Morals for the 21st Century
By: John Baines
Book Review
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
 

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Texts written by (often) megalomaniac, self-appointed "teachers", invariably display the same sad attributes. Most blatantly, they contain false pretensions to knowledge. "John Baines" (the pseudonym of a Chilean "contemporary philosopher") pretends to know physics, psychoanalysis, and philosophy, to mention but three disciplines - yet, he doesn't. The "science" in "Morals for the 21st Century" is the most pernicious kind of pseudo-science: replete with citations (usually from speculative pulp pop tomes), honourable sounding Ph.D.s, and inane concoctions, such as "biophotons" and "destructive photonic pulses". Baines does slip once or twice and quotes eminent scientists (like David Bohm). Everyone is entitled to quote scientists. It is when one does so in an authoritative and self assured manner that we are dealing with a narcissistic charlatan.

The second hallmark of such bombastic texts is their claim to be a "Theory of Everything". Coupled with scientific sounding psycho- and techno-babble, such tomes attract the gullible and the lost in their promise of a panacea and a total solution. Instant recipes to happiness and success mix with worn out clichés such as "higher consciousness" "unknown life forces" and "moral physics". The opposition - paranoidally imagined - is derided: "...I expect that hypocrites will resist this book". The source of the self-ascribed authority of the author? "Having been born with this intuitive faculty that has manifested itself from my very beginnings". It is the messianic martyrdom stance, a conscious myth making, a narrative of "we, the enlightened" against "they, the unevolved".

None of the avalanche of terms and phrases in this voluminous treatise (most of them borrowed) is defined. The book suffers from mind numbing verbosity. The author repeats the same over and over again tautologically. "Reluctance to put forth effort induces the individual to search for the easy path". A grandiloquence of clichés, banalities, and truisms presented with the fake air of excited and fresh discovery and with the confidence of self-delusion.

The author purports to have discovered a "moral physics" - a scientific morality. He implausibly promises to his followers "transcendental bounty". It is based on a series of maxims. The underlying assumption is that morals are laws of nature. Whether there is such a thing as "objective" morality has been debated since the times of Aristotle and Plato. Kant put forth the concept of a "moral or ethical law and logic". But this is only one of dozens of schools of ethics and the least influential. What are moral values and virtues? Emotional reactions? Preferences? Cultural predilections? Common sense (intuition)? A psychological construct? Divine commands? Whatever they are, everyone seems to agree that a science of morality can never be constructed. With the exception of a few savage paragraphs against moral relativism, "Baines" seems to be blissfully ignorant of all this centuries-old intellectual commotion.

His proposed "laws" are no more informed than his metaphysics. A universal book-keeping law of reward and punishment (kind of a Newtonian morality of action and reaction) combines with a preference for "sublimation" instead of "repression". "Baines" understands neither. Repression is not a conscious, controllable psychological mechanism and sublimation is a variant of (socially acceptable) repression. In any case, everyone agrees that sublimation is a good thing. Finally, the author postulates a path of "individual evolution" from one's "base nature" to a "higher consciousness".

A quarter way through, the book deteriorates into long lists of do's and don'ts. Here the pendulum swings between the ridiculous and the repulsive, the debatable and the unsavoury. The author's critique of social mores and behaviour patterns sometimes agrees with that offered by other social thinkers. But his continuing pretence to have "discovered" a moral science and his recurring references to bogus science smack of quackery and worse. His insistence that (for instance) masturbation and the menstrual blood are "toxic" impurities, "vices", "the dark side of the cosmic force" - is absolutely medieval. He would fit well in Afghanistan, one would imagine.

"Baines" has a lot to learn and a little new to say. He would do well to read the few sane parts of his own tome - those that advocate modesty and criticize pathological narcissism.