Translated by Pedro Sette Câmara

The general understanding of the term ‘higher education’ is that it basically means the training for the well-paid professions. From this concept we may conclude, without the slightest chance for error, that every normal human being is able to receive it and that any elitism whatsoever would be unjust, even when the case is not one of intentional discrimination but of unequal distribution of luck. However, if we are to understand by the name of ‘higher education’ the overcoming of the intellectual limitations of the environment, the access to a universal perspective of things, and the realisation of the highest spiritual qualities a human being possesses, then we will find that many candidates have a personal impairment that, sooner or later, will end up excluding them and assuring that ‘higher education’ – in the strong and not in the administrative sense – continues to be, by their own right, a privilege of few.

This impairment, thanks be to God, is not of economic, social, ethnic or biological order. It is one of those human evils which, like cancer and matrimonial quarrels, is more or less fairly and equally distributed among classes, races, and genders. It is the only kind of imperfection that could justly be invoked as the cornerstone of an elitist selection. Anyway, that would be totally unnecessary, because it makes a selection by itself, and in such a natural and spontaneous way that the excluded cannot even imagine what they have lost, and are actually quite happy about their situation. Thus, perfect harmony reigns among the happy few and the unhappy many, safeguarded by the impassable distance which separates them.

The impairment to which I refer is not material, nor is it quantifiable. Statistics do not include it in their calculations, and the government completely ignores it. Nonetheless it exists, has a name and has been known for more than two millennia. A competent mind can recognise its presence immediately, by an intuitive act of perception as simple as differentiating day and night.

The Greeks called it apeirokalia. It means simply ‘the lack of experience of the most beautiful things’. By this term it was understood that the individual who, in certain stages of his development, had been deprived of certain interior experiences that woke on him the desire for beauty, goodness, and truth, would never be able to understand the conversations of the sages, no matter how much effort he put in learning Sciences, Letters and Rhetoric. Plato, for instance, would say that this man is a prisoner of the cave. Aristotle, in a more technical language, would say that rites are not intended for the transmission of specific teachings to men, but to cause on their soul a deep impression. Anyone who is aware of the importance Aristotle gives to the imaginative impressions will understand the extreme seriousness of what he means: these impressions performed upon the soul an illuminating and structuring impact. In their absence, intelligence obscurely drifts about the multitude of sensible data, without grasping the symbolic nexus which, bridging the gap between abstractions and reality, prevents our reasoning from dissolving into a maddening combinatory of empty syllogisms – the pedant expressions of the impotence to know.

Of course, the inner experiences which Aristotle refers to are not exclusively granted by ‘rites’ in the strict and technical understanding of the term. Theatre and poetry also can open souls to an inflow of the above. To music – to certain music – we cannot deny the power to generate a similar effect. The simple contemplation of nature, a providential happening, or, for more sensitive souls, even certain states of loving rapture, when associated with a strong moral appeal (remember Raskolnikov, before Sonia, in Crime and Punishment), can put the soul in a certain state of bliss that frees it from the cave and from apeirokalia.

However, it is much more likely that the most intense experiences a man may have during his life will drive him away from what Aristotle had in mind. For what characterises the life-giving impression the philosopher mentions is precisely the impossibility to separate, in their content, truth, goodness and beauty. From Plato to Leibniz, there was not a single philosopher worthy of the name who did not most emphatically proclaim the unity of these three aspects of Being. And here begins the problem: most men never had an experience in which beauty, goodness and truth did not appear separated by tremendous abysses. Such men are the victims of apeirokalia – and among them we may count some of the most influential intellectuals in the world of today.

Unhappily, the number of these victims seems to be destined to increase. Back in 1918, Max Weber already pointed the loss of the unity of ethical-religious, aesthetical and cognitive values as prominent traces of the time. Goodness, beauty and truth became more and more distant every day, and because of that

“the most sublime values have retreated from the public life, either to the transcendent world of mystic life, or to the fraternity of personal and direct human relationships… It is not by chance that today, only in the small and intimate circles, in personal human situations, there remains something that may correspond to the prophetic spirit (pneuma) which in ancient times would sweep large communities like a fire”.

The two fortresses of the sublime that Weber mentions did not last for long: mystic life, harassed by the tide of fake esoterism that stole its language and prestige, ended up recoiling to silence, off the mainstream, in order not to be contaminated by profane babble. Intimacy, assaulted by the media, violated by the State’s interference, turned into the object of hysterical exhibitionism and sadic sneaking, disowned of its language by the commercial and ideological exploration of its symbols, simply no longer exists.

The whole of literature in the twentieth century reflects this state of affairs: first the ‘incommunicability’ of the egos, then the suppression of the ego itself – ‘character dissolution’. But many things happened since Weber. Nearing the end of the millennium, what’s understood by ‘mystic’ is a cerebralism of philologists; by love, the carnal contact people unknown to each other have through a piece of rubber. The three supreme values, at this point, are not only independent, but antagonistic. Beauty isn’t just disconnected from goodness: it is definitely bad. Goodness in its turn seems to be hypocritical, fakely sentimental and stupid. Truth is ugly, meaningless and depressing. Aesthetics celebrate vampires, the death of the soul, cruelty, the man who shoves his arm up to the elbow inside another man’s anus. Ethics is reduced to an accusatory discourse of each one against their own dislikings, sided by the most cynical self-indulgence. Truth is nothing but the statistic consensus of academe corrupted to their hearts.

Under these conditions, it is truly a miracle that an individual can escape for instants from the led dome of apeirokalia, and another miracle that, upon his return to the nightmare he calls “real life”, these instants do not seem to him like a dream that he should better not mention in public.

But nothing will prevent a writer from speaking, in his own works, to the survivors of the spiritual doom of the twentieth century, hoping that they exist and that they are not so few. Overwhelmed by the combined harassment of banality and brutality, they can still suspect that in their hidden dreams and hopes there is a truth more certain than everything the world today imposes upon us with the label of ‘reality’, guaranteed by Science and the Food and Drug Administration. It is for those that I speak, aware that they will not be found in larger numbers among the educated than among the poor and the forsaken.




