Thursday, April 22, 2021

Review: The End of History and the Last Man

The End of History and the Last Man The End of History and the Last Man by Francis Fukuyama
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a re-read. The book has been dormant on my shelves (and in storage) for a long time. Last time, awash in neo-colonialism and post-modernism in grad school, I easily dismissed it. Now I find it cogent, convincing, and very thorough.

I don't necessarily like the Allan Bloom-descended politics which leak through here and there, and I certainly find fault in his treatment of science as a fixed "mechanism," tending toward what he finally calls "progress" in history. He wants this narrative to be as dispassionate and eternal as scientifically discovered natural law.

In that he is wrong. He dismisses Thomas Kuhn with a footnote because the perpetual motion "mechanism" of science will never be paradigm-shifted out of existence, in his belief.

I'd say that it already has been, but that we resist that realization.

Science cannot be limited to the material world anymore. That's an end to science at least as profound as Fukuyama's end to history.

I'd buy the book better if he meant his title ironically. The Last Man is the one who comes before the realization that scientific objectivity, in the cosmic sense, ended with the necessary inclusion of the subject in the reality of what is being examined. What we resist, from left, right and center, is the realization that we must become responsible.

Nature cannot be overcome. Our moral purpose is all that will outlive us, while the atomic "personality" that leaves us in dread of death can easily be represented in some digital archive. Love will never cross that divide no matter the advance of technology. Not lived love, no matter how much I adore Herman Melville, say.

Thomas Kuhn described science in very Hegelian terms (Hegel being the patron saint here), but in place of the contradictions of history are the paradoxes of the standard model of physics. Einstein was the first and last public genius both.

There is a simple way around those paradoxes. It would be to admit of something more like love than progress to describe a direction for natural history. This is no mystery. How else to construe all the accidents that make up evolutionary history. Sure, in an infinite cosmos rolling dice will end up writing Shakespeare somewhere, but, well, really? Such thinking avoids the obvious and destroys Occam's razor.

I personally look forward to what's beyond the end of history, when man takes responsibility instead of projecting that onto some sort of god or other. The choices are infinite, as are the possibilities for failure. Banishing named Gods causes no harm to eternal Love.

Just now, our economy runs amok, and the earth is being destroyed. We have choices to make, and we can't make them without first agreeing to use and to share the universal language of science. The greater "progressive" direction for science is not domination of nature (an impossibility in every case) but is the alignment of human minds as the ground for moral choice.

So, for starters, I do celebrate the ground laid in this book by Fukuyama. To disagree with some of his conclusions is not to feel anger about that. This book provides a springboard for much great work going forward. The worst possible read would be to decide that we may be complacent because liberal democracy is inevitable in any case. He already raised Trump as a danger three decades ago.

The book ends with a description of a wagon train making it through a mountain pass. There are laggards and tragic accidents, but those who finally arrive realize that there was no other way to pass. He leaves just a hint that perhaps we may redirect ourselves to outer space.

The good news is that our moral history will outpace our efforts to reach the stars. We are barely even aware of the real cosmic forces which impinge on us, so blinded do we remain by religion. So excited do we remain by our historically so newfound powers.

Liberal democracy is not the end of history, and humanity is only now just birthing. Liberal democracy is the beginning and not the end. It is fragile still for that.

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