“The blind leading the blind” can be used to describe Western politics and education today. There are, of course, very smart and shrewd politicians or scientists. But, when it comes to knowledge of where we want to go and how to get there, our present culture can be described by this ancient metaphor taught in the Bible, the Upanishads, and Roman classics. As Sextus Empiricus wrote in Outlines of Scepticism: “Nor does the non-expert teach the non-expert — any more than the blind can lead the blind.”
A civilization contains the accumulated experiences of those who have come before, and civilizations continue to adopt new discoveries. However, in the 20th century, the West largely put aside civilizational wisdom, taught by families and religions, and attempted to substitute it with a new-found faith in modern science and the state. The Encyclopedia Britannica exemplified this shift.
The 1911 edition was the last to focus on biographies of Western heroes and the discussion of biblical ideas. The subsequent edition was “scientific,” emphasizing names, dates and facts. It had more information about “things” and less about people. Modernity proclaimed religion as superstition and the state as the end of the march of the Absolute in history.
In the 20th century, the traditional family, the social underpinning of society, was neglected, if not condemned, as the perpetrator of oppression. The hard-learned historical lessons about overcoming political oppression incarnated in the principles of the U.S. Constitution were naively rejected as “the philosophy of dead white men.”
With globalization, the 20th century became an age of pluralism and value relativism. It was politically correct to see everyone’s cultural views as equally valid. The goal of cultural discussions was to ensure each person’s views were heard and respected, but not to seek truth. Out of this value relativism, new political and commercial shamans could rise to power using “snake oil” like rhetoric in expensive mass media campaigns.
This rejection of inherited culture in the name of progress can be compared to a group of people stuck in a large wilderness whose ancestors, a generation earlier, had discarded their map drawn by ancient explorers because it contained imperfections. Their children would likely never get out of the wilderness—or even remember any life beside it. William Golding’s Lord of the Flies is a classic book about a society created by the children disconnected from the culture and wisdom of their parents. Many analogies can be made to our hypothetical group in the wilderness and a 20th century either disconnected from its past or clinging to memories with fundamentalisms—as some modern terrorist movements. In this climate, neither side is willing to include and transcend the lessons of the past with critical analysis.
Modern politics is increasingly disconnected from the traditional map drawn by Plato and Aristotle and redrawn countless times with greater perfection by political thinkers from Cicero to Jefferson. Issues like tyranny, abuse of power, and corruption were checked by implementing principles they articulated. Protection of life and property, subsidiarity, checks and balances, transparency, and voluntary participation are key principles bequeathed to us by Western history.
Today, in our morally relative environment, public schools often fail to teach these principles, either because the teachers did not learn them or they fear losing their job because someone will be offended if they teach them. Instead, a new modern myth has been created: that the state can provide food, housing and healthcare for all.
“Race to the Abyss” © Greta Anderson
In a recent fourth grade school campaign, children were taught “the government is my family.” This myth is easily lapped up by those who wish it were true and never learned better. They are content to follow blind guides who say they can escape the effort of self-restraint, hard work, saving, and personal responsibility. Now, 50 years after the rejection of tradition by the baby boomers who believed in “doing their own thing,” politics has again become rooted in backhand deals and false promises clothed in beautiful rhetoric. Those with genuine leadership skills who would promote principles of good governance are now automatically excluded from the ballots by a party system that caters to financial backers in a plutocracy. Society is once again largely a system where the blind lead the blind.
Just as uncritical people reject the entire Bible because they find some contradictions in it, the child of Western civilization has been naively thrown out with the bathwater. As philosopher George Santayana reminded us, this behavior condemns us to repeat history. Worse, the current plutocrats attempt to hide the masses from the lessons of history in order to retain control. For example, public school curriculum designers exclude George Washington’s Farewell Address, which contained the lessons he learned about the strengths and weaknesses of the U.S. Constitution after serving as president. It used to be required reading, and is one of the best types of analysis a good citizen can learn.
Good parents want their children to learn, stand on their own feet and pursue a life of happiness. In the past, they sent their children to schools to get a classical liberal education so they could learn to think critically, acquire self-mastery, and become good citizens. A classical education was not about learning job skills so a person could work for others.