  1. Weber, Max. Org. H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills. Trans. Waltensir Dutra, rev. by Fernando Henrique Cardoso, 5th ed. “A ciência como vocação”. Ensaios de Sociologia. Rio de Janeiro: Guanabara, 1982. p.182

Rorty and the animals

a chapter from The Collective Imbecile by Olavo de Carvalho

“Error speaks with a double voice:one which proclaims the false and another one which denies it. It is a dispute between yes and no, which is called contradiction… Error is not condemned by the mouth of the judge, but ex ore suo” – Benedetto Croce.

“Philosophy originated in the attempt to escape to a world where nothing would ever change. Plato, founder of this area of culture that today we call ‘philosophy’, supposed that the difference between past and future would be minimal.”

That is the beginning of a whole-page article published by Mr. Richard Rorty in the Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Pauloon March 3rd, 1996. When I started working in journalism thirty years ago, a paragraph like that would be unmercifully deleted by the copy desk, who might even leave a brief and not very polite note to its author, more or less in the following terms: “But how, wise guy, how would Plato wish so anxiously to run away to a world of stability without change, if in this very world he already didn’t see great difference between the past and the future?” Nowadays blatant rubbish is published as a high manifestation of philosophic thought, and nobody from the copy desk comes forward to say that it is not acceptable, not even as an attempt at journalism.

Besides opening his article with evident nonsense, Mr. Rorty still intends to use such nonsense as the basis for conclusions which violate the most elementary historical truth. For he proceeds: “It was only when they started taking history and time seriously that philosophers replaced their former desire to know another world with hopes for the future of this world. The attempt to take time seriously started with Hegel.”

To begin with, it is well known that Plato, as all Greeks, did see much difference between past and future. If the fact of change itself did not seem to be worth of attention to him, he would not have strived to find an unchangeable pattern behind the transitoriness of things. Second, the concern with “the future of this world” was one of the main concerns of the Platonic endeavor, which was rahter the work of a social and political reformer than that of a pure theoretical contemplator.

Third, to date from Hegel the beginning of the concern with History and time is to skip over two millenia of Christianity, a religion which differentiated itself from the Greek world view exactly for its emphasis on the temporal and historic character of human life, what is already very clear in St. Augustine.

Fourth. Why assume there is a contradiction between the concern with History and the will for eternity, when it is exactly the indissoluble union of these two issues that constitutes the basic inspiration for Hegel himself?

Fifth. When Mr. Rorty interprets the will for eternity as an “evasion” or a “flight”, he is just playing upon words and his pun can easily be undone. The impulse to revolutionize the world, to accelerate historical change, with the same verisimilitude, can also be interpreted as a hubris, an alienating agitation, an escape valve in the presence of permanent and inevitable realities, such as death, frailness, ignorance of our ultimate fate, etc. These pejorative interpretations have only a rethorical value, if that much. Taking them for granted and presenting them as unquestionable is not honest at all.

Based on all these premises, Mr. Rorty finishes the overture of his article with the assertion that the joint influence of Hegel and Darwin distanced philosophy from the question `What are we` and turned it into `What can we become´. This rather pompous historical generalization omits from the reader the information that for Hegel both questions were exactly the same (Wesen ist was gewesen ist). Thereby, far from distancing himself from Greek thought, the philosopher from Jena was just providing a logical development to the Aristotelian doctrine of entelechy, according to which essence is not the static form of a being in a given moment in time, but the goal implicit in its development. Furthermore, it omitts the information that Darwin, on his turn, never said a word about ‘What are we’ nor about ‘What can we become’, but was only interested in ‘What we were’. Rorty therefore mistakes the theory of evolution for the evolutionist ideology, which is Spencer’s work and not Darwin’s.

There are so many implied absurdities in a single paragraph that perhaps it is the compressive strength of falsity being rapidly injected in his brains what makes the reader dizzy, incapable of realizing that he is in front of a cheap fraud, disguised as philosophy as a result of pure marketing.

But I do not believe that Mr. Rorty writes this way for mere incompetence. He knows that he lies – and the secret of the awe he arises in hordes of pedantic youngsters consists precisely in the fact that they envy the power of lying well, for they disbelieve in all truth. There are many who dream about being Richard Rorty when they grow up.

But do you really want to know who this fellow is? Do you wish to get an idea of how ridiculous it is to honor him as a great philosopher? Going a bit further than what he said in Folha de São Paulo, let us then follow this brief examination of his more general conceptions.

“Language is not an image of what is real”, assures us Mr. Rorty, pragmatistic and anti-Platonic philosopher. Should we interpret this sentence in the sense that Mr. Rorty calls “Platonic”, that is, as a denial of an attribute to a substance? It would be contradictory: a language that is not an image of what is real cannot give us a real image of its relations with what is real. So the sentence must be interpreted in the pragmatistic sense: it says nothing about what language is, but only highlights the intention of using it in a certain way. The main thesis of Mr. Rorty’s thought is a statement of intention. “Language is not an image of what is real” means exactly this and nothing else: “I, Richard Rorty, am firmly decided not to use language as an image of what is real”. It is an “irrefutable” thesis, as it is not possible to invalidate logically an expression of will. Therefore, there is nothing open for debate: within the limits of decency and of the Penal Code, Mr. Rorty has the right to use language as he wishes.

The problem comes up when he begins to try to induce us to use language exactly as he does. He says that language is not a representation of reality, but rather a set of tools invented by man to fulfill his wishes. But it is a false alternative. A man may well wish to use this tool to represent reality. It seems that this was exactly what Plato wished. But Mr. Rorty denies that men may have any other wishes rather than seeking pleasure and fleeing pain. That some men do say that they wish something else must be very painful to him. If it were not, there would be no valid pragmatistic explanation for the effort he makes to switch the tone of the conversation. Facing the impossibility of denying that those people do exist, the pragmatist may perhaps say that those who seek to represent reality are moved by the wish to flee pain as much as those who prefer to make up fantasies. But this objection will only come to prove, precisely, that we are not dealing with things that exclude each other. The Rortyan alternative is false in its own terms.

