Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Neo-Rationalism: The Cultural Context

The philosophy of Neo-Rationalism did not spring fully formed into the world.  It reflects a specific intellectual tradition of the Shinjurai people, and it's evolution bears the markers of the rise and fall of that culture within the Galaxy.

Of the original three human worlds, Denjuku had the strongest scientific culture. Once the Shinjurai royal family dominated the planet, they institutionalized that culture via “rationalist” academies. In so doing, the monarch hoped to educate his people and push back the shadows of superstition, so that his people could always reach for the stars.

And reach for the stars they did! The Shinjurai culture spread the second wave of humanity across the stars and took their ruthlessly empirical Rationalism with them and took up a strong position in the galactic core. There, they met ancient alien cultures with their own scientific, mathematical and technological traditions, especially the alien race called “the Traders.” Rationalists cared only about progress, not where that progress came from and so readily embraced aliens and their knowledge into their ranks.

The Shinjurai golden age could not last forever. Like a great tide, the Alexian empire swept across the galaxy. The rationalist weapons proved powerless against the psionic talents and precognitive strategies of House Alexus. They conquered Denjuku, scattered the Traders and broke the power of the Shinjurai. The mysticism of the Akashic Mysteries eclipsed the science of Rationalism.

However, the Shinjurai still retained some power. The royal family still ruled Denjuku at least in name, and enclaves of Shinjurai kept the flickering candle of Rationalism alive, but without unity, the philosophy began to drift. Shinjurai grievances turned the skepticism of “superstition” into outright disdain. At the same time, the rise of mysticism fed a hunger for “the big questions” that Rationalism had previously ignored and gave rise to the idea “hidden doctrines” that one could find lurking behind the teachings of the old Rationalist sages.

Eventually, the Akashic Order began to collapse into corruption and Rationalism rose once more in influence. The Akashic Mysteries offered a closed elitism and incomprehensible puzzles. Rationalism offered an open elitism to anyone who was willing to set aside superstition and learn. It offered answers where the Akashic Mysteries offered only enigmas, and Rationalism advanced technology. But this was not the Rationalism of old. This new Rationalism had uncovered hidden doctrines and had expanded physics with metaphysics. Where Rationalism frowned skeptically at mystical powers, this new Rationalism denounced them as lies. Where Rationalism shrugged its shoulders at ethics or questions of the afterlife, this new Rationalism held explicit beliefs. The careful scientific method of Rationalism was dead, replaced with a new, dogmatic Rationalism: Neo-Rationalism.

Neo-Rationalism reached its apex with the rise of the new Galactic Empire. The Emperor vocally endorsed Neo-Rationalism and enshrined it in newly re-opened academies. He wanted a rationally run empire, with its leadership open to everyone willing to cast aside mysticism and the take the world as it really was. He discarded tradition and embraced science and technology. He brought the Galaxy into a new era and the Neo-Rationalists would guide the galaxy with the light of scientific enlightenment.

Neo-Rationalist Culture and Values

Ultimately, Rationalism and Neo-Rationalism were grounded in the culture of the Shinjurai people, the former during their technological flowering, the latter as a response to their defeat and the way galactic culture evolved during their cultural nadir.

Rationalism arose from a culture that valued intellect, tolerance and reliability. Intellect stood at the forefront of Shinjurai culture: they held no doctrine as sacred, no idea as beyond questioning. What mattered to the Shinjurai was results. If a man, whatever his education, could prove his radical idea, the Shinjurai accepted it, however reluctantly. What mattered was that he proved it. The Shinjurai sought truth, and wanted to know how the world really worked, and had nothing but disdain for charlatans and sophists.

With the fall of the Shinjurai, their priorities shifted. Slowly, over time, the importance of challenging the status quo gave way to the importance of recovering the lost heritage and prestige of the Shinjurai; the value of tradition. The Shinjurai stopped looking forward and began to look backwards. The old ways mattered, they had to, or the Shinjurai struggles meant nothing. “Superstition” could not win out over rationality! Where their science had failed them, rather than wonder why it had failed, the Shinjurai flocked to those who said that it hadn’t, just that the people had failed to understand the true genius of their ancestors. The Shinjurai began to look for hidden truths behind their beliefs.

Some challenged this new approach, calling it mysticism, but prestige had replaced tolerance. Who were these challengers? What degrees did they have? How well could they quote the classics? The Shinjurai began to value those with superior education and superior credentials over the uneducated or boorish who could back their words with proof. They began to see their culture and their philosophy through the lens of carefully (“rationally”) approved experts. The Shinjurai still demanded truth and reliability, but their vision of truth changed from an accurate portrayal of the world to truthfulness in relationships and careful adherence to what fellow Shinjurai wanted to hear.

Neo-Rationalism in the Galaxy

Neo-Rationalism is probably the dominant philosophy of the Galaxy in the modern day, though it only rose recently, lifted up by the Empire. The Emperor does not officially endorse any ideology, but Neo-Rationalist officials tend to find themselves at an advantage for political advancement than other ideologies do, while some (like the Akashic Mysteries and True Communion) find themselves actively suppressed.

Neo-Rationalism appeals to human and alien alike, and tends to be found most often among the Traders, the Cybernetic Union, on Denjuku and the traditional holdings of the Shinjurai, and dominates the galactic core. While many do not actively subscribe to the ideology, it slowly makes itself into default assumptions in schools and among political leadership, further strengthening its position. It struggles the most in the oldest parts of the Galaxy (which favors their Psionic and Communion cults), on the rim of the Galaxy (where people still stick to the Old Ways and True Communion still lingers) and in the Alliance, where the Akashic Mysteries still have something of a presence.

Neo-Rationalism claims to be a philosophy for everyone, but in practice, its focus on expensive education tends to mean that most Neo-Rationalists tend to be elites. Imperial leadership or Shinjurai Royalty follow Neo-Rationalism. A stripped down variant, Folk-Rationalism, has made its way into the common populace, but by and large, Neo-Rationalism is the ideology of the rulers, not an ideology of the ruled.

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