Society

Aristotle to Anti-Vax: Internet And The Decline Of Reason

The virtues that laid the groundwork for Western civilization's many advances are being eclipsed, it would seem, by an internet-driven rush of irrationality.

Anti-vax and anti-mask protesters in Warsaw on Jan. 16
Éric Le Boucher

-Essay-

PARIS — Prudence, justice, courage and decorum are the four cardinal virtues that define what Cicero called honestum, meaning honor. And it's because of those virtues that Western civilization was able to make such strides in mathematics, law, music and architecture, and develop its systems of democracy, noted German sociologist Max Weber.

But are we now, in 2021, losing these virtues? Are we abandoning reason, as understood by the Greeks? Are we fatally drawn towards the darkness of irrationality, anti-science, emotion, fear, and violence?

The attack on Capitol Hill by supporters of Donald Trump is a demonstration of this. And as pathetic as it may seem, it was only one piece in a larger picture that also includes anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists.

Reason, it appears, is wavering on all fronts, though not for the first time. Humankind frequently allows the wolf that dwells deep within itself to emerge, despite the advances of education. The horrors of the previous century are a case in point.

Are we fatally drawn towards the darkness of irrationality?

So no, this is not the first time. And we must remain optimistic about the strength of our other face, the one that exhibits compassion and reason, and that has always prevailed in the end. Still, there is something new and worrying about our current predicament. Driving this impulse toward irrationality is a technological power that disseminates and seems to legitimize it. We try still to be prudent, but the fight is unequal.

The causes of this outbreak of irrationality are numerous and profound. The first is the sense of blocked horizons. Trade brings with it peace and prosperity that fills bellies and allows humans to set their battles aside. Unfortunately, though, the sharing of the fruits of our labor no longer adheres to the Ciceronian virtue of justice.

Social mobility has been halted. Wages are stagnating. Education no longer necessarily leads to good careers. The rewards of the school system aren't what we had hoped for. Those with the highest incomes stir up jealousy and resentment. And then there's the COVID-19 pandemic, which only reinforces this social bitterness since it accentuates inequalities between generations, income, housing, and education.

Anti-curfew clashes in Eindhoven, Netherlands, on Jan. 24 — Photo: Hollandse-Hoogte/ZUMA

The second cause is globalization, which brings with it global warming, global pandemics, and fosters the emergence of cyber threats and cyber warfare. These challenges wash over us like a flood. Responding to them requires global cooperation, but cooperation between nations is decelerating.

How political systems respond to all this is a third cause. Greek reason knew how to make room for luck and risk. As Aristotle taught, chance is unmanageable. But today, impatience, stirred up by the media, has overthrown "the tragic humanism that invites man to want all that is possible but only what is possible, and to leave the rest to the gods," as French philosopher and Aristotle specialist Pierre Aubenque wrote.

Our leaders are no longer allowed to fumble through, even though it's entirely normal and reasonable that they should. Hence the difficulties and relentless criticism experienced by the recent governments in France, for example.

Social networks, places where nuance goes to die.

For many political leaders, there's a temptation toward populist demagoguery and dogmatism, as seen in the U.S. Republican Party and in Eastern Europe. The same holds true for the other side of the spectrum: on the left, where "identity" radicalism takes hold of the progressive tradition, and where a "sense" of oppression takes precedence over factual analysis.

Add to that the growing number of social networks, which are a formidable tool for the reasonable but, for the unreasonable, places where nuance goes to die.

No nation is immune, and each is affected in its own way. For the United States, it's lies and conspiracy theories. For France, it's a cry-baby psychology and the erasure of individual responsibility behind the guise of the protective state. All mark a loss of confidence in institutions and in the future.

Joe Biden's election and the development of COVID-19 vaccines have brought a glimpse of hope against the evils of the economy, technology, and climate. But to really keep reason alive and well, we'll need to mobilize that other, all-important virtue: courage.

Support Worldcrunch
We are grateful for reader support to continue our unique mission of delivering in English the best international journalism, regardless of language or geography. Click here to contribute whatever you can. Merci!

Over the past week thousands of migrants have arrived at the international bridge in Del Rio, Texas, on the border between Mexico and the United States. According to Del Rio's mayor, border patrol agents are struggling to process new arrivals, with about 4,000 migrants currently waiting.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

👋 Сайн уу*

Welcome to Friday, where the new U.S.-UK-Australia security pact is under fire, Italy becomes the first country to make COVID-19 "green pass" mandatory for all workers, and Prince Philip's will is to be kept secret for 90 years. From Russia, we also look at the government censorship faced by brands that recently tried to promote multiculturalism and inclusiveness in their ads.