Confronting this painful realization, Mr. Rorty alleges his philosophy consists in introducing a new vocabulary, one in which all distinctions between absolute and relative, appearance and reality, natural and artificial, true and false will be abolished. He recognizes he does not have a single argument to offer as a defense of such proposal. As it “cannot be expressed in Platonic terminology”, it is above, or below, the possibility of being proved or refuted. And he concludes on behalf of all pragmatists: – “That is why our efforts at persuading assume the form of a gradual inculcation of new ways of speaking”. Mr. Rorty, therefore, does not intend to convince us of the truthfulness of his thesis: he only intends to “gradually inculcate us” with his way of speaking. Once it is adopted, we will gradually forget to ask if what we speak is true or false. But gradually inculcating others with a linguistic habit, while also placing it beyond the reach of all rational mediation, is sheer psychological manipulation. We leave therefore the ground of philosophical discussion – that rortyism refuses as “Platonic” – to enter the subtle ground of the imposition of a will by the repetition of slogans and by change in vocabulary. That is what George Orwell called Newspeak in his 1984.

This is perhaps the deep and secret reason why – after having declared that men are but pleasure-seeking beasts and after having reduced language to an instrument that stronger beasts use to dominate weaker beasts – Mr. Rorty can still proclaim that “we, the pragmatists, do not behave as animals”, when his discourse seemed to indicate precisely the opposite. Actually, they are really animal trainers. A horse-trainer does not argue with horses, he just uses psychological influence to “gradually inculcate” them with the desired habits.

Like all animal trainers, pragmatists are moved by pious intentions: “What matters to us is inventing means to diminish human suffering”. It is for that noble purpose that Mr. Rorty proposes to abolish the oppositions between true and false, real and apparent, absolute and relative, etc., which make the philosophy students suffer so much, and suggests the universal adoption of the Newspeak. Once adopted this proposal, philosophical debates will not anymore be an uncomfortable clash of arguments and proofs like they used to be, but rather an effort to make the gradual inculcation of new habits in the mind of the audience ever more painless and pleasurable. The new theories will not look for help in the heavy weaponry of logic, but in the delicate tools of marketing, with free samples being given away to newcomers and smiley Playboy bunnies adorning the covers of academic dissertations.

But the decisive contribution of Mr. Rorty to the relief of human suffering is the combat he wages against the idea that life may have a meaning. It is understandable that Mr. Rorty must feel pretty bad in a universe that makes sense – the odd man out, exactly the way a non-pragmatist would feel in a world devoid of any meaning. Yet, Mr. Rorty does not see the least advantage in arguing with those who do not feel as he does. The controversy between the existence and inexistence of an immanent meaning in the cosmos, he says, “is too radical to be able to be judged from a neutral viewpoint.” There is no way to argue: all a man can do is express his will. So again Mr. Rorty’s thesis is a declaration of intention: he, Richard Rorty, will do everything he can so that life will not have any meaning whatsoever. And he does that with extreme competence and dedication. There are those who think that the lack of meaning in life is what makes human beings unhappy1, But Mr. Rorty does not care at all. He supports democratic pluralism, the free expression of all points of view. But the confrontation of points of view, as it cannot be settled by any intellectually valid means, becomes just a competition between wills, one whose outcome will be determined by the pure manipulating ability of the winning party

Those who know Mr. Rorty personally assure us that he is a very nice guy. I believe them. But I doubt he wags his tail. After all, he is not the animal in the story2.


  1. Viktor Frankl, for example, the not sufficiently praised Jewish psychiatrist who, in the hell of concentration camps, discovered that a meaning for life is more necessary to man than freedom itself. Frankl told an American audience: “It was not only a handful of ministries in Berlin that invented the gas chambers of Maidanek, Auschwitz, Treblinka, they were prepared in the offices and classrooms of nihilistic scientists and philosophers, among which there were and there are some Nobel-laureate Anglo-Saxon thinkers. If human life is nothing more than an insignificant accidental product of some protein molecules, it does not matter that a psychopath be eliminated as useless and that many other inferior people share his fate: all this is but logic and consequent reasoning” (Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning). Back
  2. While reviewing the proofs of this chapter, it occurs to me to remind the reader that a proposal such as Mr. Rorty’s contains in itself, along with the refusal of rational proof, a whole army of antibodies against any attempt to refute it in the serenity of an academic discussion. A “gradual inculcation” never clashes directly with arguments, but takes advantage of the moments when its interlocutor is distracted to surreptitiously induce him to change his state of mind. Its modus argumentandi is not the philosopher’s, nor even the rhetorician’s, but that of the neuro-linguistic programmer. It works beneath the threshold of conscience, after having induced its victim to relax its defenses through mild conversation. Against this kind of actuation the only possible defense is to confront the seducer in the ground he has chosen, i.e., that of psychological action. Therefore, it is not a question of arguing, but of unmasking, just like in psychoanalysis. During Mr. Rorty’s visit to Brazil, I was dumbfounded by the incapacity of his audience to notice the difference between argumentation and seduction. If Mr. Rorty himself admits that there is no use in arguing, what could his apparent arguments be if not a diversion, a trompe l’oeil to keep the conscious attention busy while –away from all critical surveillance – the gradual-inculcator discreetly manipulates the bottom of the soul of the distracted interlocutor? But what silly girl would be foolish enough to try to get rid of a seducer by using polite requests that would only prolong the conversation? In order to expel the seducer it is necessary to deny him any hint of nicety right away and for good. Nowadays there are many currents of opinion that prefer psychological influence to logic reasoning. They do not try to win our agreement, but rather to monopolize our attention. By prolonging a conversation that they themselves recognize is not able to reach any intellectually valid results, they gradually surround us with their atmosphere. They do in such a way that, even if we never explicitly agreed with them, suddenly we are speaking their language, thinking according to their categories, judging according to their values, acting according to their rules. That is how they win our most complete obedience in spite of our superficial disagreement. There is no way to confront them except for open manifestations of antipathy in order to make them understand that what separates us from them is not mere intellectual disagreement, but also a categorical moral rejection. In short: we don’t like their conversation. The tone of this book has therefore a prophylactic sense. Back


Olavo de Carvalho,
The New Age and the Cultural Revolution: Fritjof Capra & Antonio Gramsci,Chapter I.
IAL and Stella Caymmi, Rio de Janeiro, 1993. (3rd edition)

Translated by Marcelo De Polli

In early November,(1) Brazil will be receiving Mr. Fritjof Capra, summoned by Brasília Holistic University (Universidade Holística de Brasília) to talk about the New Age, as heralded in his book The Turning Point.

