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Americans May Soon Find Abstract Thinking Useful

From left: John Dewey, Betty Friedan, Ron Paul

Each era has its own way of thinking. In history a new way of thinking has always started with abstraction of things because almost by definition a new era cannot be a mere extension of the old one. If you just "reset" the past without conceptualizing it, as the U.S. President habitually does, you are doomed to see history repeat itself.

The beginning of the American Century roughly coincides with the emergence of the philosophical movements generically called pragmatism.

According to my American Heritage Dictionary the word is defined like this:

Philosophy. The theory, developed by Charles S. Peirce and William James, that the meaning of a proposition or course of action lies in its observable consequences, and that the sum of these consequences constitutes its meaning.

Simply put, usefulness is the value. This was a very straightforward manifestation of the American way of thinking. We used to admire the American people for this directness - but not anymore. Where can we find it in Obama's fake socialism?

The first book written by John Dewey, one of the founders of pragmatism, was published in 1903 under the title of Studies in Logical Theory. It is said that Dewey authored 40 books in his lifetime, but after him, not a single American to date has thought it necessary to update, let alone overhaul his thoughts or other pragmatists'. This intellectual laziness has taken a serious toll on the cultural and political climate of the United States. As a result pragmatism has now been reduced to a mere representation of ignorance and arrogance.

I have nothing against their obsession with usefulness. Yet I don't want to agree to their way of thinking until I ask them an important question: "Usefulness is quite OK, but useful for whom and what purposes?" In the past the Americans could readily find a convincing answer. But these days, most of them make believe they don't hear me. If I insist that my question should be answered, all they can say is: "Who knows? Who cares? We are too busy to toy with philosophy. It's totally irrelevant to real life".

The vulgar answer simply indicates that pragmatism itself has long outlived its usefulness in America. Although it remains to be seen what kind of philosophy will supplant pragmatism, it's high time for the Americans to demonstrate their ability in abstract thinking. If they don't wake up to the fact, say, by 2016, that only through abstraction can they come up with a new set of values most everyone can share, they will certainly see the final curtain fall on the American Century, and we non-Americans will scornfully say that these guys with defective brains really deserved their demise.

Women's Lib advocate-turned-anti-ageism activist Betty Friedan observed in her The Fountain of Age (Simon & Schuster, 1993) that the ability of abstract thinking, which she called "fluid intelligence" shows a steady decrement as we grow old while "crystallized intelligence," or the ability of contextual thinking, does not always decline, or sometimes even improves as the biological aging progresses.

Friedan was convincing enough here because she based her argument on the findings by contemporary neurologists and gerontologists. And yet, she may have been wrong. Take Ron Paul for example.

The maverick Republican Congressman from Texas and former obstetrician is 74 years old now. Most of his fellow countrymen have dismissed him as a lunatic because he maintains such a crazy idea that the U.S. government should bring home all the American troops currently deployed in 130 countries all over the world. He goes on to say that only by doing so can America phase out parasitic organizations such as the Internal Revenue Service and at the same time prevent the budget deficits from further ballooning.

Apparently there is an almost unbreakable mental barrier in the minds of the American people that prohibits them from admitting it's by far crazier to think their nation is still mandated to police the entire world despite its multi-trillion dollar deficits.

But is Paul's proposition a product of a contextual thinking? On the contrary, his idea is really out of context - out of the context of the old American Century.

After all Friedan was right when she theorized that biological age doesn't matter that much. She wrote this book when she was in her late 70s. Although she oversimplified the distinction, a little, between fluid intelligence and crystallized one, thus far we have known very few Americans younger than Friedan or Paul who have demonstrated intellectual prowess that may ultimately usher in a new era.

If America doesn't want to see the end of its century, the first thing it has to have is a new crop of courageous people, if in a small number at first, who aren't afraid of being stigmatized as useless philosophers. And once again, gender, skin color and biological age don't matter. Only these people can come up with a new philosophy with which to possibly renew the American Century.

Until that happens, they will desperately cling to the carcasses of such institutions as the United Nations, the NPT, the U.S.-Japanese Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, the FRB, the FDIC, and perhaps the IRS, as well, that have all outlived their usefulness by now.

Tags: プラグマティズム ジョン デューイ ベティー フリーダン ロン ポール 世界の警察 財政赤字 ·

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[FEATURE] Americans May Soon Find Abstract Thinking Useful
Authored by: samwidge on Tuesday, September 15 2009 @ 09:54 PM JST

Once again, Mr. Yamamoto, you are correct about us. I wish you weren't.

We are now a singularly impractical people. I use the Internet to read 20-newspapers each morning. For a sociologist, the most interesting material comes not from the reporters but from the people who post in discussions of recent stories. Of those, the vast majority is people whose only aim is rudeness. They take no pleasure in sharing information and growing wiser but in offending and discouraging each other. Salvador Dali could draw the human mind in no greater disarray.

Your example, "Usefulness is quite OK, but useful for whom and what purposes?" and the answers you posed hit hard. You are absolutely correct. In today's America it is difficult to start a friendship but easy to start a fight. We have laws today with which you can accuse someone and the someone is allowed no right to a defense. One of our most important national science agencies suppresses scientific knowledge on environmental issues.

I am reading "Anna Karenina" by Leo Tolstoy. In studying the two-century old Russian society described there, I sense that nations and empires flow through parallel phases only slightly out of step with each other. The book tells the story of upper class people as though nobody else matters. In later iterations of their and our societies, only the common man matters. Now the US, Russia and Japan seem to be on to different things.

Do you suppose the new phase has something to do with an idea that nobody matters?

City fathers in my small town have new laws making illegal drugs legal. If America makes it past the next hundred years, that particular symptom will mean something important to someone.