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From the Rational to the Irrational or, Why Joss Whedon is a Prophet of Our Times. HUM 2052: Civilization II Spring 2014 Dr. Perdigao March 24-26, 2014. The Old West and Evil Alliances. “What is civilization?” Back to the Reavers, to Serenity’s world Place of Imperialism

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from the rational to the irrational or why joss whedon is a prophet of our times

From the Rational to the Irrational or, Why Joss Whedon is a Prophet of Our Times

HUM 2052: Civilization II

Spring 2014

Dr. Perdigao

March 24-26, 2014

the old west and evil alliances
The Old West and Evil Alliances

“What is civilization?”

Back to the Reavers, to Serenity’s world

Place of Imperialism

Civilized vs. savage

redefining civilization
Redefining Civilization
  • “Nineteenth-century writings on civilization tended to emphasize its evolution from barbarism to the pinnacle reached by modern industrial society” (1692)
  • Pride in technological advancement (return to Crystal Palace) but question if “the technical prowess that was the most visible sign of an advanced society could also mean its doom?” (1693)
  • Becoming “less civilized”
  • “Civilization is an illusion, a temporary truce for survival that always masks hostile instincts” (1693). For Freud, civilization is a “Set of constraints entered into reluctantly by instinctively hostile and competitive individuals for the survival of the community (and, therefore, the individual)” (1693).
  • Question of “ethical and (primarily European) cultural values” (1693)
  • Early modernity and late modernity (Perry 678); second Scientific Revolution in twentieth century; Planck’s theory of discontinuity, nature as “fundamentally elusive and unpredictable” (Perry 698); “uncertainty and disorientation” (Perry 699)
  • Note to The Future of an Illusion (1927)—divide between culture and civilization—with culture defined as a “complex whole,” including “knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society” (1694); by the twentieth century, 164 definitions of culture
  • Civilization and Its Discontents (1929)
  • From barbarism to “negotiated relationship between human instincts and the institutions necessary for survival” (1694); inclination to aggression, threat to civilization
  • Science and technology—can be “used for their annihilation” (1694); “One thus gets an impression that civilization is something which was imposed on a resisting majority by a minority which understood how to obtain possession of the means to power and coercion” (Freud 1694).
  • “The present cultural state of America would give us a good opportunity for studying the damage to civilization which is thus to be feared. But I shall avoid the temptation of entering upon a critique of American civilization: I do not wish to give an impression of wanting myself to employ American methods” (Freud 1699).
revolutions of the mind
Revolutions of the Mind?
  • Freud—shift from “Enlightenment’s view of the individual’s essential goodness and rationality” (Perry 685); irrational drives as dictating behavior but still emphasis on control for benefits of civilization
  • Freud’s theory of dominant aggression in man—as a psychosocial manifestation—role in larger realm of politics
  • The place of Freud (and psychoanalysis) in discovering the causes of World War I?
  • Education and improved living conditions (philosophes) and abolition of private property (Marx) would not “eliminate evil” as people will “lust after power and privilege” (Perry 688).
  • American culture in relation to world order, according to Freud?
post world war i enlightenment
Post-World War I Enlightenment?
  • Valéry and Spengler: French poet and philosopher/German philosopher
  • Progress to regress, results of technology, “too much civilisation” from Marx and Engels?
  • Becoming “uncivilized”?
  • Revisiting Montaigne’s “Of Cannibals”
  • Spengler’s “scientific analysis of broad sociological patterns” as a response to World War I; Valéry’s “personal identification with the continent-wide crisis,” the “crisis of the mind” (1701). Both were written in 1919.
  • Valéry references Leibniz, Kant, Hegel, Marx
  • Valéry’s Hamlet mocks “anthill society” (return to Dostoevsky?); order and disorder
culture civilization divide
Culture/Civilization Divide
  • Spengler’s argument that cultures and civilizations follow cyclical patterns: rise, mature, die when “initial creative impulses were exhausted” (1706); “modern Western civilization has already begun to fall” (1693)
