Sunday, September 30, 2007

Welcome To Our Semi-Dark Ages

Near the end of the 1990s, many spoke of the "bridge to the 21st century" - the expression evoking images of greater enlightenment, of enhanced rationality, of increased wisdom, of greater maturity and responsibility, of widespread peace, prosperity and democracy ... of a brave, new and better world awaiting all of us just around the corner, if we would but take the first, resolute step to make its promises a reality.

Instead, we decided that it was too uncertain, too much effort or not quick enough in coming - consequently, we chose instead to retreat within our self-centered selves, rejecting knowledge and reason in favor of fear, ignorance, truthiness and superstition.

Welcome to our Semi-Dark Ages.

As much as we are fortunate to live in this modern era of ours, which is defined by the continuous technological and scientific advances that are meant to increase the chasm between us and our primitive, superstitious outlook of the world and the universe, the overwhelming prevalence of ignorance and irrationality in our supposedly civilized societies leaves us mired in tribalism, intellectual sloth and the constant search for instant gratification.

Indeed, and more than ever, too many among us prefer to wallow in superstition and the super-natural in order to sustain a so-called spiritual need for guidance in life – the sustained prevalence of seers, astrologers, mediums, and other quacks, illustrates well this tragic state of affairs. The same goes with regards to the belief in ghosts, haunts and spirits. Ditto for pseudo-sciences (e.g. homeopathy, crystals, pyramids, chelation, etc.) and the quacks who keep making a fortune in selling their placebo-remedies which are supposed to be miraculous. And let us not forget about everything related to "new age" religions and religious fundamentalism (whether Christian, Muslim, or any other).

More than ever, we would rather be serviced an opinion, like being served fast-food, instead of making the effort to forge an informed one for ourselves. We prefer to wallow body and mind into reality-tv shows, infotainments, games and leisure, instead of putting the effort in exercizing our duties as citizens in our democratically-based societies.

We must have our instant gratification with minimal effort.

This in turn is the root cause for our current tabloid news and politics - a society-wide dumbing down.

That is why the overwhelming majority of politicos are often either timid, "dumb and dumber", or "uber triangulators", all the while seeking to appear as the most toughest and decisive leader-like leader-to-be - no substance, but all appearance ... which is what matters in election years, because that is what we want.

Indeed - the politicos are only responding (or trying to respond) to We The People.

We have become so superficial ourselves that we make our democratic choices based largely on appearances, not on substance.

Why else would haircuts, voice qualities, laughter-sounding acceptability, cleavages, cod-pieces, earthy tones, sighs, and other such vapid and superfluous attibutes constitute important matters in elections?

And don't you dare blame the Media Corporations - considering that they have no qualms at yanking shows that have poor ratings, why do you think they keep serving tabloid infortainment, news, reality shows, game shows and other such tripe? Because. These. Have. High. Ratings.

And who provides such profit-making ratings? We The People.

In the meantime, we - meaning those of us who actually bother to get off their tv couch and go out to vote - keep electing demagogues that "make us feel good, make us feel secure, make us feel at ease, tell us what we want to hear" while rejecting with disdain and mistrust genuine candidates that are actually knowledgeable and better qualified as leaders.

Yes indeed - we can easily blame the politicians, the media, the corporations, the lobbying groups, or anyone else, all we want ... but the painful and ever so tragic truth remains this: we have only ourselves to blame.

We have embraced fear and loathing in the face of terrorists, instead of resolutely standing our ground. We have surrendered our rights and freedoms, instead of clinging to them fiercely.

Why? Because authoritarianism-like security is the quick-fix solution as demanded by our need for instant gratification.

The same goes with the economy, health care and the environment, among others. We act like ostriches in the face of complex issues because "it is too complicated", "too discouraging", or "too unsettling".

We would rather believe the lies because these lies not only reassure us, but they also whisper along the certainty that our need for instant gratification will not be hampered - in short: we want assurances and those quick-fix (non)solutions, which only serve to postpone inevitable consequences to unsolved problems, as opposed to those sobering realistic assessments and those difficult, uneasy, actual solutions which would solve the problems at hand.

Hence, we have embraced ignorance and fear, all the while rejecting reason and rationality.

This is what I previously described as the metastizing cancer on the body democratic.

The so-called Dark Ages are often seen as a period of history characterized by ignorance, superstition and irrational thought, and therefore inhospitable to any logical reasoning or rational activity. Although such a perception of these times constitutes a somewhat popular misconception, let us take a look at what we have accepted (at least via silence) so far, since we crossed that bridge leading us from the 20th century to the 21st one:

We've witnessed attempts to censor science, to control it, to falsify it or rewrite it, to quietly hide it, to brazenly deny funding for it, to change its mission/purpose, to actually lie about it, to use spin games to deny it, to go to great lenghts to confuse people about it, to dismiss it as a matter of differing beliefs or philosophies, or to go as far as to demonize it. This is still going on with regards to global warming - better to fib about it or still seek to deny it, instead of actually accepting the factual science once and for all, along with the real solutions that are needed to solve this dire problem. And what about evolution? Seems like we are back in the 19th century - along with Creation museums and the non-stopping trend to promote the "principle" that creationism and/or ID should be taught in science classes, while firing teachers who suggest that the Bible should not be taken literally.

We've witnessed the resurgence of the politics of fear, ignorance and lies, of the use of barbarous torture (sorry - "enhanced interrogation techniques"), of the waging of wars of choice, of the commission of utter injustices, of the view of the world in a simplistic "Good Vs. Evil" proposition.

We've witnessed (and still do) the repudiation of rational voices, preferring instead to listen to (and reward) the voices of fear-mongering and war-waging, who keep promising us victory, glory, security and peace.

And like those vassals of old, we accept to be fleeced time and again for the betterment of those who already have more than plenty - piously accepting the lie that if the rich get richer, everybody else will benefit somehow in such prosperity.

Al Gore rightly calls all of these things the "assault on reason". Others, yours truly included, call this our Semi-Dark Ages.

For instead of dealing with facts and reality, of using reason and rationality, we prefer to buy the fear-mongering, the spin and the truthiness - after all, the latter require less effort on our part, especially as long as we still get to have our little instant gratifications in the process.

I've said it before, and I say it again: living in a democratic society is a right and a responsibility.

And yes, this responsibility requires effort. But which is better: having your back bent by the effort required to keep on living in a democratic society, or letting leave for complacency and find yourself one day with a back bent under a totalitarian regime - however benevolent it may be?

Therefore, we must ever remain vigilant if we are to preserve our democratic values and institutions ... just like we will have to bear the shame of having forsaken them because of intellectual sloth, ignorance, fear, selfishness and the search for instant gratification.

Granted - distilled to its pure essence, the purpose of the non-partisan and progressive blogospheres is to maintain a continual conversation and exchange of ideas based on facts and reality, not on right-wing spin, religious fundamentalist regressive dogma or fantasy-based viewing of the world. Participation in the blogosphere thus represents a redemption of sort, acting as an environment which fuels a renewed and maintained participation in our democracy-based societies.

But out of the whole population eligible to vote, what fraction does the blogosphere represents?

Not enough by far, I'm afraid.

Consequently, and to paraphrase someone else, we must strive further for the acceptance of a reality that is based on the scientific method and the primacy of rational thought.

So, let us leave these Semi-Dark Ages that we have foolishly trusted upon ourselves and instead enter at last a New Age of Enlightenment - as promised by that "bridge to the 21st century".

It is, in the end, up to us.

It has always been up to us.

(Cross-posted from APOV)