Are We In Danger Of Abandoning The Age Of Enlightenment?

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“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

Sun Tsu

Before the Age of Enlightenment (circa 1700s), the church and “common knowledge” dominated humanity’s understanding of the universe. The Bible and other theological schools of thought perpetuated “acceptable” thinking of history and science. Proposing anything radical could be met with disdain or worse. Galileo learned this the hard way when he argued the earth actually revolves around the sun and spent the rest of his life under house arrest for daring to challenge the church.

During the Age of Enlightenment, science and reality-based observation took over from religious interpretations of the universe and this became the basis for continued progress from physics to chemistry, leading to the Industrial Age, to the development of modern medicine, and beyond. Also, social progress began to move forward more rapidly — from women’s rights to the abject abolishment of slavery and apartheid. Unfortunately, social progress has been much slower than technological progress.

In recent years, and especially since the election of Donald Trump, there have been disturbing parallels to pre-enlightenment where the political right in many countries seek to undo progress, from social progress (tolerance, respect, suffrage, LGBT rights) to returning to religious law, to denial of anything they don’t want to know and does not conform to their chosen worldview (especially climate change). Further progress is seen as especially verboten because it’s uncomfortable and “unnatural.” Finally, they seek to undo the Gilded Age by going back to a time of a few super rich and much of the rest of society living in poverty, whom the rich look down on and blame for the exploitation they impose upon them. In the US, the latter may in fact be the only goal and the rest is just a means to this end.

The right is essentially a coalition of believers in trickle-down economics, pure laissez faire economics (self regulation believers included), laissez faire with some regulation (“moderates”), reality deniers (conspiracy theorists, abject denial), and perhaps the largest fraction are voters who believe in hate/racism/discrimination and looking down on anyone they choose to designate as beneath them. This is why Trump was able to emerge from nowhere and become the leader of the Republican Party.

There is of course overlap among these factions, but notice how belief dominates this list. Belief shaped by those who want what the right offers. Also, the willingness to undo progress and return to religious rule over modern theology is very appealing to many voters.

Right wing political strategy works like this. They offer voters hate and targeted reality denial to appeal to the above factions to get themselves elected, then perpetuate those policies to stay in power. Trump’s implicit deal is hate and lies for the cost of denying reality (and being taken advantage of). To most of his base this is a bargain that they enthusiastically accept, especially when the consequences of being taken advantage of are blamed on the victims they are already targeting, meaning the cost never has to be repaid but is channeled into expanding their victim blaming (scapegoating).

Eventually, the cost becomes unpalatable to one or more factions (the swing voters) and they will vote away from the right to remedy the problems they voted to create. However, politics are cyclical, and with easy answers, they venture back an election or few later.

On the surface, this is very grim and the right appears to be gaining strength worldwide — from the obvious Trump regime to Germany to Canada to Australia and beyond. In order to defeat the right, we must understand them, and we must figure out how to defeat their grip on power.

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In fact, the right is actually slowly declining in strength, younger people identify at much higher percentages with the left, and in fact many right-wing supporters actually acknowledge climate change is happening. But right-wing climate change–accepting voters still vote right because it gets them what they value above a livable planet, which is hate and/or reality denial. Because demographics are changing and the right can see the writing on the wall, they are now taking extreme measures — stacking courts, voter suppression, propaganda wars, more elaborate lies, blatant hypocrisy, conspiracy theories, and any strategy they can conceive of to turn people against their own interests in exchange for easy answers.

Hence, just having a majority is not enough to prevent the right from being elected (just ask Hillary Clinton or the citizens of Ontario, Canada — their leader Doug Ford was elected by 40% of voters because the center-left vote was fractured between two candidates. Also, older voters vote at the highest percentages and are the most likely to want to undo progress that has happened during their lifetime, while younger voters vote at the lowest percentages. Ironically, it’s the younger voters who will have to live with the very painful consequences of climate change. Hence, we often need a large majority to elect progressive candidates.

So, in conclusion, we get to decide as a species whether or not we truly want to abandon the Age of Enlightenment. Progress has brought many benefits to humanity but the political right is willing to harm all of us to achieve their denial. From appeals to hate and undoing or preventing progress, they desperately want to impose their worldview on the rest of humanity.

Voters from every democratic country will have to overwhelmingly reject the lies and appeals to base emotions and fear of change. Will enough voters wake up in time to elect leaders who will get us below the 2ºC, or better yet, 1.5ºC, thresholds before it’s too late?

Featured photo by DonkeyHotey (some rights reserved)

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Barry A.F.

I've had an interest in renewable energy and EVs since the days of deep cycle lead acid conversions and repurposed drive motors (and $10/watt solar panels). How things have changed. Also I have an interest in systems thinking (or first principles as some call it), digging into how things work from the ground up. Did you know that 97% of all Wikipedia articles link to Philosophy? A very small percentage link to Pragmatism. And in order to put my money where my mouth is I own one (3x split) Tesla share.   A link to all my articles

Barry A.F. has 68 posts and counting. See all posts by Barry A.F.