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)
- Written in September 1993.
- Book I, Ch. III.
- Partido dos Trabalhadores or Workers’ Party. [Translator’s note]
- Inscription on the Brazilian flag (Ordem e Progresso). [Translator’s note]
- 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]