Mr. Capra’s voice shall not be crying out in the desert. The Holistic University has already assembled a congregation of local intellectuals keen to say ‘amen’ to his lesson in church. Frei Betto and former Brasília University dean Christovam Buarque can be found among the acolytes. We can see that Mr. Capra is not a writer like the others: he’s a leader, a spiritual authority and, let us admit it at once, a prophet.

The content of his prophecies is all but unknown: The Turning Point has found its way as far as the hands of children, who debate it at school. However, according to the Holistic University this is hardly enough. Mr. Capra must be heard by all akin to the human species. For, in spite of being homonymous to a film director become famous on account of happy endings, he guarantees a quite unhappy one to our century unless humanity should follow his advice. Let us hurry to examine it with such urgency as the case requires.

According to Mr. Capra, the history of the world has come to a turning point, and must change its course. The three main changes on schedule are the following: first, humanity will stop consuming fossil fuel (oil); second, patriarchy will come to an end; third, the present scientific paradigm will be replaced by a new one, a holistically based one. These three things are already happening — so assures us Mr. Capra — yet the triple accomplishment must needs be hastened; it will mark the coming of the New Age.

While addressing the first item, Mr. Capra is very brief, as becomes a prophet. Instead of the long analysis he dedicates to the other two themes, he utters only the following prophetic words: ‘This decade will be marked by the transition from the fossil fuelled to the new solar era, powered by renewable energy straight from the sun.’ The decade Mr. Capra refers to ended in 1990, his Good Book having been published in 1981. Well, not all prophets are lucky. However, should the above-mentioned prophecy be four, five, or nine years late, Mr. Capra can always claim St. John the Evangelist was not too accurate concerning the date of the Apocalypse, either.

Like so many other prophets, Mr. Capra may complain about being misunderstood. I, for instance, do not understand how the world might have leapt from the fossil fuel era straight into the solar energy one, without going through the atomic era, in which we were at the time the prophecy was uttered and in which we still are, after its expiration date. But perhaps Mr. Capra’s prophetic intuition works at light speed, skipping steps. Which provides us, by the way, with a good reason to skip right away to the next item, since the first chapter of the ‘turning’ did not come to a happy ending.

Patriarchy consists, according to Mr. Capra, of a complex of three elements: one, the domination of women by men; two, the domination over nature by the human species; three, the prevalence of reason (a masculine faculty) over intuition (a feminine one). They are three sides of the one and same phenomenon, summarized by Mr. Capra as the supremacy of yang over yin.

It is, as can be seen, a special kind of patriarchy, a lot different from the one to be found in History, or sociological treaties. For they tell us that: the increase of technical power over nature shook the regime of rural property which sustained patriarchy; and that the coming of the Empire of Reason, brought along with the French Revolution, promoted equal rights for men and women, striking the deathblow on the authority of the pater familias. In short, they tell us that two out of the three things Mr. Capra gathers under the common label of ‘patriarchy’ are precisely their opposite. But prophets give little heed to profane sciences. Non enim cogitationes meae cogitationes vestrae, as the Bible had already warned us. Mr. Capra does not think the way we do, really.

There is, however, something in him to which at least some of us are allowed full understanding. Being logic, to his mind, an expression of the abominable patriarchy whose end he craves, he couldn’t possibly obey it without becoming, ipso facto, illogical. It is a matter of logic that he should decide for being illogical. Any baby can understand this. The hard thing is to understand it when one is no longer a baby. In order to get yourself admitted into the heavens of the New Age, the reader must therefore become like unto the little ones.

Here is a typical case. To get rid of the hateful patriarchy, says our prophet, humanity should seek inspiration in the example of the Chinese civilisation, whose conception of human nature, set forth in the I Ching, ‘is in blatant contrast with that of our patriarchal culture’. Now searching for antipatriarchal ammunition amidst the pages of the I Ching, the reader will find, on the hexagram no. 37, the following recommendations: ‘The wife should always be guided by the will of the lord of the household, that is, by the father, the husband or the adult son. She belongs in the house.’ Just the kind of life Betty Friedan has asked God for. By the way, as we are told by Marcel Granet on the classic La Civilisation Chinoise,(2) the Chinese feudalism — the period during which most of the commentaries on the I Ching were written — ‘rests over the acknowledgement of masculine prevalence.’ The China which Mr. Capra refers to must not be the same one the profane geographers know by the name.

One thing we really cannot do is charge Mr. Capra with pro-chinese factionalism. Why, if he rejects occidental logic, that doesn’t mean he bows to the demands of the oriental one. According to him, yang represents analytical reason, which divides, and yin represents intuition, which unifies. The Chinese, not making much out of these subtleties, have represented the divisive yang by a continuous trace, and the unifying yin by one cut in half by a void. In the New Age, the editions of the I Ching will appear duly corrected.

