The Test of the West III

This is the transcript of an extremely stimulating and insightful conversation between Alex Omidvar and philosopher John Artibello. John Artibello had taught philosophy for 22 years at Centennial, George Brown and Humber Colleges in Toronto, Canada. He did graduate work in philosophy at the University of Toronto where he met, and was inspired by Marshall McLuhan, Bernard Lonergan and Jean Vanier. His special interests are in ethics, spirituality, the psychology of meaning and ecology. Many of the writings contained at this site are attempts to synthesize ideas from a variety of sources and reflect the contributions of countless thinkers and writers engaged in the humanities and global learning. The conversation between Artibello and Alex has been divided into three chapters (I,II and III). The third chapter is as follows:

Chapter 3—Final thoughts on cultural evolution

Alex Omidvar

John, you made very interesting points and I really like the way you recorded the history of postmodern ideas that are now poisoning the West. I recently became aware of an extremely interesting philosopher and theorist called Ken Wilber and I have to say that I really find his work fascinating. His ideas were influenced by people like the developmental psychologist Piaget, and his Integral Theory fits in what you said in the last paragraph about moving forward. 

His Integral Theory was that ‘a system’ like culture requires two things if it hopes to move forward and to progress. First, is transcendence, and by that, he meant an update from the old culture, though the second principle is ‘to include’ the previous culture. So the model goes something like this: In order for culture to progress and to prevent it from fragmentation, it needs to transcend and include the previous culture. In practicality, this means that some ideas of the past will be rejected and some new ones will be inserted. However, a new system must include the previous ones, because otherwise, you get a culture war, where people’s first principles are widely different. This is where we are right now as postmodern culture is acting like the Freudian superego, repressing the previous cultures that came before it. This produces nothing but polarisation, cultural fragmentation and a serious suspension of progress, or perhaps even a move towards regression. However, as Integral Theory suggests, we are also to be grateful for some postmodern ideas such as ‘diversity and inclusion’, not in the sense of what it means now but merely in our change of attitude towards ‘those who are not like us’ to feel included. The fact that there is less hatred for these groups is also something that the postmodern movement has contributed to. 

And, I could not agree with you more on your comments on how to move forward. I also think that the spoken truth (the logos) is the antidote to this chaos, hence why I am in the process of creating a youtube channel for Oxford Students to come forward and speak their minds. Equally, your emphasis on the interconnectivity of the self with the past is very insightful. When we read the great works of the past, we are, in a sense, resurrecting the souls of those who came before us and shaped who we are today. And, this is, I think, extremely important as if we do not know ‘them’, we do not know ‘ourselves’, and if we ignore what they had to say, we end up in this empty and materialistic universe where the self is no more than consciousness due to chemicals reacting in our brains. And, what replaces our sense of self is the product of this technological environment where consciousness and Instagram are in an unholy union. We have, in essence, given up our true essence and the ground of our being for the sake of pleasure which only produces dopamine and leaves us in an empty state of inertia and meaninglessness. 

Just as a note to finish this enjoyable dialogue, what is your view for the next ten to twenty years; will we be able to redeem ourselves or are we headed for disaster? 

John Artibello

I agree with the notions of Ken Wilber in that they remind me of how McLuhan spoke of culture. He would say that as we move forward in time we often retrieve ideas from different periods. There have been several cycles in which ‘classical’ ideas have been brought back to light the way forward. I am thinking for example of Werner Heisenberg, winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics, who stated “some statements of ancient philosophy are rather near to those of modern science.”  

This is important news for us who have seen the many problems with postmodernism, particularly its complete abandonment of transcendence, in favour of subjectivism—full stop.  The past is ‘still here’ and just as brilliant as before. Important ideas are not made obsolete by the mistaken notions that the present must be better than the past and that we must be wiser than those who have gone before. 

Personally I believe the way forward is by adopting some of the medieval courage to consider all ideas as worthy of examination, not just the ones we have been told are politically correct. We might also benefit from the medieval notion that we are pilgrims upon the earth not masters and power seekers. 

I think there is a bizarre hubris in those who think a new system of ideas is possible without including the leading insights of the past. Clearly, thinkers of the pedigree of Werner Heisenberg, are stating as much in their reflections on, for example, advanced science. There is no law that says that as we move forward in time the quality of our thinking gets better. McLuhan and others called this out long ago. He suggested we look at history as a collective consciousness, a mosaic made up of different independent notions which also combine into a kind of whole. And there is the warning that those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it.

So, for the next ten to twenty years, we need to go in the opposite direction to the ‘exclusive humanism’ and ‘immanentism’ of many in academia. We must humbly hold up the value of being pilgrims not masters—of listening to those who accept reality as it is rather than those who think reality can be magically constructed based on our desires and dreams. We need to challenge the obscurantism of those who claim questions about the ultimate meaning of it all cannot be answered, and should never be taken seriously. We need to champion the civilising structures that have been the great gifts to humanity, and acknowledge their spiritual roots, without lapsing into psychologism or sociological whimsy. 

It has been noted how philosopher-theologians like Bernard Lonergan “showed how the methods of modern empirical science - once stripped of their extra- scientific assumptions of exclusive humanism and naturalism - imply an open-ended, non reductive, emerging universe which integrates the natural and human domains and is dynamically oriented to a transcendent reality beyond it.”  (Michael McCarthy)

Either we think of ourselves as icons reflecting a deeper light and truth than we can fathom, or we succumb to some idol or other, trying to convince ourselves of some half-truth that hollows rather than hallows our deepest yearnings. 

In an authentic self-examination and self-appropriation, why not look at our talents and gifts, not as ‘subjective’ traits, but as ontologically necessary for making life to be what it is meant to be? In the depths of our hearts, is there not a still small voice, pointing to all the transcendent realities that we hope are true, and can we find the voice to make them real - here, now, and forever? 


Alex Omidvar

Alex is a CEO at Omidvar.co.uk. Outside his job, he is a proficient writer, speaker, consultant, leader and student who studies Philosophy at the University of Oxford. He also runs 'The Oxford Logos' a YouTube channel designed for free discourse.

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