09 May 2008

The Next Apollo Mission

I went to see Yaron Brook’s excellent lecture, Woodstock’s Legacy: The Rise of Environmentalism and the Religious Right, at the Ford Hall Forum tonight.  (Actually, I guess I have to say it was last night, not tonight, since it is now past midnight!)  I can’t possibly capture the order, integration, and eloquence of his speech, but I will try to recap some of ideas as faithfully as I can, with apologies to Dr. Brook if I’ve gotten something wrong.

He started by referring to Ayn Rand’s 1969 article, Apollo and Dionysus, in which she used two particular major events of the time - the Apollo 11 mission and the Woodstock rock music festival - to represent the wider concepts of reason and emotionalism, respectively.  In many respects, in 1969 the Dionysian elements in American culture were smothering the Apollonian ones.  It was a battle not of rich versus poor, but of intellectuals versus the people, hippies versus scientists - and the hippies and intellectuals seemed to be winning. 

So Dr. Brook asked the question - are we better off now than we were then?  There are some positive signs.  After George McGovern (an archetype for the Dionysian side) lost to the unpopular Richard Nixon, it seemed a thorough repudiation of the emotionalism of the hippie generation.  Indeed, the only Democrats elected to the Presidency since that time have run as centrists.  Reagan and Thatcher were elected.  Capitalism revived; Americans were prosperous and adored technology.

Unfortunately, the rebellion against the New Left was missing an explicit philosophical defense.  And many Americans, revolted by the shallow horrors of nihilism, flocked to the only prominent groups that boasted of absolutism and moral guidance: the evangelical churches.

Somewhat paradoxically, evangelical Christianity appeals to the 1960’s generation because of its emotionalism and spiritualism.  It is explicitly anti-reason.  Dr. Brook noted that, “the emotionalism of Woodstock was replaced by the emotionalism of Billy Graham” and “it was a rebellion against the Left - but not a rejection of Dionysus.”      

Dr. Brook then brought in the environmentalist movement as the other significant cultural movement that has made great inroads, showing that despite a veneer of scientific content and some lip-service geared to making it palatable to ordinary people, environmentalism is at root virulently anti-man.

These two strands - evangelicalism and environmentalism - are ultimately united in the realm of ideas; in essence, they share the emotionalism and hatred for reason.  But it gets really scary when these two unite as cultural and political forces - and that is exactly what appears to be happening.  (Dr. Brook illustrated this with many examples that I didn’t jot down, but I’m sure they’re on the recording that will be available soon at ARI.)

Brook’s sobering conclusion: “America is more Dionysian today than it was in the 1960’s.”  

Interestingly, though, Dr. Brook is unmistakably positive and optimistic.  What is needed today, he said, is a new Apollo mission that can provide a philosophical defense of freedom and capitalism.

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