Meanwhile, as these editions do not come by, Mr. Capra is already making on his own some more serious modifications in Chinese thought. He says, for instance, that in Chinese civilisation man endeavours not to dominate nature, but rather to integrate with it. Again, the Chinese wisdom of Mr. Capra caught China unawares: a Chinese could hardly understand this sentence, if only because they do not have a word meaning ‘nature’; not in the western sense of this word, that is, signifying at the same time the visible world and the invisible order which governs it — a double meaning the modern languages inherited from the Greek physis. The Chinese language is, in this point, if you don’t mind my saying so, more ‘analytical’: it has a term to designate the visible world (khien), and another (khouen) to indicate the invisible order. By way of compensation, the visible world or khien ‘synthetically’ comprehends earthly nature as well as human society. Mr. Capra does not tell us which one should man get reintegrated to; but of course no one could get integrated into both, neither simultaneously nor in the same way. The ancient Chinese have already warned us about it, and solved the contradiction by proposing a duality of attitudes to match this double aspect of nature: the wise man, says the I Ching, must actively seek to be integrated into the invisible order or khouen (called ‘active perfection’ on that account) and softly get around the demands of earthly nature (khien or ‘passive perfection’). In other words, the wise man must be integrated into the celestial order, by way of integrating in himself — thus dialectically overcoming it — the earthly order. In this way the latter is absorbed into the celestial order. ‘Celestial’ and ‘earthly’, in this sense, are respectively identified to dharma and kharma in Hindu tradition. Man doesn’t get ‘integrated’ into kharma, but rather ‘absorbs’ it, provided he is integrated into dharma: he gets rid of the weight of the earth as long as he heeds the celestial plea. Exactly the same sense in which Christianity says that man overcomes natural need as long as he follows the paths of Providence. Not quite what Mr. Capra says.

The ideogram Wang (‘The Emperor’) sheds a further light on this point. It constitutes, on its own, a compendium of Chinese cosmology. It is made of three horizontal traces — Heaven above, Earth below, Man in the middle, forming the triad Tien-Ti-Jen, ‘Heaven-Earth-Man’ — cut by a vertical trace, Tao, which is somewhat conventionally translated as Law or Harmony. Harmony consists in each thing abiding where it belongs, in such a way that, behind all changes the world goes through, the supreme order should not be breached (even though, in this world of appearances, it necessarily is, for, as the Gospels tell us, ‘it must needs be that offences come’; but in the end, all partial disorders are reintegrated into the total order).

In the Chinese triad, man is called the ‘son of Heaven and Earth’. The father being Heaven, we can see already, by the hexagram 37, who is the one in command. Man therefore governs the sensible world, but he does not do it out of his own will, but rather in the name of a transcendental order. Tien does not mean ‘sky’ in the material sense, but rather ‘celestial perfection’ or, more properly, ‘the will of Heaven’. The wise man or emperor apprehends the will of Heaven from the invisible and sees to it on Earth. In the central room of his palace, he daily attends to rites of complex geometrical and numerological symbolism similar to that of pythagorism, by means of which the celestial archetypes ‘descend’ — exactly like, in Holy Mass, it is said that the Holy Ghost ‘descends’ — in order to bring order and harmony to Earth. If the emperor stops performing these rites, Earth — society and nature at the same time — enters a state of convulsion, and all about are spread ignorance, fear, violence, hunger, plague.

The interruption of the rites wasn’t all that could bring on catastrophe. ‘The emperor’ — so writes Max Weber in The Religion of China — ‘had to conduct himself according to the ethical imperatives of the classical scriptures. The Chinese monarch remained, basically, a pontiff. He had to prove he was actually the ‘son of Heaven’, the ruler approved of by the Heavens, so that the people under his government should live well. Should the rivers burst their dams, or the rain fail to come in spite of all rites, that was a proof — expressly believed in — that the emperor didn’t have the charismatic qualities required by Heaven.’

Man rules the Earth, but in the name of Heaven. He rules as pontifex, ‘builder of bridges’; he connects Earth to Heaven through the Straight Path, Tao. Should he stray away from the Straight Path, he would lose sight of the Will of Heaven and could no longer rule but in his own name, as a tyrant and usurper. Thus, in a re-entrance shock, he loses his power and falls under the rule of the earthly powers he used to command. As the Earth designates physical nature as well as human society, the shock could mean a civil revolution or a military take-over, as well as a storm or earthquake. The fallen monarch represents, by analogy, any man that, parting with the celestial order, loses sight of his ideal destiny and falls prey of the abyssal passions. Such is the situation described on hexagram 36, Darkening of the Light: ‘Firstly he soared to Heaven, then he plunged deep into the Earth.’ The traditional commentary, summarized by Richard Wilhelm, is the following: ‘The power of darkness has mounted to such high a position that it may bring about damage to whomever ranks with good and light. But in the end the power of darkness perishes by his own obscurity.’

One sees already that Mr. Capra’s advice, affected by the double meaning of the word ‘nature’, may have two opposite meanings: by ‘getting integrated’, does he intend that we obey the Will of Heaven or that we plunge deep into the Earth? Whenever obscure, the prophets’ discourse deserve interpretation. Let us interpret.

In Mr. Capra’s version, Heaven is not mentioned. The triad is thus reduced to a duality: on one side, man; on the other, visible nature. Male and female. Yang and yin. To each is left the alternative to subdue the other or ‘get integrated’ with it. The man of the industrial civilisation has opted for the first hypothesis. Mr. Capra advocates the second.

It is true what Mr. Capra says, that western civilisation has opted for dominating nature. But it is also true that, since the Renaissance at least, it has erased (just as Mr. Capra has) all reference to a transcendental order (Tien) and left man by himself, face to face with material nature. Since then, the history of western ideas has been marked by a pendular oscillation between the ideologies of domination and the ideologies of submission: classicism and romanticism, revolution and reaction, historicism and naturalism, scientism and mysticism, promethean ativism and quietist evasionism, Marxism and existentialism and, last not least, socialist cultural revolution versus ‘New Age’ ideology.

It is in this pair of opposites that resides the key for the understanding of our prophet. Mr. Capra hits the nail on the head (no prophet can accomplish the prodigy of being always wrong) when he says that his view of cultural history is an alternative to Marxism. To Marx and his offspring, nature is nothing but a background to human history. It is there, not as a being, an ontological substance which man should contemplate and respect in its objective constitution, but as raw material, owned and transformed by man at will. Nature, in Marx, is ancilla industriae. Marxism carries on the tradition of revolutionary prometheanism of the Renaissance, empowering it through the utter and explicit submission of nature to History. That is what the New Age is opposed to.

