July 30, 2013

Henry Geiger - Signs of A New Civilization (1980)

  Henry Geiger - The Uses of Make Believe (1983).

Henry Geiger (1908?-15 February 1989) was the editor, publisher, and chief writer of MANAS Journal which published from 1948-1988. Abraham Maslow called him “the only small ‘p’ philosopher America has produced in this century.”
Below is an excerpt from, "Signs of A New Civilization" by Henry Geiger. Source: MANAS Journal, Volume XXXIII, No. 20. May 14, 1980.
There is nothing ortholinear about human affairs. No straight line is to be found in the Parthenon, and even space, Albert Einstein informed us, is curved. Nor is there any straight-line progress in culture or civilization. In the East deserts hide the fragmentary remains of great cities, while in the West the monuments of the Mayas were overtaken by jungle growth. Epochs of history are plainly cyclical, and there are psychologies and philosophies which attend the formative period of a civilization, while others are keyed to decline. In addition, the idea of progress is ambiguous in meaning. The owl of wisdom, as Hegel put it, does not rise until the sun of empire has set. This means, substantially, that people do their best thinking when they are in trouble. It is certainly the case that the Platonic philosophy came into being as a response to political corruption and social disorder. And Socrates stands today as a symbol of integrity and loyalty to principle, giving heart to those few who are struggling to understand and deal with the catastrophic changes affecting modern society.

An interesting contrast may be drawn between the Stoics and Plato. The Stoics learned and taught how to endure in the face of moral and cultural disintegration. You wouldn't speak of them as "builders," but rather as philosophers who saw no point in trying to inaugurate a new social order at a time when all human institutions were going downhill. They made themselves into rocks of human integrity, standing immovable as personal barriers to the tide of decline. Plato also stood firm against this tide, but at the same time gave counsel to those who longed to be builders. He sought and expounded the principles of constructive self-development for both the individual and society, writing as the ancestor of all subsequent utopian literature. As author or elaborator of the Socratic method, he showed that the beginning of all desirable undertakings must involve the search for first principles. This is the Socratic method—the investigation of first principles. The capacity for critical thinking is developed in this way.

In the present there is need for both critical thinking and builder capacities. The present seems different from the time of the breakdown and death of the classical age. Today there are scores and hundreds of thinkers and writers who are wondering how to begin rebuilding in the midst of ruin and decline. Criticism is rampant, iconoclasm the order of the day, yet there are those who attempt to bring balance to analysis by exploring the religions, philosophies, and social systems of the past, looking for first principles. A pioneer in this work, one who combined intimate knowledge of the civilizations of both East and West, was Ananda Coomaraswamy (1877-1947), known mainly for his works on Oriental art, yet whose chief interest was in saving the cultures of the East from the inroads of Western industrialism.