Mary Magdalene didn’t fit into this picture.


Beloved disciple

The Gnostic Gospels suggest that Jesus loved Mary Magdalene more than the other disciples. Hence, the Beloved Disciple in the Gospel of John may have been Mary Magdalene. One verse mentions Mary Magdalene and the Beloved Disciple separately,15 which may have been a falsification to obfuscate their intimate relationship. Another verse lists three women, namely Jesus’ aunt, the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene, and then implies that the Beloved Disciple may have been one of them.16 There apparently had been rumours that the Beloved Disciple was immortal.17 This makes sense if the Beloved Disciple was God. The Gospel Of John circulated amongst the early Christians in Syria. This could support the view that this Gospel was written as a compromise at a time when many Christians still believed that God is a Mother.

The contradictions in the accounts of the life of Jesus inspired a number of books like the Da Vinci Code about an alleged conspiracy in the Roman Catholic Church to hide the relationship between Mary Magdalene and Jesus. The Da Vinci Code depends on the idea that the person at the right hand of Jesus in Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of The Last Supper is not the apostle John but Mary Magdalene. Mary Magdalene having been the most important person in Jesus’ life is modern knowledge that was not available to Leonardo da Vinci. Yet, it is peculiar that the Beloved Disciple is believed to have been John while John has a female appearance on many renaissance paintings because of his young age as there might be no coincidence in this universe.

Featured image: Bible: Only God Knows What Jesus Really Said.

1. John 1:12-13 [link]
2. Acts 11:19-26 [link]
3. John 2:4 [link], John 19:25 [link]
4. The Lost Bible: Forgotten Scriptures Revealed. J.R. Porter (2001).
5. Luke 5:34[link], Mark 2:19-20 [link], Matthew 9:15[link]
6. Matthew 22:2 [link]
7. John 2:3 [link]
8. John 2:9 [link]
9. Acts 9:3-5 [link]
10. Forgery and Counter-forgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics. Bart D. Ehrman (2013).
11. Gospel of Philip: There were three who always walked with the Lord: Mary, his mother, and her sister, and Magdalene, who was called his companion. His sister, his mother and his companion were each a Mary.
12. Gospel of Philip: And the companion of the saviour was Mary Magdalene. Christ loved Mary more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often. The rest of the disciples were offended by it and expressed disapproval. They said to him, “Why do you love her more than all of us?” The Saviour answered and said to them, “Why do I not love you like her?”
13. Gospel of Mary: Peter said to Mary, “Sister we know that the Saviour loved you more than the rest of woman. Tell us the words of the Saviour which you remember which you know, but we do not, nor have we heard them”. Mary answered and said, “What is hidden from you I will proclaim to you”. And she began to speak to them these words: “I”, she said, “I saw the Lord in a vision and I said to Him, Lord I saw you today in a vision”.
14. Luke 17:20-21 [link]
15. John 20:1-2 [link]
16. John 19:25-27 [link]
17. John 21:21-23 [link]

Rational debates and historical processes

Socrates was one of the great Greek philosophers. He lived around 400 BC. He is seen as the founder of the practice of rational debates. A rational debate is a discussion between two or more people holding different views who wish to establish the truth with the use of reasoned arguments. Socrates saw truth as the highest value and he thought that it could be found through reason and logic in discussions. Many people believe that rational debate is the best way to decide about which course of action needs to be taken. Many people also believe that they are right, so that a rational debate will prove them right. That’s why it isn’t easy to have rational debates.

In his famous dialogues Socrates acted as if he was ignorant. If you are willing to concede that you are ignorant then you may be willing to learn. Socrates was willing to teach this willingness to learn. Willingness to learn is the key to progress. The Scientific Revolution took off after European scientists came to accept their ignorance. This happened after European sailors discovered America, a continent they didn’t know of. European scientists started to ask themselves what more they didn’t know of. And so they began to investigate anything they could think of. After 500 years science has completely altered the way we live.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel came up with a scheme for arguments. He also applied it on the course of history. Hegel lived around the year 1800. He believed in progress like most European scientists at the time. His idea was that resolving a conflict of opposing sides can lead to progress in rational debates, but also in history in general. In most cases both parties in a debate or a conflict have valid arguments. Hegel thought that an argument develops in three stages. First, someone will come up with a proposition. Then someone else will bring in an opposing idea. If both have valid arguments, are willing to listen to each other, and understand each other’s arguments, then a rational debate between them can lead to a better understanding of the situation. This can become a proposition in a new argument.

An example can illustrate this. Suppose that Adam Smith and Karl Marx meet in a conference hall. Smith argues that capitalism and free markets are great because they create a lot of wealth while goods are distributed efficiently. Marx then says that the living conditions for workers are miserable and that goods are distributed unfairly. He then says that workers should take control over the factories. Smith would then object by saying that workers will turn out to be poor entrepreneurs. If both are willing to consider each other’s ideas, they might agree that capitalism is a great way of creating wealth, but that there should be minimum wages, unemployment benefits, laws protecting workers, and state pensions. After they agree a third person might enter the debate and say that unemployment benefits are expensive and can make workers lazy. This could be the beginning of a new debate. The outcome may be term limits to benefits and bureaucrats overseeing the use of these benefits.