It is not opposed, however, only to Marxism in general, but to a specific form of Marxism, which wanted to operate a ‘turning’ as well, a U-turn in the orientation of human thought. The founder of this Marxist current was the Italian ideologist Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937). Gramscism proposes a cultural revolution which subverts all admitted criteria of knowledge, setting up in its place an ‘absolute historicism’, in which the function of intelligence and culture is not to attain to objective truth anymore, but merely to ‘express’ the collective belief, thus placed out of and above the distinction between true and false. It is the utter submission of the ‘object’ (nature) to the ‘subject’ (historic humanity). In this new paradigm, the emphasis of scientific activity rests no longer on the objective knowledge of nature (exact description of its visible appearance and investigation of the invisible principles which govern it), but rather on its transformation through technique and industry, to which corresponds, on the sphere of ideas, a kind of ‘permanent revolution’ of all categories of thought succeeding one another in a vertiginous acceleration of historical becoming.

The ideology of the New Age stands out against this. To revolutionary prometheanism, it opposes the ‘integration into nature’; to the acceleration of History, the ‘ecological’ balance of the New World Order; and, to absolute historicism, the ‘end of History’. Capra is inconceivable without Fukuyama. Capra is the crust of which Fukuyama is the core. All the shiny ‘esoteric knowledge’ of the New Age, with its secret initiations, its gurus, its magicians, and its rites, are but the exoteric part, the external and social religious set-up. Its interior, its ‘esoteric meaning’ is actually quite a modern, rational, and profane science: strategical planning. Fukuyama is to Capra just as esoteric knowledge is to exoteric knowledge, as the Church of John is to the Church of Peter. But both, each in its own level and by its own means, fight the same foe.

Gramscism was a great success in the 60’s, inspiring the passing fever of eurocommunism and reanimating some communist hopes. In Brazil, it took over practically the whole Left, and PT(3) is essentially a Gramscian party, whether it explicitly admits it or not. But the renovating intent was too little, too late: communism ended up being defeated by the world-scale rising of the ideology of the New Age. All in all, the blend of quantum physics and oriental symbolisms, psychic experiences and free sex, peace promises and mirages of self-accomplishment offered by this ideology is infinitely more seductive than any ‘absolute historicism’. Brazil, late as always, is one of the few places in the world where the fight still goes on, with a fierce nucleus of Gramscian remainings offering a Quixote-like resistance to the triumphant armies of the New Age.

However, if the revolutionary prometheanism represented the utmost hybris, the utmost dominating eagerness of man over nature, the ideology of the New Age is no less than the re-entrance shock announced by the I Ching.

The New Age has defeated the Gramscian revolution. It was a teratomachy, though: a combat of monsters. The Chinese would say it was a suicidal combat: that, without the common obedience to Tien, the fight between Ti and Jen can only reach an end through the ‘darkening of the light’. Therefore, the victory of the New Age forebodes the next step of the cycle of changes: humanity will fall from promethean self-glorification into helpless passivity; it will ‘ecologically’ integrate with the balance of the New World Order, where the collective sticking to the beaten track will be assured through a fair dealing of the means to satisfy the basest passions and through an external mock religiosity which will endow these passions with a flattering aura of ‘depth’ and ‘self-knowledge’.

This can be psychoanalytically interpreted. Gérard Mendel, on his book La Révolte Contre le Père, one of the most important contributions of the last decades to Freudian psychoanalysis, says that, along history, the impulse of man to surpass the father has been, as intended Freud, one of the most powerful driving forces of progress. But this impulse, he goes on, may take one of two ways: man either surpasses and beats the carnal father integrating himself with the rational order represented by the ideal father, or sends to all devils the ideal order and, free from all moral restraint, kills the carnal father and takes possession of the mother. This last alternative is the promethean rebellion, the ‘integration’ of man into darkness. Hence, according to Mendel, the anthropological as well as psychotherapeutical importance of the words of the most celebrated Christian prayer: the ‘rebellion against the father’ is wholesome and fruitful only when undertaken ‘in the name of the Father’. In short: the carnal father is to the adult man (Jen) nothing more than an aspect of Ti, Earth. He needs be put under the rule of the celestial order, Tien or ideal father, if one is to be granted the fair and harmonic government of the Earth, without usurpation or violence. I have always thought there was something Chinese about dr. Freud.

In Mendel’s terms, the Gramscian revolution is the destructive rebellion against the father, and the ideology of the New Age, with its plea for the fusion of all individual consciousness into a soup of holistic mirages, is the ensuing regression to the womb. All regressions towards the womb are announced by the exacerbation of fantasy, by the hypnotic calling of longings deprived of all sense, by the mediumistic foresight of endless delight. They all end in wretched slavery, in helpless passivity before the aggression of the abyssal forces, in the darkening of light.

It must needs be that offences come. The New Age has defeated the Gramscian prometheanism, and make way: here comes hexagram no. 36. There’s coming a shitstorm and Fritjof Capra is its prophet. But in the end, which is not to be reckoned nigh, the power of darkness will succumb by force of its own obscurity.

After the period of darkness, so assures us Revelations, the madness of the new prophets who drew humanity into error will be brought out to full daylight for all to see.

As the New Age has barely begun, it is not time to do the complete show. Meanwhile, not much can be done besides giving some preliminary samples which attest to the generations to come the reality of a past which will seem quite unlikely to them. As the wise Richard Hooker said, faced to the advance of the puritan nonsense in the 16th century, when all this is through ‘posterity will know that we did not let, through negligent silence, things go by as in a dream’.

Mr. Capra’s book is packed with samples. However, Justice determines that we select them according to its degree of importance as given by the author himself. We must then examine the third ‘turning point’: the revolution of the scientific paradigm.

In this field, Mr. Capra does not seem as impaired as in the Chinese world, which he only knew through third-hand sources. A PhD in physics from Vienna University, he cannot ignore the history of occidental science the way he ignores the Chinese civilisation. But who said he cannot? To prophets everything is possible.

According to Mr. Capra, ‘the paradigm which is now in transformation has dominated our culture for many hundreds of years’; he ‘understands a certain number of ideas’ that ‘include the belief that the scientific method is the only valid approach to knowledge; the conception of the universe as a mechanical system composed of elementary material units’. These conceptions bear the respective names of: scientism, mechanicalism, and social-Darwinism. I repeat: according to Mr. Capra, they dominate our culture since many hundreds of years. This suggests two questions. First: what is to ‘dominate a culture’? Second: how much is ‘many hundreds’?

