The Atlantic has a neat Big Question forum, asking various business leaders to identify the Worst Business Decision Ever Made. For example:
Walt Mossberg, co–executive editor, Re/code
Apple’s firing of Steve Jobs in 1985 set the company back for a dozen years and drove it to near-bankruptcy. Apple only saved itself by rehiring him in 1997, at which point he went on to make Apple the most financially valuable—and influential—tech company in the world.
I was talking the other day to a friend about a particular situation. She said, “That’s just the way the world is.” I replied, “No, that’s the world as we’ve made it.” My point was that it was not inevitable that things turned out the way they did in this particular situation. It rarely is. Yes, some things cannot be helped, but mostly, our problems are caused by the exercise of our own free will, or the refusal to exercise it.
With that in mind, let me put a question to the room: What’s the worst cultural decision ever made? That is, which poor decision at the level of culture (religion, art, philosophy, and so forth) was the most regrettable, in hindsight?
My entry would be the same as Richard Weaver’s, in Ideas Have Consequences: Nominalism. Weaver wrote:
Like Macbeth, Western man made an evil decision, which has become the efficient and final cause of other evil decisions. Have we forgotten our encounter with the witches on the heath? It occurred in the late fourteenth century, and what the witches said to the protagonist of this drama was that man could realize himself more fully if he would only abandon his belief in the existence of transcendentals. The powers of darkness were working subtly, as always, and they couched this proposition in the seemingly innocent form of an attack upon universals. The defeat of logical realism in the great medieval debate was the crucial event in the history of Western culture; from this flowed those acts which issue now in modern decadence.
One may be accused here of oversimplifying the historical process, but I take the view that the conscious policies of men and governments are not mere rationalizations of what has been brought about by unaccountable forces. They are rather deductions from our most basic ideas of human destiny, and they have a great, though not unobstructed, power to determine out course.
For this reason I turn to William of Occam as the best representative of a change which came over man’s conception of reality at this historic juncture. It was William of Occam who propounded the fateful doctrine of nominalism, which denies that universals have a real existence. His triumph tended to leave universal terms mere names serving our convenience. The issue ultimately involved is whether there is a source of truth higher than, and independent of, man; and the answer to the question is decisive for one’s view of the nature and destiny of humankind. The practical result of nominalist philosophy is to banish the reality which is perceived by the intellect and to posit as reality that which is perceived by the senses. With this change in the affirmation of what is real,, the whole orientation of culture takes a turn, and we are on the road to modern empiricism.
It is easy to be blind to the significance of a change because it is remote in time and abstract in character. Those who have not discovered that world view is the most important thing about a man, as about the men composing a culture, should consider the train of circumstances which have with perfect logic proceeded from this. The denial of universals carries with it the denial of everything transcending experience. The denial of everything transcending experience means inevitably-though ways are found to hedge on this-the denial of truth. With the denial of objective truth there is no escape from the relativism of “man the measure of all things.” The witches spoke with the habitual equivocation of oracles when they told man that by this easy choice he might realize himself more fully, for they were actually initiating a course which cuts one off from reality. Thus began the “abomination of desolation” appearing today as a feeling of alienation from all fixed truth.
I am not really interested in arguing with anybody over the validity of this choice. As I said yesterday, I’m not engaging with this blog today, Good Friday (I’m actually writing this on Holy Thursday, and scheduling it to publish on Good Friday). I’m far more interested in what you think is the worst cultural decision ever made, and why? Make a case.
P.S. I can see why, “The decision not to destroy the world as a climax to the Cuban Missile Crisis, thereby sparing the world The San Pedro Beach Bums and the rest of the 1970s” is an attractive sentiment, but it doesn’t really count.
UPDATE: Again, do not argue with me over the validity of my choice. I’m asking you this as a favor; I don’t need the temptation to engage with the readership on Good Friday, and this is a hard thing for me to avoid. Just put your own choice up, and make a brief case.