However, in our technological and democratic age, job skills are the primary goal of public schools—skills the plutocrats want people to learn. Even universities founded on a liberal arts tradition focus on training for jobs today. But “jobs” are by definition learning to work as a servant for others. Job training often has little to do with mastery of one’s own life. One can take pride in being a great surgeon, a brilliant mathematician, or a skilled lawyer. But these abilities will not help people escape drug addition, divorce or personal bankruptcy. They do not give us a road map for the pursuit of happiness or fixing a broken political system.
The modern faith in science leads people to naively reject the truth of anything not proven by science. However, Karl Popper and other philosophers of science have argued this undercuts all the knowledge culture has inherited from other non-rational forms of experience. Real science should not reject the wisdom of the past unless it is falsified. Therefore science should hone, correct, and add to our cultural heritage rather than destroy it. Integral wisdom includes and transcends tradition, continually improving the maps our ancestors gave us.
In the sciences we are taught to think critically about the past and to learn the mathematics and the theories of our predecessors like Pythagoras, Newton, and Einstein. Yet when it comes to politics and culture, modernists believe they can ignore the teachings of Aristotle, Cicero, Hobbes, Montesquieu, and Jefferson who taught how to constrain people from the misuse of political power. Cut off from the past, the modern herd in the wilderness naively believes that a democratic vote, among those who blindly pursue their own interest, will lead to social prosperity and goodness. Increasingly, we are relearning that voting in ignorance only causes the political system to become worse. As we are disconnected from inherited social habits and virtues, our society becomes one of children being raised by children.
There are inner cities that provide a clear example of what societies of children raising children are like. Government welfare does not help single teenage moms pass on the life skills and virtues of an unlearned culture, but it creates perpetual dependency and unhappiness. Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak said in a 2007 discussion that the core problem of the inner city is “children raising children”:
“That is something that the city council and I wrestle with constantly. I distill down this very complicated issue to one key sentence: There are too many kids raising themselves, and too many kids having kids of their own.”
Great teachers of the past stated people were being led by blind guides. Socrates lost his life for prodding the Greeks to examine their beliefs and political rhetoric. In Matthew 15:13-14, Jesus irritated the religious leaders of his day when he said:
“Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides [of the blind]. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.” (NIV)
Reverend Sun Myung Moon represents a recent attempt to stop the decline of the West by critically evaluating inherited tradition. The Divine Principle is an effort to explain the Bible and Western civilization in the light of modern science. He spent millions of dollars sponsoring conferences on “the unity of science and values.” He understood that at the core of a good society, a society of integrity, is good parents, who raise good children of integrity—who study the wisdom of the past and pursue the big questions of “Why am I here?” and “How can I achieve happiness?” Reverend Moon, like Socrates and Jesus, was rejected by the very people who could benefit from his thought and stop being blind guides. Like them, his teachings shed light on those who have eyes to see.
I wrote Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, Version 4.0 to explain sound principles of governance that could be applied to reverse the decline of the U.S. political system and allow the pursuit of a better society. In the Divine Principle, this ideal is described as achieving three blessings: “Be fruitful, multiply, and have dominion.” The phrase “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” refers to the goal of a general political framework that enables people to pursue their dreams. The phrases “the blind leading the blind” and “children raising children” are both apt descriptions of contemporary governments in which laws ensure political party interests, blind to the principles of truth, beauty and goodness.
Without resurgence in parents, families, and schools that teach both the unfalsified wisdom of history and the ability to critically assess the strengths and weaknesses of our present society, we can expect an escalating decline in state functionality and human happiness. A primary task of Applied Unificationism should be to teach the critical unification of modern science and traditional civilizational wisdom to the next generation. To get this process rolling, true parents and true teachers are required; salvation will come neither from a scientistic rejection of religion, nor a mystical dependence upon the state.♦
Dr. Anderson (UTS Class of 1978) is Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal on World Peace and President, Paragon House Publishers. He is author of many articles and books, including Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, Version 4.0.