We say that a certain idea dominates a culture when: firstly, it is accredited by the most important intellectuals from every sector; secondly, the competing ideas are no longer fertile, which means they no longer express themselves into powerful and significant works, or have vanished entirely. Thus, for example, Christianity dominated the Middle Ages because, on the one hand, all of the philosophers and cultured men in general were Christians and, on the other hand, the non-Christian currents of thought, even though they persistently lived on in the collective subconscious, did not produce in this period any work worthy of attention. We say that Marxism dominated the Soviet culture until the 60’s because in this period no eminent intellectual in the USSR produced any idea out of the conceptual frames of Marxism and because the non-Marxist undercurrents (except in exile and in western languages) created nothing of significant.

In this strict sense, none of the three ideas which make up the ‘dominant paradigm’ was ever dominant anywhere in the West. Since they appeared, all three of them were unceasingly opposed to, fought, refuted, and rejected in whole or in part by important intellectuals. On the other hand, openly hostile currents to these ideas have remained fertile enough to produce some of the most significant works in their respective fields.

Let us see mechanicalism. This current was rejected from its birth by giants such as Leibniz, Schelling, Vico, Schopenhauer, Driesch, Fechner, Boutroux, Nietzsche, Weber, Kierkegaard, and many others, until it was stricken down in the 20th century by Planck’s theory. How can it be ‘dominant’?

Rigorously, mechanicalism was only dominant in a certain part of the world, which for Mr. Capra is ‘the’ world: the Anglo-Saxon universitary circles. That this traditionally presumptuous and self-assured little world should become open nowadays to new ideas, that it should be willing to listen to the Orientals without the traditional colonialist misunderstanding, is no doubt good news. It is local news, though. There is not a more certain way to make a people provincial than to persuade them that they are the centre of the world. From this moment on, they will declare non-existent or irrelevant everything placed out of their view, and when at length they discover something that all the rest of the world already knew, they fashion it into a scientific revolution.

As to scientism, so much has been written about it that it is perfectly wrong to consider it dominant even in a toned down sense of the term. To do so, it would be necessary to exclude at least Marxism, psychoanalysis, phenomenology, neotomism, and existencialism from the foreground of culture. Here, once again, Mr. Capra mistakes for worldwide dominant the opinion of a restricted group.

Social-Darwinism, in its turn, only became dominant as a public belief in one single country in the world: the United States. It has never entered, for instance, neither the communist countries nor the Islamic world; these add up to almost two thirds of humanity. In the catholic countries, it was received from the start as a perverted anomaly, raising reactions of scandal testified by the social encyclicals of popes since at least Leo XIII.

Still, in addition to affirming that these three beliefs ‘dominate the world’, Mr. Capra assures us that this has been going on ‘since many hundreds of years’. Let us tell the story.

The eldest of the three is mechanicalism. Anticipated by Descartes, it was fully formulated by Isaac Newton (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, 1687). However, it only became known by the European intellectuals in general after 1738, when Voltaire published the lay-accessible Elements of Newton’s Philosophy.

Not merely by means of scientific publicity did Voltaire promote Newton’s victory. Newton’s opposer, G.-W. von Leibniz, was so insistently slandered by Voltaire with tasteless ironies that the contemporaries ceased paying attention to him. Leibniz was nearly discredited until the 20th century, when the rediscovery of his ideas brought about prodigious advances in mathematics, logic and the sciences of nature. Planck and Heisenberg’s new physics favoured his ideas against Newton’s, substituting probabilism for mechanicalism. This substitution could have occurred two centuries earlier, if Voltaire, emperor of public opinion in the 18th century, had not woven a web of such lasting prejudice about him. Ironically, Voltaire entered History as the enemy of all obsolescence and prejudice.

At any rate, Voltaire’s opinion did not exactly spread fast as lightning. It took at least two or three decades to become a dominant belief in the whole Europe. Around 1780, mechanicalism enjoyed an enviable prestige. It can be said to be dominant since then, if ‘dominant’ does not mean unanimously accepted, or accepted without reservations. The opposition moved against it by Goethe’s and Driesch’s vitalism, Boutroux’s contingentialism and many other currents until the deathblow struck by Planck and Heisenberg cannot be forgotten.

At the moment Mr. Capra was writing The Turning Point, vitalism was therefore completing two centuries of unceasingly contested glory and swerving reign over the major factions of the academic world. This is a great deal different from a domain of many centuries over all the world.

As to social-Darwinism, it is an offspring of biological Darwinism and could not possibly have been born before its father. The principle of ‘survival of the fittest’ came out at first as a biological theory and was only later gradually transformed into an ideological evidence for the backward legitimisation of capitalist competition.

The Origin of Species was written in 1859. Herbert Spencer, in his First Principles, published in 1862, widens the reach of evolutionary ideas, fashioning them into a sociological principle. At the same time, occultists such as Allan Kardec and Mme. Blavatsky grasp somewhat wildly the term ‘evolution’ and give it a mystic sense, or mysticoid: the amphibians are no longer the only ones who evolve into reptiles, and these into mammals; the disembodied souls are the ones who, in the other world, evolve into ‘beings of light’, going up on the cosmic scale while the apes descend from the trees. Clothed in a thousand senses, the word ‘evolution’ is widespread, and the public debates appear, which draw the intellectuals’ attention towards the political-ideological potential of evolutionism. The debates reach a peak of success with Thomas Henry Huxley’s conference, ‘Evolution and ethics’, in 1892. There lies, open, the path to the legitimisation of liberal capitalism through the ‘survival of the fittest’. The rest comes with Gustav Ratzenhofer’s (Nature and Finality of Politics, 1893) and William G. Sumner’s (Folkways, 1906) books, which explicitly set the foundations to the notion of ‘social evolution’, providing the capitalist ideologists with the precious slogan they needed. Social-Darwinism is, then, little more or little less than one century old. It was even less than that at the moment Mr. Capra wrote his book.

