I’ve been reading about the most incredible difficulties those individuals of unorthodox thinking had around the turn of the 19th century (that is 1890’s to 1910’s or so). Public awareness of ideas questioning religious dogmas, racial inequities, subjugation of women and the like, often resulted in ostracization for any mindful individual who voiced such thoughts. Condemnation by a powerful fundamentalist clergy and demonizing by the mainstream press were powerful disincentives to speak out and those courageous enough to do so were often censored or ignored.
It must have been really hard to have a creative mind back then. New ideas were often seen as blasphemous or heretical by the majority; absolute truth ruled the day and made it easier, I suppose, for those who didn’t want to think too hard about the big questions.
These days it seems the majorities, consuming as they do their preferred sound bites, butt heads pretty much on a daily basis. Knowing their own truth leaves small room for considering the complexities, gray areas or subtleties of today’s issues, leaving free thinkers without much of a voice.
Some things never change, I guess, but resistance to free thought can be pretty disturbing sometimes.
Having spent some time recently visiting a Christian pilgrimage site of some considerable significance to believers (and history buffs as well), it became apparent to me the penitents amongst the crowds stood out. It was pretty clear there is a deep emotional engagement, a heart-felt belief in the Christian dogma many of the pilgrims feel and adhere to.
It got me thinking about the sort of commitment other spiritual engagements require of their followers if their followers can be expected to remain followers. Other than Reformed Judaism which appears to be based pretty much on cultural tradition most other religious endeavors expect, if not an emotional commitment, an intellectual discipline whereby the metaphysical can be approached, the value of which for the honest participant is cultivation of a groundedness that is helpful in seeing through and beyond the petty and not so petty distractions life presents with considerable constancy.
Problems tend to arise when differences in doctrinal beliefs lead followers to deny the legitimacy of other traditions. It would be good, I think, if more adherents would focus on the common rather than the different and set aside the arrogance of an assumed superiority.
I’ve been reading lately about the strange and self-serving developments that followed Charles Darwin’s determinations of biological evolution. There were certain late 19th century thinkers that found it advantageous to apply the evolutionary theory to the social milieu: that the ‘fittest survivors’ referred to those most able to exploit the economic system, that material wealth meant social progress, and unimpeded pursuit of capital gains would lead to a better world, in the interests of which capital would not be wasted to shore up the least able, and, in fact, eugenic cleansing would provide a superior ultimate outcome.
In opposition or at least counter-point to such an hard-hearted position were those who saw man as a social animal, empathetic to his fellows and reliant on community to provide a reasonable, happy and successful life for all. These altruistic sorts saw social solidarity as evolutionary, naturally evolved over millennia, evidenced by primitive, tribal man whose very survival required social care and cooperation.
Anyway, the majority of folks found well-reasoned logic in both of these fairly divergent positions, the result being a populous which has since embraced philosophical contradictions between our natural propensity for empathy toward our fellows, our common humanity, and the conviction we’re not all equal, some of us being morally and intellectually superior.
We can only hope that, at some point in the not too distant future, recognition of our mental incapacities will be realized and we’ll come to our senses.
I was speaking with a very insightful young Florentine during my recent travels. He commented that the state of American politics (of which I must admit to being a bit embarrassed) isn’t surprising to most Europeans given the populist anti-immigrant goings-on in Italy and throughout Europe. “What we don’t understand about the Americans,” he said, “is the guns.”
This got me thinking about a Goethe quote I ran across recently that goes: ‘There are times when all consolation is base and it’s our duty to despair’, which resonates, no doubt, but I have to wonder how much value there is in despairing, you know, all by itself.
I’ve recently visited a place, an arena where, around two millennia ago, Christians, who apparently didn’t fit in well at the time, provided great spectacle as prey for very angry and very hungry lions. I must admit this particular place has lost a lot of its potentially grizzly impact since becoming a tourist magnet, you know, cleaned up, no blood anywhere. Nowadays the pushing and shoving amongst the hordes of Christian visitors themselves suggests a sort of sadistic propensity for pain.
Anyway, the culture in charge at the time, a couple millennia ago, found the minority sect to be disrespectful of the established gods so lion fodder they became. Of course a few centuries later the Christians were torturing and burning those they found to be heretical to their faith.
Considering the religious maneuverings in politics these days one can only be dismayed at how slowly the wheels of evolution turn.
