Future car, retro 80th

Back to the Future by Connecting with the Past

Published in The American Thinker

In the 1985 classic American science fiction film Back to the Future, Marty McFly travels back in time in a DeLorean time machine, and with the help of its inventor, the eccentric scientist “Doc,” history gets repaired so that when McFly returns to the present he finds healthy relations restored, providing optimism for the future and a happy ending.  As a film genre, science fiction is unique in presenting an alternate reality that sometimes reveals startling insight into solutions for the human dilemma.

Everyday life in 2018 seems to be getting crazier by the week, so maybe we need to go back in time to better understand the past — when some things seemed to work better.

No one can say when exactly the modern age began, but it was clearly tied to the Reformation, the Renaissance, and the Scientific Revolution, which had their roots in 14th- and 15th-century Europe.

The reformation of church corruption and pursuit of spiritual truth promoted by Martin Luther had its analog with the pursuit of truth regarding the physical universe by contemporary Nicholas Copernicus, who is credited as a key founder of the Scientific Revolution.  Copernicus’s empirical evidence and reasoning upset the prevailing geocentric view that the Earth was the center of universe with the heliocentric model that took its place, placing the Sun at the center, with the Earth and other planets orbiting it.

In the early 16th century, the Reformation and Renaissance set in motion a cultural awakening as well as an unusual concentration of human genius and extraordinary wisdom that culminated in the birth of a new nation, the United States — dedicated to the rule of law; separation of powers and limited government; and accountability to its citizens, whose rights were God-given and thus unalienable and not subject to infringement by the state — a truly revolutionary model that subsequently influenced other nations worldwide well into the 20th century.

Copernicus, followed by Kepler, Galileo, Bacon, Newton and more, was a key figure in the Scientific Revolution that expanded the frontiers of understanding the physical universe.  Collectively, they gave birth to the scientific method, which became the most reliable and powerful means of pushing the envelope of discovery and invention through hypothesis-testing that involved compiling and rationally evaluating empirical evidence and results to arrive at facts.

When one considers the appearance of the United States from a grand historical perspective — notably its rise from colonial poverty to the world’s economic superpower in 200 years — it’s a bit like a production car today going from zero to 60 in three seconds.

And while people’s standard of living has been greatly improved and their longevity significantly increased, many Americans now seem oblivious to how we got here.  The incredible benefits attributable to the application of both the scientific method and the spiritual truths of the Judeo-Christian heritage are increasingly taken for granted at best.  At worst, they are viewed as unnecessary, even obsolete.

We are told that our culture and the way we live are now post-Christian and that the need for redemption by God has been replaced by the imperatives of a secular redemption defined by political correctness.  That new framework is largely based on the one-two approach of promoting guilt among largely successful white males for their alleged biases and misdeeds, past and present, and then providing them a solution in the form of relief and good feelings through making amends and accommodation to new groups and minorities. 

In short, the path of the new P.C. redemption has nothing to do with character improvement and everything to do with identity politics – races, classes, gender and sexual identity — and also the relationship that man has with the environment.  There is simply no end to atonement, role reversals, and reparations to fix things.  As a result, we have come to a point where seemingly endless manufactured injustices are crowding out the joy of everyday life, stripping people of their spontaneity and their humor.

The tenets and framework of political correctness have largely negated the relevance of age-old moral truths, common sense, and the scientific method — all of which contribute to protecting relationships, solving problems, and facilitating progress.  As a result, we are experiencing increasing regressive forces affecting economics, law, politics, and basic civility.

Consider economics.  It seemed that the debate between capitalism and socialism ended nearly three decades ago with the Iron Curtain coming down due to the failure and dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.  Francis Fukuyama proclaimed in the title of his best-selling book published in 1992 that we had arrived at “the end of history,” which was characterized by the “triumph of capitalism” and the “unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism.”

Not only has socialism failed to work anywhere — whether in the old Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, Southeast Asian and African nations, North Korea, Cuba, or Venezuela — but it has also almost always been accompanied by horrendous abuse of power and the unnatural death of many millions.

So how could it be, just a generation after Fukuyama and the wall coming down, that here in the United States in the “land of the free,” socialist candidate Bernie Sanders could win 43% of Democratic primary voters?

The answer is complicated.  It starts with recognizing that because the knowledge industry — that is, the educational establishment, the universities, and the media — embrace political correctness, they largely ignore contradictory views from common sense and factual findings of the scientific method, with its emphasis on accountability and verifiable factual evidence.  In short, the Bernie phenomenon was in some part the result of the last thirty years of accumulated subliminal conditioning and brainwashing in America by a politically correct educational and media establishment.

This is also the primary reason why 90-plus percent of the media elite obsess over the flaws of President Trump but give him no coverage or credit for his success – the remarkable turnaround in the economy and foreign policy, the creation of more job openings than there are reported unemployed people, a record low minority unemployment rate, greatly diminished welfare rolls and a decline in reliance on food stamps, a domestic energy boom, record high levels of the stock market and consumer confidence, the financial reform of the U.N. and NATO, the defeat of ISIS, and much more.

When facts and accountability no longer matter, media coverage regresses to propaganda and fake news, and politics devolves to preoccupation with power over ideas.  When facts and accountability no longer matter, it seems that many political candidates and office-holders feel they no longer need to fight for solution-oriented ideas and policies.  After all, in a democracy that has short election cycles, why do the hard work of debate and compromise when you think you can win or hold on to power through demagoguery, emotional appeals, and even inciting hatred and mobs to silence your opponents?

When law is severed from its origin in Judeo-Christian teachings and the factual basis of the scientific method, the door is opened to legal relativity with all manner of new arrangements and new rights – from labor relations, patent and property rights, marriage, and obligations to both the elderly and the unborn to transgender confusion over health care and bathroom access and subordinating human rights to the rights of snail-darters.

When the departure from reality goes to extremes such that whole new definitions and applications of law gain salience in some quarters of the public mind — such as the charge that President Trump committed treason in a time of peace simply because of a verbal gaffe at press conference — you know we must be near a turning point.  Treason suggests that there are legitimate national interests.  Meanwhile, many of the same people will argue that there is no need for ICE or law enforcement because there is no legitimacy to the United States, its constitution, its laws, or its borders. 

In sum, when the present gets severed from the past, when common sense gets jettisoned and displaced by P.C. nostrums, when laws lose their meaning, and when culture gets increasingly unmoored from its Judeo-Christian heritage of manners, moral standards, and chivalrous inclinations, we let the barbarians, the hate-mongers, and the mobs develop inside the gates.

Fortunately, because the truth cannot be destroyed, we can turn things around if we follow Paul’s advice to the Ephesians to stand firm and recognize that “our struggles are not against flesh and blood,” but rather “against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil high places.”  Paul’s final counsel to the Ephesians was to pray constantly and declare the truth fearlessly.  Probably the best advice for these times, too.

Scott S. Powell

Senior Fellow, Center on Wealth and Poverty
Scott Powell has enjoyed a career split between theory and practice with over 25 years of experience as an entrepreneur and rainmaker in several industries. He joins the Discovery Institute after having been a fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution for six years and serving as a managing partner at a consulting firm, RemingtonRand. His research and writing has resulted in over 250 published articles on economics, business and regulation. Scott Powell graduated from the University of Chicago with honors (B.A. and M.A.) and received his Ph.D. in political and economic theory from Boston University in 1987, writing his dissertation on the determinants of entrepreneurial activity and economic growth.