Karl Popper is one of the SuperGeniuses of our time, and his brilliant book — “Open Society and Its Enemies” — is a must read for anyone hoping to understand our necessary and active place in the world.
Popper views “Moral Futurism” as a terrible, wanton, thing — such as, “the meek shall inherit the earth” — because pithy phrases seek to calm and humble the human spirit via “Divine Determination” where passivity and blind belief are salves that lull us into an uncertain and fatalistic conformity of mind and spirit.
Marx’s mantra from 1875 — “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need…” — is another example of Moral Futurism where we are assured that all will be fine in a perfect future in order to dissuade the brain from yelping in the immediate now.
Instead of encouraging personal morality and a responsibleness for the whole of us, Moral Futurism presses us into giving up the notion of ourselves in favor of the ether of a mandate from a “greater knowing majority” that requires nothing of us except the acquiescence of our nearby moral indignation and our stoic individual behaviors in consideration of moral homilies and proverbs that promise an unproven, and indistinguishable, tomorrow.
The Moral Futurists, Popper argues, are innately selfish in their world view and in their behavior towards others where only the now matters because the future has already been divined and rewarded if you just stay the course and believe what is written.
Moral Futurism is also the realm of certain Christian Fundamentalists who believe we are in our Last Days and that the natural resources of the world and the fruits of the plains and the wonder of the seas are here, and exist for, only them.
Their narrow worldview perpetuates the myth, “waste not, want not” and the future be damned. Moral Futurists believe there won’t be anyone left on earth after them, so why leave anything behind? Take it all with you, because that is how you please, and show appreciation for, a providing God.
Popper condemns “holists” and “historicists” like Hegel, Plato and Marx because they seek to control people by their social group identity; and as those groups grow and become more intricate, only they — “The Privileged Intellectuals” — can divine the wants and needs of the expanding social core. The danger in that method, Popper warns, is the wisdom of the crowd is rejected as unworthy and “unsmart” by a minority power structure claiming a populist mandate.
Popper argues groups are, by their nature, wholly unpredictable and hold contempt for the status quo. Social Engineering — the attempt to control groups via Spam or Phishing techniques or fraud or confidence games — are all behavioral control devices that ultimately fail because, Popper believes, they offer nothing of substance beyond the initial tease.
Our job as beings in the now is to forget political mandates and religious dogma — and to instead turn our individual minds outward and question the damage minority power structures have on the core of us.
Groups don’t control groups — outside influences control groups. Critical thinking and freedom of the mind are Popper’s common touchstones — and it is our duty as free-thinking people to question, not the motives of our neighbors of our families, but rather the hidden and invisible machinations of external belief powers that demands adherence to unattainable goals by referring us back to the mantras of a passive Moral Futurism that only medicates the spirit instead of testing and teasing inquiries of the unknowable tomorrow mind.
so this is like the predestiny talked about before
Hey arin —
It’s sort of like that, but the “predestiny” argument is used to keep groups down and at bay so the minority power structure can place their will upon them.
so the destiny is what then
In your related example, it could be the power minority controlling the groups active determination by saying: “Stay there, be quiet, the earth will be yours after we have our way with it and with you…”
i find that depressing
It is depressing, arin! Welcome to your future! Do you prefer the repression you have now or the depression waiting for you tomorrow? 😉
a fascinating read! truly, the promise of a better future is one of the oldest games around. especially when that promise is purportedly made by non-existent entities who you cannot hold accountable. Every organized religion and political system of beliefs has done it – successfully – down the ages.
as for critical thinking and freedom of thought, these are the first things that the very same controllers of masses will aim to shutdown – the better to sell the lie.
i was also intrigued by – “Groups don’t control groups — outside influences control groups”. What did you mean by that?
Hi Dananjay —
Yes, this topic is fascinating and we’ve poked around this idea a bit before, but it is only now, with Popper’s influence, that I am now able see how close we are to being a closed and passive society the world over.
There is power in numbers. If you have a nation of 300,000,000 people — how can one federal government rule them all and stay in power? You don’t have to keep them all happy, but you can keep them quiet. You do that through seeding fear and doubt in the fabric of belief in the system through religion, public schooling, local mandates and moral homilies and other social programs like welfare and Medicare.
So now you have the same hundreds of millions of people — some satisfied to Believe, others who have been paid off, and other still who have been threatened or conditioned not to resist or risk social punishment or abandonment and the status quo is retained by a small minority power outside the group.
