In 1944, Dr. Horkheimer, a philosopher, put forward certain concerns about directions of the modern day. Somehow, we have managed to blunder into the world which he warned us about.
His lectures and essays were combined into a book titled the Eclipse of Reason (Wikipedia) [Eclipse of Reason. Oxford University Press. 1947.; reprint Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004, ISBN 978-0-8264-7793-4]
The topic of “instrumental reasoning” which was read and favorably expounded by Joe Weizenbaum’s explorations into philosophy from his horror at the sirens of artificial intelligence and computer science, has been ignored, and we are far the worse for that. We have adopted the optimistic Minsky approach to considering the thinking mind and the thinking machine. This is perilous.
Horkheimer warns about action for action’s sake, a concern that Humberto Eco takes up in his analysis of Fascism and its roots, which he calls Ur-Fascism. The warnings about action for action’s sake by these very wise men has been shrugged off.
Irrationalism also depends on the cult of action for action’s sake. Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation. Therefore culture is suspect insofar as it is identified with critical attitudes. Distrust of the intellectual world has always been a symptom of Ur-Fascism, from Goering’s alleged statement (“When I hear talk of culture I reach for my gun”) to the frequent use of such expressions as “degenerate intellectuals,” “eggheads,” “effete snobs,” “universities are a nest of reds.” The official Fascist intellectuals were mainly engaged in attacking modern culture and the liberal intelligentsia for having betrayed traditional values. (Eco)
America fears that its cursed universities are overrun with effete snobs and degenerate intellectuals, who survive by inseminating their ideas into the virgin minds of the innocent. There is no concept that ideas may be offered, digested and rejected in a university; there is such a fictive culture of belief and obedience that the University must be kept in an intellectual balance, so that the Lefties and the Righties do not predominate. The anti-intellectual movement of “unacceptable speech” is Ur-Fascism cloaked in a sense of etiquette and propriety about the management of ideas, as though the matter of ideas were husbandry, like sheep in a field, not the wildlife management of wolves in a high forest.
In American culture, “action for action’s sake” is restated as “keeping busy.” Many things are not done, done quickly and shoddily, for with the excuse that one is terribly busy. Medical visits with patients are compressed into shards of meaning and value – there is simply so much to do! The checkboxes must be checked, the blanks filled in, the lists completed. Any suggestion that all these actions are valueless and mindless are brushed aside. Busy is what busy does! Terry Gilliam’s Brazil! is a terrifying look into busy business, and is worth a viewing. It is sobering that this movie is now thirty years old.
Let’s get busy. Let’s get moving. The Trump Presidency promises motion in the backwaters of Washington. Things are not done in Washington because of the weakness of willpower – we have discovered that. A leader who can decide, no matter what the leader decides, is better than vacillation. America attributes the “failure in Iraq” to the inaction of Obama, not the action of George W. Bush. Something must be done in Iraq; anyone who doesn’t instantly respond to some stimulus, like the single word “ALEPPO?” is a feeble person not worthy of election to the Presidency.
The treatment of infectious disease offers a perfect example of the consumerist certainty of the use of antibiotics. The experienced clinician knows that the eradication of bacteria from the urine of the asymptomatic, average healthy patient is not worth the bother – the intervention poses risks beyond its potential benefits. The half-educated clinician-tech looks up the organism, and prescribes the Right Antibiotic for the Right Amount of Time. The clinician-tech does not know what the ID specialist does – that the number of days of antibiotic is strictly a rule of thumb. The experience clinician uses antibiotics like any other medication – to deliver a satisfactory concentration of chemical to the tissue to sway the balance of bacterium-versus-host, and long enough for the host to definitively prevail in the absence of continued therapy.
But a jury will know intuitively and with intense certainty that this is all bosh, that one uses an antibiotic when one sees a bacterium, in the way that Goering uses guns upon culture. Something must be done when something is “wrong.” This doctor, the jury can tell, is incompetent, and doesn’t even know the common wisdom about antibiotics!