Finally, scientism. The formal and complete rejection, in the name of science, of any philosophical or theological explanation of reality whatsoever, was proposed for the first time by Auguste Comte (Discourse on the Positive Spirit, 1844). But Comte still reserved for philosophy the task of synthesis and ordering of scientific knowledge, and Comte was only accepted without disputation in one single place on this planet: in Brazil! (In 1914, the positivist Alain attributed the world war to the fact that no other country in the globe followed the example of Brazil, which had adopted positivism as official doctrine of the state on the republican flag: Order and Progress(4) is in fact a summary of Comtian philosophy. A formal and definitive scientistic statement, along with the utter dismissal of every other form of knowledge as void or insignificant, only came in 1934, with Rudolf Carnap, in Logical Syntax of Language. But Carnap was no Voltaire, and could not count upon the immediate approval of a vast public. The majority of the 20thcentury philosophers categorically rejected scientism, which only dominated over determined groups, especially in the Anglo-Saxon world. Contemporaneously with Carnap’s statement, the mathematician and philosopher Edmund Husserl, founder of phenomenology — the school that would later beget Heidegger, Scheler, Hartmann, Sartre and Merleau-Ponty, among others —, delivered the celebrated conferences at the University of Prague later put together in his The Crisis of the European Sciences. In this book, he denied scientism from the base up and from the inside out: the physical sciences, so he said, had lost their essential scientific foundation and were no longer useful as a model of knowledge of reality. Husserl was at least as influent as Carnap and still is, though not as much in the Anglo-Saxon world which is the limit of Mr. Capra’s mental horizon.

In conclusion, scientism, which ‘dominates our culture since centuries’, is completing sixty springs in this year of 1994. Furthermore, its first overt manifestation was already three decades later than Max Planck’s first works, whose indeterminism would become one of the bases of the ‘new paradigm’ whose advent Mr. Capra has come now to announce us. The new paradigm is quite earlier than the old one.

Mr. Capra, as can be seen, does not understand much about the subjects on which he exerts, to a crowd-like audience, a prophetic authority. He has a distinguished lack of elementary information on Chinese cosmology, which he says his vision of cultural history is based on, as well as on cultural history itself, which he strives to fit forcefully into a preconceived model, by means of gross generalisations and shameful alterations of chronology.

I do not question, here, the validity of the holistic proposal in general. I reserve myself the right to do it in another work. I simply believe that it must have somehow better qualified supporters than Mr. Capra.

My purpose has been to bear testimony of a fact of worldwide relevance, which happens right in front of our eyes, and whose reality the forthcoming generations will have the right to doubt. For, within reason and sense, it is not plausible that thousands of respected intellectuals may accept and applaud as a milestone in the history of thought a work like The Turning Point, which does not even fulfil the minimum requisites of trustworthy information, authenticity of the sources, and of conceptual rigour demanded from a thesis. Among so many imperfections that a book can have, this one suffers from that single one which cannot be tolerated by any means: ignoratio elenchi, the complete ignorance of the subject. Mr. Capra defines his book, pretentiously, as a new model of cultural history based on the Chinese conceptions of man and universe. But he has not studied neither cultural history nor the Chinese conceptions enough so that his opinion about them could have any objective importance whatsoever out of his private circle of acquaintance. The content of his knowledge of the subject is pure lana caprina.

The success of this book can only be explained by a factor completely alien to its intrinsic value: its timeliness. It tells people what they wish to hear, at the moment they wish. It offers a seducing perspective to a public that asks to be seduced.

That this public should include not only uncultured people but prominent intellectuals as well, and that these should be ready to take in the author’s promises without even requesting him the scientific credentials demanded of a college student is really an implausible event.

But, as Aristotle used to say, it is not really plausible that everything should always go by in a plausible way. The implausible has happened. It attests that, after centuries of iconoclastic rage against all beliefs of the past and the values of other civilisations, the literate opinion of the West has grown tired at last of being arrogant; but instead of an honest regret, it is enacting a mocking conversion before us, which lays bare all the marks of hysteriform pretending. Stunned by the sudden view of its own faults, it renounced all critical precaution like one who repels a vice from the past; and gave itself, helpless and sceptical, to the cult of the first idol who offered it a promise of relief. It thinks or pretends to think that this idol is its saviour. It is in fact its nemesis.

It is not only the literate opinion of the West who is mistaken. The prophet of mistake is himself likely to make mistakes. he fancies he brings wisdom to the world, while what he brings is obscurity and confusion. He fancies he brings a new prophecy, while what he brings is the fulfilling of an old curse.

I cannot finish these reflections about the prophet of the New Age without making a prophecy myself: in the forthcoming centuries, when our times can be looked at with some objectivity, the phenomenon of the New Age will be considered an offence, a statement against human intelligence.

Offences must forcefully come. Nothing can be done to avoid them. I won’t even suggest, as Jesus did, that a millstone be hanged on their bearer, and that he be drowned in the depth of the sea. For, as the hexagram 36 would say, he is already down deep. All I can do is leave to posterity, if it ever hears about these pages, a personal testimony of these obscure times: Not all, not all believed in the false prophet.(5)


  1. Written in September 1993.
  2. Book I, Ch. III.
  3. Partido dos Trabalhadores or Workers’ Party. [Translator’s note]
  4. Inscription on the Brazilian flag (Ordem e Progresso). [Translator’s note]
  5. I, having sent a copy of this chapter to Frei Betto before it was out in a book, received from him a two-line answer, which is a most singular psychological document. It goes like this: ‘In spite of your reservations, the event [Reception to Mr. Capra] was good for those who were there’. It must have been really cool, I think. But the illustrious friar did not understand me. It has never crossed my mind to devalue the event in itself – the organisation of the programme, the sound system or the toppings of the crackers. What I said is good for nothing is Mr. Capra’s philosophy; it goes without saying that celebrating it in a congress of intellectuals is as good as throwing money in the dustbin. The better the event, the more regrettable the waste. If by any means the sender intended to plead the quality of the event as an argument in support of Mr. Capra, this would be like saying that the price of the candle proves the quality of the corpse. Besides, what opinion could we have of a thinker who argues in support of a philosophy by claiming that it gives him the opportunity to go often to pleasant places? [Note of the 2nd edition]

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