In some ways, that’s why so many people are getting behind Barack Obama — the masses are finally rising in anger against the Theocon niche to say, “enough of this! We are tired of it!” and demanding change in the outside influences molding them in stasis. Then the Obama regime will come into power and quiet the masses with the same promises and threats that are currently being employed. Only the frosting changes.
i believe you’re right about Obama’s appeal. He is the only candidate in the current lineup who isn’t part of the machine. It is inconceivable that the powers-that-be would stand someone like him up to sucker the populace. in that sense he is a complete outsider to a system that more and more people in your country have lost faith in over the course of this presidency. and there is much in what you fear, Obama would have to be an extraordinarily capable person to continue to stand up and be the voice of reason and live up to his promise of real change once he is in power. it would be so easy to succumb. I hope for the sake of hope that he doesn’t become the very thing he is fighting.
Moral Futurism is much more than just a political movement, but sometimes a current example helps seal the shelf of the lesson intended.
Yes, Obama is a significant danger to the current, established, power structure. He was unanticipated by the democrat powers and that is why so many of us fear for his wellbeing. He threatens the core of their mandate and if anyone decides to mortally harm him, it will be from the established liberal side of the agenda and not the Neocon.
Obama is too much of a threat to the minority power by giving groups their own democratic voice in the process of the negotiation of their future lives and hopes. Hope, as MLKing, JFK and RFK learned — is a deadly thing to tempt, let alone achieve.
But to get back to the group dynamics, i always thought that the status quo is maintained by the elite of the particular group. since they are the ones who derive the greatest benefit and exercise the greatest influence within the group.
As I read Popper, groups are ever-changing and based on context, location and specific intent. There is little dynamism even though they are ever-changing. Groups are headless masses that wear labels and not individuality or personality. Popper argues groups SHOULD BE free-thinking and power-wielding, but they are not. We can be in more than one group, but the dynamic and the power restrictions set upon us by the Moral Futurists doesn’t change: “Just wait, be meek, the earth shall be yours…, etc. …” is applicable in all of our permanent and transient groups.
That, again, is why Obama is so significant. He has said he will not wait his turn or simper down or bend to a will that is not his own. Dangerous!
Hillary has a new schoolmarm-scolding voice she rediscovered over the weekend. I find it false and irritating, but others claim no woman has ever been elected to office by staying quiet and remaining in the status quo. Women get elected, the argument goes, by breaking rules and limits and shaking things up to get provocatively noticed.
I’m putting Popper in my reading list! i agree that most groups rally support by promising the earth/heaven as long as they do what they are asked to do. But that by definition means that the group is not headless and that there are a few who will benefit greatly from the concerted actions of the misguided many.
Call me nutty but I always thought that “Waste not, want not” was more about not throwing away half a sandwich just because you didn’t feel like having it at the moment so that you could have it for tea later. 🙂
Popper is a pip, he is! 😀
Popper will change your mind on groups and their inherent non-wisdom. Groups are, by his hankering, ethereal and a mindless way to appear to get along in society while you’re really being herded by greater notions around you outside your group dynamic.
That is an important saying that goes beyond the now and into the future. It’s no wonder few people are able to divine its true meaning.
Is — “a penny saved, is a penny earned” — morally Futuristic or not?
Well yes, they both go into the future – but the future of having half a sandwich later versus needing a new one. I see both of them as being objective – that penny will do well with a high interest account 🙂 but only if it has a lot of penny friends!
“Penny saved, penny earned” seems to me to be only historic — Popper would call that “historicist” — and of the now.
Now, something like “penny-wise, pound-foolish” is not Morally Futuristic because it suggests a propulsion into the future to make the warning from beyond.
I actually just had to google that because I never knew what it meant and always forgot to look it up! Maybe now it would be a pound saved is a pound earned? Sign up for one high speed internet provider because twenty quid saved is twenty quid earned. Join your supermarket club and therefore have savings automatically applied because “one hundred bob saved is one hundred bob earned”. I love how many different words there are to describe the pound. 🙂
“A Euro saved is a dollar dismissed.”
I, too, am fascinated by all the “Britishy” words for a pound and how interchangeable they are — even in the same sentence! Gordon Ramsay makes me crazy with his pound/quid/pence ruminations!
Oooh, Gordon Ramsay! Don’t get me started on that man. 🙂 I think he has a second calling as a life coach!
I love Gordon on the BBC and I hate him on Fox. He’s such a great guy on his BBC show and full of love and honor and on the Fox show all he does is yell and scream. He’s dishonoring his craft with that kind of behavior.