[*Sain uu - Mongolian]

💡  SPOTLIGHT

Australia's submarine slap to France exposes brutal truth about Europe

The military pact announced yesterday between Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom is further proof that Europe's influence is eroding. To make up for the absence of a collective defense from the bloc's 27, it is urgent to establish alliances with different countries, writes Lucie Robequain in French business daily Les Echos.

The slap that Australia, along with the United States and the United Kingdom, has just inflicted on us is a reminder of some disturbing truths — which happen to be opposed to the values we cherish. First of all, it reminds us that in international relations, friends don't exist. There are just allies who share common interests. Europeans have long lived with the illusion that the United States, a brotherly country, would only want the best for us and that Joe Biden had a special bond with the land of his ancestors.

The fact that President Biden convinced Canberra to break its commitments with France's Naval Group shows his determination to follow only one course: that of Washington's economic and commercial interests. From this point of view, Biden's actions are much more damaging than Donald Trump's, because they are more thoughtful and effective. This is actually the second time since the beginning of the summer that the French defense has been snubbed: last June, Americans had managed to impose their fighter planes on Switzerland, to the detriment of France's Rafale.

The Australian fiasco teaches us something else: our allies are less scrupulous than us in transferring their technologies. France has always refrained from exporting its nuclear-powered ships, because it sees them as the key to its independence and expertise. By agreeing to share theirs with the Australians, the Americans are breaking a major taboo.

History provides only one precedent, when Washington had offered its atomic expertise to the British. It was 1958, at the height of the Cold War — which says a lot about the anti-China front that is building up today. Will the American-Australian cooperation encourage other countries to develop their nuclear, civilian or military arsenals? Many fear so.

What's most cruel about this whole affair is to realize how much Europe's influence is eroding. Our hesitation vis-à-vis China is pushing the United States to forge alliances elsewhere, and without us. At the same time, they give Boris Johnson a great opportunity to achieve his ambitions to create a "Global Britain."

By contrast, Europe doesn't give any real weight to the common defense it calls for. The resistance of many countries, especially Poland, should push us to establish mini-alliances, as the United States is doing right now. We can only hope that the German election next week will choose a more proactive chancellor than Angela Merkel to actively support this strategic autonomy.

Lucie Robequain / Les Echos

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• U.S. facing multiple waves of migrants, refugees: The temporary camp, located between Mexico's Ciudad Acuña and Del Rio in Texas, is housing some 10,000 people, largely from Haiti. With few resources, they are forced to wait in squalid conditions and scorching temperatures amidst a surge of migrants attempting to cross into the U.S. Meanwhile, thousands of recently evacuated Afghan refugees wait in limbo at U.S. military bases, both domestic and abroad.

• COVID update: Italy is now the first European country to require vaccination for all public and private sector workers from Oct. 15. The Netherlands will also implement a "corona pass" in the following weeks for restaurants, bars and cultural spaces. When he gives an opening speech at the United Nations General Assembly next week, unvaccinated Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro will defy New York City authorities, who are requiring jabs for all leaders and diplomats.

• U.S. and UK face global backlash over Australian deal: The U.S. is attempting to diffuse the backlash over the new security pact signed with Australia and the UK, which excludes the European Union. The move has angered France, prompting diplomats to cancel a gala to celebrate ties between the country and the U.S.

• Russian elections: Half of the 450 seats in Duma are will be determined in today's parliamentary race. Despite persistent protests led by imprisoned opposition leader Alexey Navalny, many international monitors and Western governments fear rigged voting will result in President Vladimir Putin's United Russia party maintaining its large majority.

• Somali president halts prime minister's authority: The decision by President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed marks the latest escalation in tensions with Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble concerning a murder investigation. The move comes as the Horn of Africa country has fallen into a political crisis driven by militant violence and clashes between clans.

• Astronauts return to Earth after China's longest space mission: Three astronauts spent 90 days at the Tianhe module and arrived safely in the Gobi desert in Inner Mongolia. The Shenzhou-12 mission is the first of crewed missions China has planned for 2021-2022 as it completes its first permanent space station.

• Prince Philip's will to be kept secret for 90 years: A British court has ruled that the will of Prince Philip, the late husband of Britain's Queen Elizabeth who passed away in April at 99 years old, will remain private for at least 90 years to preserve the monarch's "dignity and standing."

