As I’ve recently been thinking about Tolkien and the history of Western thought in general, I’m struck by how genuinely odd, or at least different, the current dominant way of thinking is compared to much of what’s come before us. As the proverbial fish doesn’t notice the water that surrounds it, many of us similarly don’t notice this intellectual background because of just how dominant it is.
For lack of a better term, this is what I’d call Western Consensus Thinking:
- Linear progress. History is unfolding in a linear way with each epoch becoming progressively better, more enlightened.
- The end of history. We’re in a sort post-historical era with all of the major problems solved. The only thing blocking worldwide progress is people not embracing Western thought.
- Scientism. There are no real limits to what we can know via science, and science is the ultimate arbiter of truth and only source of knowledge.
- Individualism. The ultimate good is personal fulfillment and radical individualism. Any spiritual pursuits are relegated to personal improvement rather than ends in and of themselves.
- Rationality. Everyone is rational, rational thought is the only acceptable form of thoughт and anyone not embracing Western thought is a sign of irrationality.
- Moralism. The West is morally superior to any other civilization. This is coupled with a missionary zeal.
- Materialism. There’s no room for anything that can’t be explained via scientism, thus any theists are extreme deists.
Think Steven Pinker.
I just don’t find that line of argument that entirely convincing, though. And I never have. I’ve always been fascinated by religion, the limits of knowledge and non-Western thought.
One of the consequences of Western Consensus Thinking is an idealogical monoculture that’s not only stagnant, it’s just plain boring. Genuinely different views are no longer aired publicly. Even seriously challenging the paradigm labels you as a nutter.
Another point is that this is fairly recent. Public intellectuals used to debate, disagree and hold fundamentally different core beliefs. People in the West used to be exposed to differing view points far more often than they are today. In my experience, firm believers in Western Consensus Thinking become genuinely uncomfortable around people who disagree with them.
That’s the first part: What is Western Consensus Thinking. I’m still hashing it out, but I think my outline above is a good starting point.
What I’m working on next:
- Why Western Consensus Thinking went into a moral panic over Covid
- Heretics and the problems of losing ideological diversity
- Viable alternatives