Saturday, June 19, 2021

The End of ‘the Enlightenment’.

June 1, 2021 by  
Filed under News, Opinion, Politics, Weekly Columns

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( January 6th was noise.  What it signaled however is the thing we really need to pay attention to: The refusal to accept the outcome of a free and fair election.  When you couple that with refusal to accept the findings of science and medicine, refusal to accept the documented history of this country and the acceptance of wildly ridiculous conspiracy theories, it appears the “Age of Reason” is over.

The period between the 1500s and 1700s in European history is generally recognized as the Enlightenment.  Old superstitions were renounced and people began to be taught to believe only in things that were provably true.  Incidentally, it also coincides with the establishment of English colonies and slavery in North America (1619) and emergence of the concept of “race” supplanting nationality.

Groups leaving Europe for “religious freedom”, like the Puritans in New England, wanted to continue the practice of hanging and burning “witches” at the stake (remember the witch hunts of Salem, Massachusetts) frowned upon by the Enlightenment’s new adherents.

Now we again see the outright rejection of science (climate change), medicine (vaccines), and education itself (elites).  What’s so interesting about this is that the people leading the charge back to the dark ages, like Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley and Tom Cotton are Ivy Leaguers with post-graduate degrees.  And the avatar of the “forgotten men and women” is a self-proclaimed billionaire.


Herd mentality

A recent poll found that about one-in-five Americans believe the country is run by Satan-worshiping pedophiles and similarly believe the country is so far off track it will take violence to correct it.  The same day a mass shooting killed nine people in San Jose, California, one of over 230 such events so far this year, Texas passed a law allowing anyone to carry handguns in public without a license.  Telling people that a COVID vaccine could save their lives wasn’t enough, but the offer of a free beer or a lottery ticket could get them to take it.

Instead of achieving “herd immunity” we have succumbed to “herd mentality.”  Panic buying at the beginning of the pandemic led to a shortage of toilet paper and a ransomware attack on an oil pipeline led to a shortage of gasoline.  In both cases irrational fear resulted in hysteria.

It would serve us well to remember what Voltaire said, “Whoever can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.”  Attacks on Asians because of the “kung-flu” is a case in point.

Rights versus responsibilities

Ignorance is rife, and praised, while knowledge and expertise are disparaged.  Freedom has come to mean “I can do whatever I want”, “believe whatever I want” and “say whatever I want.”  People vociferously defend their “rights” as citizens and eschew their “responsibilities.”

“Woke”, for some, has become a pejorative to be hurled at anyone who espouses empirical facts; especially as related to socio-political realities of American history.  In the previous age, woke folks would have been the enlightened.  Believing in facts over myths.  All of this spells trouble ahead.

The fight we are in now is not right versus left or liberal versus conservative, not even black versus white, it’s about the survival of democracy.  The ignorant in congress wanted to start an “America First Caucus” based on “Anglo-Saxon principles.”  Apparently unaware that neither the Greeks, who gave us democracy, nor the Romans who gave us the Senate, are Anglo-Saxons.

While we rightly decry continued police violence against unarmed black people, the larger issue is who is being recruited to have “qualified immunity” against charges of brutality.  The FBI voiced concerns about white supremacist infiltration into law enforcement in the early 2000s.  But the four cops involved in the murder of George Floyd look like the United Nations (White, Black and Asian).  So the problem is deeper than the ethnicity of the officers.  It’s police culture.

The big picture

Although racism is still prevalent, the denigration of institutions that hold American life together – politics, the judiciary, the academy and the military – signal a much bigger problem at hand.  Just as being asked to surrender our rights to dissent in the name of unity, to believe in a fairy-tale version of American history in the name of harmony and to uphold an economic system that privatizes gains and subsidizes losses for “too big to fail” corporations in the name of capitalism is ludicrous.

After the greatest national trauma in over a century, with a pandemic that killed close to 600,000, many so-called “essential workers”, some politicians see the answer for getting these people to return to work is to inflict more pain: end federal unemployment benefits.  What about paying higher wages?  And business leaders like Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan said, “You know people don’t like commuting, but so what”, when asked about employees retuning to the office.  So much for stakeholders wishes.

If not so lofty a time as ‘the Enlightenment’, we at least need to refuse to go back to the dark ages and use our common sense.  And common sense says America, as we know it, cannot continue to exist in the present atmosphere of animus, ignorance and mistrust.  Where people are allowed to believe and say things that are obviously false.  Where money, who has it and who doesn’t, is the arbiter of virtue.  Class and income are not synonymous as witnessed by the high-income, low-class former first family.

What comes next…

It’s time to…  Recognize the slide towards authoritarianism and put a stop it.  Put an end to phony libertarianism that says everyone is free to believe and do whatever they want.  Stop treating adults like children who have to be coaxed into doing the right thing.  A vaccine for a beer, please.

Most of all, it’s time to start thinking ahead.  Not harken back to some mythical past, but prepare the country to face the challenges of the 21st century.  Where broadband is as essential as electricity and more child care can free-up young parents for work.

Obviously our educational system has done a poor job teaching students the responsibilities of citizenship, including righting historical wrongs like Tulsa.  And needs to do a better job of preparing them for the occupations of the future.  Nurturing more Kizzie Corbetts.

Ongoing gun violence is the most worrisome.  While mass shootings get the attention, the daily drumbeat of deaths in our cities and towns continues unabated.  California Governor Gavin Newsome asked the pertinent question at the scene of the latest tragedy, “What the hell is wrong with America?”

We’ve been through worse.  Think of the political violence in the sixties: John Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Fred Hampton and countless others killed for protesting war or lack of basic civil and voting rights.  It’s the randomness of the present carnage that makes it more fearful.  In schools, churches, grocery stores and workplaces.  Nowhere seems safe.

Even though it has been an arduous journey for people of African descent here in America, we are not a stateless people like the Kurds or the Palestinians.  We have power to shape the future of our country.  That power is at the ballot box.  We can help lead the country out of this darkness to a new age.  And if it is our lot to be the conscience of this nation, let us embrace it and be brave enough to be the light.  Thanks Amanda.

Staff Writer; Harry Sewell

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