  • Imperialism is “Civilization unadulterated” as “culture-man” is directed inwards and “civilization-man” outwards (1710)
  • Spengler: “The Civilization is the inevitable destiny of the Culture” (1709)—accomplishment in transition from Culture to Civilization in the Classical world in 4th century and for the Western in 19th century (1710).
revolutions of the mind1
Revolutions of the Mind?
  • Economic crisis: intellectual crisis
  • Error of the mind: disorder in the mind of Europe
  • “think[ing] in continents” from Spengler’s theories?
in the name of progress
In the Name of Progress?
  • Imperialism as “the domination by a country of the political, economic, or cultural life of another country, region, or people” (Perry 650), ideology contributing to two world wars and the cold war
  • Nicolai Lenin’s argument that imperialism was inevitable in an advanced capitalist country; call for (and inevitability of) working-class revolutions (653); prediction of war between the Great Powers
  • Nihilism—moral and social values have no validity—caused crisis in European life (680) but death of God and transcendental truths give primacy to man
  • Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher: superman or overman—notion that “A society that definitely and instinctively gives up war and conquest is in decline” (qtd. in Perry 682)
  • Followers of Nietzsche saw promise in World War I as path to a “new heroic age” (682)
  • Implementation of Nietzsche’s theories in fascist regimes but Nietzsche critiqued and had contempt for German nationalism and militarism
  • Role of the individual: Underground Man, Marlow, Six Characters
  • Reason does not dictate behavior but irrational impulses, according to Nietzsche and Freud
  • Larger context of World War I, its contextualization in relation to Enlightenment ideologies (celebrating rationality), modern shift in consciousness to the irrational, unpredictable (from modern physics to psychoanalysis to artistic representations), Social Darwinism, notions about national identities derived from “science,” nationalism
  • Freud stresses need for civilization, entering that “truce” for good of the individuals and society; there is no utopia, as Marx had suggested
  • Changing perspectives in the twentieth century
  • Enlightenment: modernity
  • Rational: irrational
  • Progress: regress?
  • Modern physics: Slaughterhouse-Five, “The Garden of Forking Paths,” and Donnie Darko
in the name of progress1
In the Name of Progress?
  • “When the new century began, most Europeans were optimistic about the future, some even holding that European civilization was on the threshold of a golden age. Few suspected that European civilization would soon be gripped by a crisis that threatened its very survival. The powerful forces of irrationalism, which had been celebrated by Nietzsche, analyzed by Freud, and creatively expressed in modernist culture, would erupt with devastating fury in twentieth-century political life, particularly in the form of extreme nationalism and racism, which extolled violence. Disorientated and disillusioned people searching for new certainties and values would turn to political ideologies that openly rejected reason, lauded war, and scorned the inviolability of the human person. Dictators, utilizing the insights into the unconscious and the nonrational offered by Freud and social theorists, succeeded in manipulating the minds of people to an unprecedented degree.” (Perry 701-2)
  • Currents leading to World War I—spiritual crisis and shattered Europe’s political and social order; gave birth to totalitarian ideologies (702)
decline of civilization
Decline of Civilization
  • 1914—pride in “accomplishments of Western civilization and confidence in its future progress” (Perry 709)
  • Nationalism caused divisions, created alliances and hostility, preponderance of pseudoscientific racial and Social Darwinist theories (survival and domination); extension of Imperialist attitudes/goals (Perry 709)
  • European state system failing; divisions due to nationalism, resulting in alliances
  • Attack on Enlightenment rational tradition, move to irrational
  • War as sign of progress
  • Romantic idealization of nation
decline of civilization1
Decline of Civilization
  • Assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, heir to throne of Austria on June 28, 1914, by terrorist Gavrilo Princip with support of secret Serbian nationalist society Union or Death (Black Hand)
