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Barbarians at the Gates

“Reason obeys itself; and ignorance submits to whatever is dictated to it.”
Thomas Paine

During the late 17th century, a new movement among intellectuals began to emerge. It emphasized reason as a means to challenge traditional ideas grounded in faith, superstition and convention. It sought to advance knowledge through the interchange of ideas, healthy skepticism and a scientific method. It was revolutionary using logic rather than opinion or obedience to dogma to arrive at conclusions and was unafraid to test its conclusions against newly emerging  evidence.

It was called the Age of Enlightenment and Reason or sometimes simply The Enlightenment.

Some of the most fundamental ideas that have influenced the development of our civilization came from this period. They were developed and expressed by people like Rousseau, Voltaire and Thomas Payne. The ideas they expressed became the cornerstone of our concepts of modern democracy and the rights of the individual.

That was then. This is now.

We carry in our pockets devices that put all of the world’s knowledge at our fingertips; devices more powerful and technologically advanced than the mainframe computers used for the Apollo space program and yet, we are not smarter for it. In fact, I believe that we are dumbing down so rapidly that IQ no longer stands for Intelligence Quotient but rather for Ignorance Quotient.

We are overwhelmed by information, most of which is trite opinion based on little more than bias and partisanship. Much of it is simply factually wrong. Instead of learning from the knowledge-base available to us, we substitute information that supports our bias and prejudices. Instead of using the communications technology to connect with each other, we use it to attack anyone and everyone who doesn’t agree with us.

Nothing is sacred anymore.

When Margaret Thatcher in England and later Jack Layton and Jim Flaherty in Canada died, almost immediately the trolls and the sanctimonious started tweeting and posting vicious, disgusting messages celebrating their death. When the trolls were called on it, others came to the defense of their right to freedom of speech as if the promotion of hatred and the infliction of pain on others have some moral right to be protected.

That’s as absurd as stating that simply because you have the right to own a gun you also have the right to shoot anyone you want with it.

A young man is accused of hacking his lover to death and mailing parts of the body to various organizations in Canada and web sites spring up supporting and idolizing him as if he is the Justin Beiber of homicide.

Our teenagers are bullied and have become bullies, many too experienced with death and violence.

It is a time of willful ignorance a time when nothing matters but our own individual opinions and egos and the first casualties have been truth, decency, respect and most particularly – common sense.

Everything is now judged negatively and without consistent moral base or principle

Everything is now judged negatively and without consistent moral base or principle

Pick a newspaper opinion commentary– any newspaper – and invariably the zealots appear dropping illiterate comments with misspelled words and bad grammar as they point out how stupid is the opinion of the author.

Even our language is under assault as those who try to defend literacy are now labeled Grammar Nazis by those who are not only too lazy to learn how to use their own language properly but who actually revel in their illiterate idiocy.

“Defend free speech” is the battle cry of those who do everything they can to shout down the free speech of any with whom they disagree. Our university campuses have more in common with Klan rallies than they do with bastions of the free and civilized exchange of ideas and opinions.

Everything is black or white. There is no nuance; no understanding of the complexity of most major issues and debate has become so simplistically partisan that the real threats to our rights and our democracies are ignored.

We have the knowledge, the technology and the resources to adapt to climate change but waste our time arguing over who or what is responsible for it as if afixing blame will be our salvation. We have enough food to feed the world but 1/3 of the world is starving. We can eradicate poverty but prefer to blame the poor for their circumstance or the wealthy or government or each other.Shakespeare was right,  “What fools we mortals be”.

We cackle like chickens and crow like roosters and accomplish almost nothing.

It is mindless, partisan acrimony that fails to see in those we support what we condemn in those we oppose. It is the self-righteous judgment of others without any application of a consistent set of values or morality.

“When men yield up the privilege of thinking, the last shadow of liberty quits the horizon. Thomas Paine

We have access to unbelievably powerful technology that can connect us, advance us and give us access to all of the collective knowledge in the world but we squander it; using it mostly for mindless entertainment or to hurl insults at each other while attempting to prove how superior our opinion is to another’s.

We follow whatever is trending like sheep bleating in a field. We engage in the morality of the mob rather than independent thought. We attack, we criticize, we condemn and accuse.

What is the objective?

Are we really so stupid now that we actually believe that telling someone with whom we disagree that they are and idiot for what they believe, a ‘liberal Looney’or a ‘con fascist’ will somehow make them accept our point of view? Have we become so completely bereft of logic that we believe that everything that is wrong with the world is the fault of whoever it is we don’t support?

The same people who condemn one politician for admitting he smoked a joint, make excuses for another who lied about binge drinking and smoking both marijuana and crack. The same people who criticize a politician for stopping to pose for a ‘selfie’ before attending a funeral at the request of a fan ignores the same act by another politician attending the same funeral.

The partisanship has evolved into nothing less than hypocrisy that taints our news and pretty much all other sources of information.

It is not only adolescent, it is self-indulgent arrogance based on a need to reassure our own insecurities about what we believe by demeaning the people with whom we disagree. When you have to resort to personal attacks to defend your ideas, you’ve already proven you have no confidence in them or in yourself. It is unnecessarily divisive, polarizing and reduces our fellow citizens down to ill-informed stereotypes which becomes the fertile breeding ground of racism, intolerance and ultimately, of tyranny.

We no longer have opponents. We have made our fellow citizens with different views into our enemies.

It is the single greatest impediment to resolving most of the challenges we face – challenges that affect us all. It is the single greatest threat to our future and that of our children and their children.

A Facebook friend posted a message she saw on Twitter from one bright light who tweeted that people should stop picking Justin Beiber because he is the Messiah. Can it get much more absurd?

Probably, unfortunately.

“Life is an echo – what you send out comes back. What you sow you reap. What you give you get. What you see in others is in you” –Zig Ziegler

During the Age of Reason, what was sent out echoed through the centuries and formed the foundation of our modern societies. It caused others to think and our democratic constitutions and rights were based on the ideas that came from the great thinkers of that era.

We now live in the Age of Ignorance; a period where there are no ideas, just reactions. Our societies are dumbing down and as a result are crumbling almost as rapidly as much of the infrastructure our elected governments have failed to properly maintain. We are not observers – we are willing participants, feeding the decay of our own societies.

We are becoming people who stand for nothing except what is trending or what a celebrity or the mob tells us. Morality, respect and decency are eroding and they, my friends, are the very things that caused us to rise above barbarity in the first place.

The barbarians are at the gates now but unlike centuries ago when they were outside trying to breakdown the gates to get in; today the barbarians are inside the gates because they are us.

In the end, it doesn’t matter. The final result will be the same. It is us, the barbarians at the gates who are the authors of our own misfortune.

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© 2014 Maggie’s Bear

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Twitter: @maggsbear – Facebook: Maggie’s Bear – ivmaki@sympatico.ca

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