I was noticing during my recent travels that Rome has a Giordano Bruno Avenue just a block down from one named after Savanarola. It got me wondering, being so close to the Vatican, if there’s a sense of atonement here given the fact the church saw fit to burn the two men for heretical behaviors.
There’s little question Bruno was inclined toward the occult, Hermes Trismegistus and Fra Savanarola was one of the original reactionary fundamentalists, burning books as he did. Still, burning and dismembering the two seems a bit harsh coming from a religion that espouses Christian charity.
The church fathers would seem to present a bit more enlightened front these days but if push came to shove one wonders if there wouldn’t be job openings for inquisitors.
I’ve been reading that quite a number of people these days are relying on various chemical enhancers to improve their intellectual functioning. As I understand it, widespread use of psycho-stimulants like Ritalin are being used to prop up memories and quicken access to stored information (quicker even than a Google search, I guess) for those wishing to function more effectively or maybe just to appear smarter than they really are. There are also those out there seeking more intense religious adventures than they might otherwise experience using psycho-stimulants like psilocybin which have apparently been used for millennia for the purpose of traveling to the far reaches of consciousness.
I find this idea of psycho-stimulation somewhat intriguing in light of my own diminishing memory, which, of course, I can attribute to the considerable amount of information processed and experiences experienced which has come with aging. I do find myself a little slow on the draw when it comes to participating in fast paced conversation as well. Considering the eye opening potential psycho-stimulants may offer as consciousness ex pander and a means of subordinating personal ego perhaps some experimentation is in order. Getting to a deeper understanding of mankind, the environment and universe has to be a good thing. Maybe our politicos could benefit from a bit of psycho-stimulated enlightenment.
I’ve been reading, lately, about the disconnect between ideological beliefs and hard facts; that firmly held beliefs sometimes get in the way of accepting objective knowledge when the two don’t exactly mesh. I guess we all have our ideological beliefs, what we see as appropriate, preferable directions and outcomes that our culture as we understand it, would best observe; perspectives that have come to us through our intuitions or religious beliefs or communion with like-minded folks. Pluralism being what it is, though, belief systems will never coalesce into a single dominant ideology.
Objective knowledge on the other hand, that knowledge that we obtain from careful observation and thoughtful painstaking data collection doesn’t require belief: it comes to us as a dynamic fact that shouldn’t be thought of as divisive in terms of ideologies. But, I guess were having a hard time these days separating beliefs from hard facts.
Anyway, I was thinking that it would be really good, ideal really, if we could all come together around the realization that what we desire is a shared common ground, a cooperative and peaceful humankind progressing through shared knowledge. We must not let ideologies get in the way of our idealism.
It’s become apparent to me, lately, that among other perhaps more obvious differences between conservative and liberal political perspectives, the notion of fear is of particular concern to those entrenched within the political right, which, I guess, explains the conservative desire to build walls and ban entire communities of people of particular religious beliefs………and build ever-larger military arsenals, anticipating, I guess, having to ward off the aggression s of any number of potential hostile entities. I suppose one could add to this the conservative penchant toward religious devotion intended to override the fear of ultimate personal demise.
It’s hard to argue or reason with someone harboring a very real, albeit abstract fear and as much as I might like to convince my conservative friends of the beauty of a pluralistic world I guess I’ll have to settle for a bit of understanding, a sympathy for them living as they do with their very real fear.
It’s occurred to me recently that perhaps my world is shrinking. Having fallen into a fairly consistent daily routine that finds me usually no farther than maybe 25 miles from my home most of the time and limiting my sources of information to those outlets that more or less support my views, not to mention the fact most of my social contact is with people pretty much just like me, I think I may be closeting myself. I think I may be losing any personal empathy and understanding I may have once had to a diverse, pluralistic world.
It may be time for me to step out of the artificial safety of my insulated life, embrace the discomfort of the unknown and grow my world. I need to do this before the most abhorrent of conditions, fear of the other, sets in; I can kind of feel it coming on.
I will venture into the public square, strike up conversations with those of unlike mind, seek out folks of unfamiliar cultural values and maybe even venture into situations where language barriers exist. I need to renew my faith in the benevolence of those with whom I share the planet. I know such benevolence exists. I’ve realized it in the past. There’s still time for me to save myself.