But this is not how history progresses in reality. Issues are often resolved in a historical process that involves conflict. In many cases people do not listen to each others arguments nor is it easy to foresee the consequences of many choices. And it is also not obvious that resolving an historical conflict would lead to progress. Karl Marx believed that Hegelian dialectic would prove him right like many people believe that rational discussion will prove them right. Marx used Hegel’s ideas to promote class struggle. Marxism promoted social conflict as the way of resolving issues. And so communists tried to take over countries with military force or agitation. In developing countries communist insurgencies sometimes were mixed up with a struggle for national liberation. To Marxists, Hegelian dialectic became a tool in the war on capitalism, and later on, to liberate marginalised groups from social injustice by political means.

In the nineteenth century workers didn’t appear to benefit from the capitalist system. It was hard to figure out how socialism would work out in practice so it may have been necessary to try it out. A country called the Soviet Union tried socialism for seven decades. If you look for the Soviet Union on a map, you probably will not find it. That isn’t because it is such a small country but because it doesn’t exist any more. The Soviet Union was dismantled because its leadership realised that the socialist economy performed poorly. With the benefit of hindsight the flaws of socialism are obvious, but if it hadn’t been tried out, many people may still believe that it is a good idea. Nevertheless socialism may work well in specific situations. For instance, health care in socialist Cuba is cheap and effective compared to the United States. Life expectancy in the United States and Cuba is nearly the same. But perhaps Cubans are healthier than people in the United States because they can’t afford fast food.

Marx had valid concerns regarding the plight of workers. These were resolved in a peaceful historical process and led to the introduction of labour regulations, minimum wages and pensions in the democratic societies of Western Europe. This process took many years. As a consequence the economies of these societies came to have a mixture of capitalist and socialist features. A rational debate could develop in these societies because there was freedom of expression. The Soviet Union was a dictatorship so there wasn’t much of a rational discussion going on there. Progress in history often requires experimenting. At first there was capitalism but conditions for workers were poor. And so pure socialism was tried out but the results were poor. In the meantime many societies found a middle way that was believed to be a combination of the best elements of both ideas. This is progress in history the way Hegel might have liked it.

Ideologies like socialism and capitalism are models of society that describe how society can be organised. Models are simplifications or abstractions but they can be useful. Models can help us to organise our thoughts so that we can figure out which ideas are useful and under what circumstances. People who adhere to a specific ideology tend to be poor problem solvers. There is a saying for that: “If your only tool is a hammer then every problem looks like a nail.”

Karl Popper

Science works in a similar fashion. A philosopher named Karl Popper came up with a scheme for scientific progress. He believed that scientific progress is achieved by theories replacing each other. Scientists in a specific field often work with theories. You may not be surprised to learn about that. So let’s call one of those theories the Old Theory. The Old Theory works fine in most situations but sometimes it doesn’t. Most scientists at first ignore the glitches like weird readings on their instruments because the Old Theory has proven to be very useful. They may convince themselves that the unexplained measurements were caused by faulty instruments. As more and more experiments indicate that there’s something wrong with the Old Theory, some scientists start to question it.

Then one of them then comes up with a revolutionary New Theory that explains a lot more than the previous Old Theory, including the unexplained readings on the instruments. At first most scientists have their doubts because the New Theory is so revolutionary. They feel that only a crazy person could think of it. But as experiments confirm the New Theory, and because the New Theory explains a lot of things the Old Theory couldn’t, scientists embrace it and the Old Theory gets abandoned. In this case there is also an argument going on between two sides, but the New Theory is superior to the Old Theory. In social sciences and economics both schemes occur. There is progress in theories but also a debate between different approaches that might be resolved in a Hegelian fashion.

An example might explain the thoughts of Popper. Around 1680 the mathematician Isaac Newton worked out a few laws that explain the motion of objects. Newton’s laws tell us that objects fall to ground and don’t float in the sky. It may seem rather pointless to make laws telling us that but his laws have other applications too. For instance, they can explain how the Earth orbits around the Sun. Newton presented his laws in a few nice mathematical formulas so that it became possible to calculate how long it would take before a stone hits the ground if you drop it from the top of the Eiffel Tower. And that’s really cool.

Over the years scientists developed more precise instruments. After a few centuries they found some measurements they couldn’t explain. These were only small deviations from the values you could calculate with the use of Newton’s formulas so scientists didn’t worry much at first. But a physicist named Albert Einstein took these glitches seriously and he developed a theory that explained the curious readings on the instruments but also the motion of objects, so that this new theory explained more. Scientists were sceptical at first and Einstein was a weirdo, but when experiments confirmed his theory, they finally embraced it.

A reasoned debate seems the best way of figuring out what to do. And sometimes you need experiments to check whether or not some assumption or theory is correct. Trying out socialism in the Soviet Union was an experiment that killed millions of people. For instance, there were famines in the 1930s in the Ukraine. Hence, we should be very careful as to what kinds of social experiments we engage in. Yet, we shouldn’t forget that millions of people died of capitalism too, simply because capitalists didn’t profit from letting these people live.

