As you note John noted:
The divinized science of which you speak is known more generally as scientism. I mention this for Gebser, among others, says much about -isms in general and their debilitating effects in particular. The same applies to neoliberalism, which may be even more pernicious given the radical absence of anything even closely resembling vision. It was mentioned in our discussion that economics, as a discipline, arose out of philosophy in general, moral philosophy in particular, but if anything has taken on a religious air, then it is our currently reigning economic ideology. One of the more interesting, though disturbing developments in this regard is how readily and deeply evangelical Christians, for the most part but not exclusively, have redefined their own credos to legitimize this particular economic approach. And these thoughts are very much related to your key observation, namely
This has long been an interest and focus of mine. It has to do with my insistence on examining ones fundamental assumptions and presuppositions, whereby I know full well that to examine these means to challenge what anyone of us believes we fundamentally are. This is dangerous ground to tread upon, yet it is absolutely essential, in my mind, that we – every chance we get – remind and confront ourselves and our discussion partners – here and elsewhere – with what appear to be such fundamental assumptions.
Yesterday Germany celebrated the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Weimar Republic, Germany’s first foray into a democratic system of government. Reeling from the effects of the war and the irrational Treaty of Versailles by the early 1920s $1 would buy you 23tr (that is 23,000,000,000,000) Reichmarks. Municipalities were literally stamping out money, one-sided on scraps of typing paper, to keep up with inflation, until the paper was worth more than the currency denomination stamped on it. We all know where that misery ultimately ended, once a small, toothbrush-mustachioed, democratically elected chancellor decided he wanted to make his country great again.
Most Americans believe their dollar today is unassailable, that such a thing as Weimar can’t happen to them, but few Americans realize just how tenuous the dollar’s existence is. The Chinese have long declared that they intend to replace the dollar with the yuan as the international currency of exchange (or international reserve currency, if you will). We should never forget that Saddam Hussein, who we all know never had WMDs, spoke his own death sentence when he declared he would no longer accept dollars in payment for his oil, he wanted euros, as did Muammar Gaddafi when he publicly declared his intent to create a gold-back African currency to compete with the dollar. In both of these cases the potential threat was enough to unleash unprecedented violent reactions. What happens when a real threat makes its appearance on the horizon?
For example, China (depending on who’s counting is the largest or second-largest national economy in the world) holds about 5% of the current US debt (~$22tr … and the US, like Japan, Italy, and Singapore (Greece was once on this list, but look what was done to them), has debt in excess of their GDP … they are truly living beyond their means). Foreign countries in total are holding almost 20% of US debt. What if they (the Chinese or all of them) called it in? Yes, collapse … but the knock-on effects at the moment would negatively impact the Chinese in particular as well (even though their debt is only about 44% of its GDP – well within their means), so other absorbing factors must be in place before that could happen. But what happens when those factors (perceived or real!) are in place?
(Just for comparison purposes, Russia is the world’s 12th largest economy with a GDP around $1.7tr. Their debt worth only about 13% of its GDP. Mere drops in the bucket compared to the US. Economically, they are irrelevant. But, they’re the US’s most serious threat (well, after south-of-the-border immigrants, that is)? The only reason we still talk about Russia at all is because they do have one thing as big as the US: a nuclear arsenal, and that’s what chaps America’s hide. Of course America is still fighting the Cold War which truly ended decades ago; everyone else has moved on to other machinations, and they’re not necessarily military in nature.)
Sorry for the longish digression, but all of this is directly relevant to “the importance of what we believe we see when we see.” And it’s in this particular context that your reference to the plebians of Rome takes on all the more relevance today. The more things change, the more they stay the same.