Our Expanding Philosophical Horizons

Fair Observer will include philosophy alongside politics, because we don’t just want to understand what is happening, but what it really means.
gravitational (1)

June 29, 2023 03:01 EDT
Dear FO° Reader, 

Like other members of my generation of Americans born around the middle of the twentieth century, I now have the luxury of looking back and assessing the quite extraordinary shifts that have taken place in the world over a span of more than seventy years. Many of the articles Fair Observer has published over the past 12 years have contributed to clarifying and making sense of those dramatic shifts. Meaning is, after all, only produced over time.
With that short span of history behind us, we at Fair Observer are now looking to further broaden our horizons.

Some of the significant shifts over the past three quarters of a century were spectacularly gaudy and attention-grabbing. Others quietly and discreetly fell into place. Those are the interesting ones because they  tend to evade the radar of even the most attentive observers. Concepts such as unipolarity, multipolarity, “rules-based order” and dedollarization have now come to the fore, but they have been moving invisibly in the background for decades.

Events alone do not define history, whose meaning lies in its structures, its evolving cultures and shifting relationships. History takes its shape from the ways people perceive and interact with the world around them. Wars draw our attention; elections excite our passons. But neither wars, elections, coups d’état nor even the “new world orders” routinely announced following these “major events” define the sense of history. They are ripples on the surface of the sea. History is a succession of waves.
Image created with Dall-e  

Memory and nostalgia are two different things

I look back upon my own formative years. Despite what everyone believes about the “sixties” – Kennedy’s “New Frontier,” hippies, sexual liberation, psychedelics, assassinations, Che Guevara and Vietnam — there was no golden age. Like every generation, we spent most of our energy struggling with contradictions, but also, to our credit, raising new issues. 

One of those issues was awareness of the environment. By the second half of the 20th century our society allowed itself to be guided by recently composed foundational myths written by the likes of Horatio Alger and Ayn Rand. This particular mythology imposed a set of shared social values that contributed powerfully to the soaring success of the consumer society. The mythology celebrated the power of the individual will. It spawned and spread the cult of success and the worship of celebrity.

In direct contrast, awareness of the environment, coupled with newly invented memes such as “Small is beautiful” began to turn that mythology on its head. The discovery of the concept of “ecosystems” enabled us to understand how a desirable complexity becomes not just possible but necessary. Caring for our ecosystem requires a different core principle, in many ways directly opposed to the model of assertive individualism. It highlights interdependence and constructive diversity. 

These two forces — individualism and holistic environmentalism  —  have produced an implicit conflict within our culture. Environmentalism has earned its title of respectability, but the cultural conflict continues. The majority of humanity now seems to have accepted the reality of climate change. We have even begun to measure the risks in very concrete terms. Scientists, politicians, teachers and the media have made that lesson clear. But the outcome is still in doubt.

The simple lessons of science

Science tells us that inertia is the second most powerful force in the universe, after gravity. But the gravitas our civilization cultivated over time –a persistent interest in great thinkers, well-articulated ideas, spiritually informed values — seems to have lost its persuasive force in this consumer society.

The gravitational force of our collective human cultures has been effectively replaced by an obsession with the trivial. Our technologically evolved consumer society is addicted to formulaic entertainment, social media memes, endless Hollywood remakes, junk food, junk thought and political leaders promoting standardized demagogy. Education has reduced its ambitions to preparing young minds, not to think, but to acquire what’s needed to successfully pass standardized tests.

In other words, even as our awareness of the gravity of the problems that face us increases, our aptitude to confront them diminishes. Inertia has overtaken gravity.

The Fair Observer team has become acutely aware of this change and the urgency of addressing it.

© NASA images / shutterstock.com

Language, philosophy and an expanding Fair Observer Ecosystem

The Greeks insisted that making sense of the world requires a mix of comedy, with its exhilarating respect for the trivial, and tragedy, imposing deep reflection on the human condition. Human history fluctuates between the two, advancing in one direction, returning in another. In the West, we are well aware of another lesson that the Greeks taught us: that an umbilical link exists between the literary arts and philosophy.

A similar umbilical link exists between the geopolitics Fair Observer’s expanding pool of authors routinely evoke and the multiple traditions across the globe of philosophy and spirituality.

We will soon be launching a francophone version of Fair Observer, drawing on new sources from Europe, Africa, Asia, the Americas, the Pacific and elsewhere. We intend to rapidly develop a dialogue between the English and French-speaking worlds. Philosophy, science and spirituality will play an increasing role in that dialogue. 

I’ll be working with our dear friends, Pierre Morlière, Sandrine Monfort and other members of the team to get the show on the road in the coming months.

We are launching an appeal to French-speaking authors who can contribute their knowledge, insight and wisdom aimed at bridging these different linguistic and philosophical traditions. We invite all of you who are interested to contact us to learn more and share your input.

Welcome to a world that is becoming more multipolar, multilingual, multicultural and multi-philosophical as it seeks to address the real problems that concern us all.


Peter Isackson
Chief Strategy Officer

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