In theory reasoned debates are more common in science than in politics but scientists need research budgets that are provided by businesses and governments. The things scientists investigate are often determined by governments and businesses and the outcomes of scientific research can be influenced by the interests of those who fund the research. And so the results of research projects are not always what you might expect from a reasoned and unbiased investigation. For instance, in the United States there are several think tanks that do all kinds of political and economic research. The research of liberal think tanks tends to support liberal views while the research of conservative think tanks tends to support conservative views, and that might not surprise you.

Even when actions taken are based on the outcome of rational debates, this often leads to new issues that have to be resolved in subsequent debates. People may think about what these new issues might be and what the solutions for these issues could be. Yet the issues that arise are often difficult to foresee, and it is even harder to think of how they will be resolved. Marx thought he could predict the future. Using the scheme of Hegel, he thought he could predict how history would play out. Many people make the same mistake. They think they somehow know what will happen in the future.

Marx believed in progress like Hegel did. And many people still do believe that there is progress. Yet this is not so obvious. There should be some point to the general direction of history otherwise you can’t call it progress. To put it all into perspective, you can ask yourself: “Are we happier now than our parents were fifty years ago?”

Even if that is not true, it doesn’t contradict the case for using rational debates to resolve social issues. In such a debate any argument can be made. That can be frustrating because there are many stupid ideas. Sadly, it is not always obvious which ideas are stupid and which are not. And then there are several techniques to frustrate debates used in situations of conflict between opposing sides. Progress is more likely to happen if the debate is open and honest. For a rational debate to flourish, all parties involved must feel free to speak. Absence of violence and absence of the threat of violence are basic preconditions for such a debate to take place.

There’s something that should make us cautious. Technology is progressing and it is about to completely alter human existence. Humans may be about transform themselves into a new kind of beings who live for thousands of years and entertain themselves in their own virtual realities in which they can do as they please. If this technology becomes cheap then everyone may be able to enjoy it. Politics as well as economics may become meaningless as a consequence. For the time being it can be worthwhile to aim for social progress using rational debates. It can mean a huge difference as to how we may enter this new period.

broken mirror

A shattered mirror

Most of our thinking happens intuitively. Intuition works fast so it is sometimes called fast thinking.1 We are not aware of this so you can barely call it thinking. Only when our intuition runs into trouble reason is called into action. Reason is called slow thinking. If you can get away with the judgements coming from your intuition there is no reason to think things through. Evolution made this happen. It is easy to understand why. Humans who took the time to consider all the options when a pride of lions was coming into their direction didn’t survive and procreate so that their genes died out.

Great chess players don’t consider all the options either. Based on past training and experience their intuition presents a few options to the conscious thinking process called reason. Billions of other options are ignored, nearly all of them not worth considering. That’s what makes a great chess player a great chess player. The brain has limited processing capabilities. Clogging it with countless useless options would downgrade its performance.

Computers don’t have an intuition but they have become fast enough to consider so many options, including a lot of useless ones, that they are able to find better moves that chess players can’t think of because their intuition limits them. Nowadays computers beat even the best chess players. But what if intuition fails you more often than happens to most people? In that case you might consider options other people don’t think of. Others may call you crazy or insane. Indeed, most of the options you consider are not worth considering, but you don’t know that until you have found it out yourself. If that applies to you then you may be autistic. If the condition is sufficiently mild you can still lead a normal life, but you need a major amount of reasoning and experimentation to achieve just that.

Let’s explain this using an example. Yuor brian autmotaically corercts speillng erorrs. Probably you were able read the previous sentence without any effort. Otherwise you have to solve the puzzle by trying out different words to see if they make sense. In that case you might find meanings that weren’t intended. If you must figure out social rules in a similar way, for example by trying courses of action and evaluating responses of other people, you’re in for a lot of trouble. Most people make sense of the world intuitively, but if you are autistic, reality appears to you like a 10,000 pieces jig saw puzzle or a shattered mirror. You must fit the pieces together. That takes a lot of time and effort and the pieces hardly ever fit perfectly. What you get is something similar to what other people think of as reality.

Autism nevertheless survived the evolutionary rat race called survival of the fittest. How could this happen? There is a possible explanation. Who can find the answers when intuition fails everyone, for example during a crisis? These situations require trying out ideas other people don’t think of, and quite possibly ignorance with regard to social conventions to pursue these ideas. Perhaps you think of autists as weirdos cracking riddles nobody else can. There is some truth to that image. Some pundits have claimed that Newton and Einstein were autistic. They may have appeared to be geniuses just because they tried options other people didn’t think of. In this way they discovered things other people couldn’t. Autists can keep working on their eccentric projects despite the constant rejection they receive. And some of their efforts turn out to be useful. Perhaps I have fixed the mirror. The pieces seem to fit.

1. Thinking, Fast and Slow. Daniel Kahneman (2011). Penguin Books.