It seems to be the scope of the show that is telling. The BBC show is all about helping out chefs save their ailing restaurants and the FOX show is all about tawdry competition. He yells a lot on the BBC but only when he’s not being taken seriously. If there were ever someone who would just look at him and do everything he said to the tee and humbly accept his admonition there would be no yelling. 🙂
In addition to “Hell’s Kitchen” on Fox, Ramsay also has “Kitchen Nightmares” on Fox:
It’s the same premise as his BBC show except all he wants to do is fight and yell. Are Americans denser than the Brits? Or isn’t Ramsay able to handle us? 😆
Yes, he does yell on the BBC show — but only when he isn’t listened to and sometimes he just backs away and takes a “they’ll find out without me” attitude that I find pleasing as he watches his predictions come true.
The idiot restaurant owners on Fox seem to have the same problem as the idiot singers on American Idol – when someone like Simon Cowell tells you that you are complete rubbish, it doesn’t mean that he’s wrong and your friends were right in saying you were talented. Americans seem way too set in doing things their way or no way at all. I think that is the problem.
It is a problem, Gordon, and I think that sense of rightness and entitlement reflected in the citizenry has a lot to do with our government’s political prowess and military might in the world. We’re the Kings! We rule all of Asia, Britannia, Africa and we sail the oceans the rivers and streams and seas untouched and unperturbed by morality or any sense of unrighteousness!
I love Ramsay and Cowell just because they tell us how untalented we really are and how much we need to realize we suck as a people, nation, singers and cooks!
We need to realize Simon and Gordon are always right!
Interesting book and ideas. Thank you for sharing them.
Your Obama analogy is interesting. Not to get off topic, but I’m unconvinced that the system allows “real suprises” anymore. My own thought is that Obama is a kind of conscious pressure valve being used by the system to give the masses the perception of change, or at least promising the possibility of it.
He may or may not even be aware of his own role. My thought is that the establishment uses people like Obama and then works to co-opt them on the back end. If the figure chooses not to play ball, then the establisment does away with them.
There is one thing that is troubling me about the concepts you are presenting. Popper may cover it in his book, but I’ll put it out there anyway.
What you seem to be talking about in this idea of moral futurism are unconscious control mechanisms used to keep the masses tame.
Once an idea passes from unconscious, unquestioned control to a conscious choice by a human being, I’m wondering if Popper’s idea doesn’t begin to fall apart.
Certainly, “The meek shall inherit the earth…” is an example of the kind of things that pacifies a population. However, meekness could also be viewed by a conscious practioncer as a noble character trait to develop, couldn’t it?
I’m also curious whether or not Popper extends his theory to individual hopes and dreams. If I am a fifteen year old boy and have a dream to play in the NBA someday, am I moral futurizing myself? If I’m an hourly worker with a dream to own my own business and succeed one day, am I?
Certainly, I can trap myself in those future hopes and become paralyzed today. It seems to me that matching action to the words is really the key to avoid this pitfall with many of these ideas.
I guess what I am asking is whether you believe, based on this book, that self-promises about the future are as futile as those made by institutions?
Hi Ray —
I agree with about Obama. He’s a salve. A necessary one. The economy is falling apart. The military is threadbare. We have no future in foreign lands. The whole country is falling apart from within and if he becomes president, the whole mess can be blamed on him so the GOP can have a four year time-out to restructure their internal augments to brand the free-thinkers as immoral scabs hoping and wishing for the destruction of the government infrastructure that protects us from terroristic bogeymen and monsters under the bed.
You ask many great questions. I am a Popper fan, not a Popper scholar, so what I claim here is pure opinion based on the inspiration of his work. I will try to serve the spirit of his arguments as I understand them.
Popper was a realist who argued it was impossible – actually, dangerous – for norms to be created from psychological or social facts.
If we begin to believe norms are facts – that threatens to create a “truth” that is falsely born — then that fake truth becomes a fact and a new illegitimate norm is created from the original norm that was transmuted into something it should’ve never been: a transparent Truth.
It is that non-factual rhetorical questioning and “fact-finding” that norms pretend to create, but never do, that gives the outside forces their opportunity to act and form self-evident “truths” on the backs of the masses to create civil and religious norms of control.
Facts are specific and necessary and delicate and narrow things that can too easily be changed into untruths based on the ill-wishes of a misbehaving group or norms-keeper.
I don’t think meekness is something powerful or strong. I am against all timidity:
I don’t believe Popper was arguing much for or against the individual in the book we’re discussing. My guess would be we must each work to discover as many facts as possible and test them against established facts and known truths and absolute moral standards as a way of scientifically metering our hopes and beliefs against predictable systems and organisms that may or may not welcome us. Popper was all about methodology that could be proved and repeated and sustained over time. Facts and the truth are not immutable and we can test their veracity from many different aspects and angles.
The Role of the Writer in Society
The role of the writer in society is one of a questioning dissent. It is not enough for the writer to merely go along with the status quo or to live in the mainstream meme. The writer must question authority.