  • Power of Germany since unification in 1870-1871
  • Europe splits into two hostile alliance systems (Perry 712)
  • Germany’s attempt to keep France isolated leads to creation of the Triple Alliance: Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy and alliance with Russia (Perry 713)
  • Weakness—Austria and Russia as potential enemies; Germany breaks with Russia when treaty lapses under new leadership; Germany supports Austria (Perry 713)
  • Triple Entente—France, Russia, Britain—formed after France courts Russia as an ally; alliance in 1894
  • Russia vows to back Serbia after the Balkan Wars
  • Threat of war between Austria and Serbia brings Germany and Russia into war
  • Nationalism as driving force in going to war, in public responses
  • Rhetoric of war (extending to writers, poets)
  • British Foreign Secretary Edward Grey’s statement “The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime’” (qtd. in Perry 721).
  • Technology implementing war
  • Trench warfare, use of poison gas
  • Aerial combat and submarine warfare, leading to American involvement
  • April 6, 1917, America enters war (728)
  • President Woodrow Wilson’s stance—threat of autocracy to democracy, restatement of liberal nationalism (legacies of the nineteenth century)
  • United States fighting to “make the world safe for democracy” (728)
  • Wilson’s hope for a New World (Serenity?)
recording history
Recording History
  • Question of responsibility raised in relation to World War I, frames for writings during and after the period
  • Militarism of Germany as cause, ambition to dominate Europe
  • Germany as case study for Freud, Nietzsche, Social Darwinism, Imperialism
  • Nationalist drive for Lebensraum (more living space) (Perry 718)
  • Other historians blame Austria and Serbia; France; England; diplomats and statesmen for failing to deal with the crisis
  • Others, rather than casting blame, read World War I as sign that European civilization was in crisis (718)
  • Violent conflict as “natural, inevitable, and worthy feature of human relations and a belligerent nationalism that pitted nation against nation in a struggle for survival” (718).
  • “The war also pointed to the flaws and perils of the alliance system, which set off a chain reaction, and the failure of the European state system, which glorified national power at the expense of a common European civilization” (718-9).
in the wake of marx
In the Wake of Marx
  • Russian Revolution of 1917 results in triumph of Bolsheviks
  • World War I: crisis in Russia
  • Lenin’s use of “revolutionary Marxism” (Perry 736)
  • Communism, as expanding beyond Russia, new nationalist agenda
  • Casualties of WWI: 9.4 million dead, 21 million wounded
  • Age of violence, anxiety, and doubt
  • “European intellectuals were demoralized and disillusioned. The orderly, peaceful, rational world of their youth had been destroyed. The Enlightenment worldview, weakened in the nineteenth century by the assault of romantics, Social Darwinists, extreme nationalists, race mystics, and glorifiers of the irrational, was now disintegrating. The enormity of the war had shattered faith in the capacity of reason to deal with crucial social and political questions. It appeared that civilization was fighting an unending and seemingly hopeless battle against the irrational elements in human nature and that war would be a continuous phenomenon in the twentieth century.” (Perry 740)
  • Self-determination as key, desired end but compromises made
  • Assigning blame, reparations: World War II
  • Totalitarianism, World War II
  • German army invades Belgium (August 4, 1914)
  • World War I (1914-1918); Treaty of Versailles (1919)
  • Bolshevik Revolution (1917); Industrialization in Soviet Union (1928); Collectivization of agriculture (1929)
  • Mussolini, power over Italy (1922)
  • US declares war on Germany (1917); Great Depression (1929)
  • Hitler becomes chancellor of Germany (1933)
  • Stalin’s purges in Soviet Union (1936-1938)
  • Spanish Civil War (1936-1939)
  • Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact (1939)
  • World War II (1939-1945)
  • German troops invade Poland, begins World War II (1939)
  • Germany invades Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, and France (1940)
  • Japan attacks Pearl Harbor, US enters war against Japan and Germany (1941)
  • US drops atomic bombs on Japan; Japan surrenders (1945)