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

With a memorable front-page photo, Argentine daily La Voz reports on the open fight between the country's president Alberto Fernández and vice-president Cristina Kirchner which is paralyzing the government. Kirchner published a letter criticizing the president's administration after several ministers resigned and the government suffered a major defeat in last week's midterm primary election.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

€150

An Italian investigation uncovered a series of offers on encrypted "dark web" websites offering to sell fake EU COVID vaccine travel documents. Italy's financial police say its units have seized control of 10 channels on the messaging service Telegram linked to anonymous accounts that were offering the vaccine certificates for up to €150. "Through the internet and through these channels, you can sell things everywhere in the world," finance police officer Gianluca Berruti told Euronews.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

In Russia, brands advertising diversity are under attack

Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi removed an advertisement with a Black man and apologized for offending the Russian nation, while a grocery chain was attacked for featuring an LGBTQ couple, reports Moscow-based daily Kommersant.

❌ "On behalf of the entire company, we want to apologize for offending the public with our photos..." reads a recent statement by Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi after publishing an advertisement that included a photograph of a Black man. Shortly after, the company's co-founder, Konstantin Zimen, said people on social media were accusing Yobidoyobi of promoting multiculturalism. Another recent case involved grocery store chain VkusVill, which released advertising material featuring a lesbian couple. The company soon began to receive threats and quickly apologized and removed the text and apologized.

🏳️🌈 For the real life family featured in the ad, they have taken refuge in Spain, after their emails and cell phone numbers were leaked. "We were happy to express ourselves as a family because LGBTQ people are often alone and abandoned by their families in Russia," Mila, one of the daughters in the ad, explained in a recent interview with El Pais.

🇷🇺 It is already common in Russia to talk about "spiritual bonds," a common designation for the spiritual foundations that unite modern Russian society, harkening back to the Old Empire as the last Orthodox frontier. The expression has been mocked as an internet meme and is widely used in public rhetoric. For opponents, this meme is a reason for irony and ridicule. Patriots take spiritual bonds very seriously: The government has decided to focus on strengthening these links and the mission has become more important than protecting basic human rights.Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi removed an advertisement with a Black man and apologized for offending the Russian nation, while a grocery chain was attacked for featuring an LGBTQ couple, reports Moscow-based daily Kommersant.

❌ "On behalf of the entire company, we want to apologize for offending the public with our photos..." reads a recent statement by Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi after publishing an advertisement that included a photograph of a Black man. Shortly after, the company's co-founder, Konstantin Zimen, said people on social media were accusing Yobidoyobi of promoting multiculturalism. Another recent case involved grocery store chain VkusVill, which released advertising material featuring a lesbian couple. The company soon began to receive threats and quickly apologized and removed the text and apologized.

🏳️🌈 For the real life family featured in the ad, they have taken refuge in Spain, after their emails and cell phone numbers were leaked. "We were happy to express ourselves as a family because LGBTQ people are often alone and abandoned by their families in Russia," Mila, one of the daughters in the ad, explained in a recent interview with El Pais.

🇷🇺 It is already common in Russia to talk about "spiritual bonds," a common designation for the spiritual foundations that unite modern Russian society, harkening back to the Old Empire as the last Orthodox frontier. The expression has been mocked as an internet meme and is widely used in public rhetoric. For opponents, this meme is a reason for irony and ridicule. Patriots take spiritual bonds very seriously: The government has decided to focus on strengthening these links and the mission has become more important than protecting basic human rights.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"Ask the rich countries: Where are Africa's vaccines?"

— During an online conference, Dr. Ayoade Olatunbosun-Alakija, of the African Vaccine Delivery Alliance, implored the international community to do more to inoculate people against COVID-19 in Africa and other developing regions. The World Health Organization estimates that only 3.6% of people living in Africa have been fully vaccinated. The continent is home to 17% of the world population, but only 2% of the nearly six billion shots administered so far have been given in Africa, according to the W.H.O.

📸  PHOTO DU JOUR

Over the past week thousands of migrants have arrived at the international bridge in Del Rio, Texas, on the border between Mexico and the United States. According to Del Rio's mayor, border patrol agents are struggling to process new arrivals, with about 4,000 migrants currently waiting. — Photo: William Luther/San Antonio Express-News/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

Support Worldcrunch
We are grateful for reader support to continue our unique mission of delivering in English the best international journalism, regardless of language or geography. Click here to contribute whatever you can. Merci!
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