The Age of Unenlightenment
By Charlotte B. Cerminaro
As the famous 19th century novel opens, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." It is about two different cities during the same period in history, one peaceful and one in the throes of revolution. For the people living in freedom it was an ideal time; for those living in anarchy, it was not. The separation in perspective was geographical, not ideological.
The same cannot be said for most of humanity now, in this second decade of the twenty-first century. We are surrounded, everywhere, by information, perhaps more than any other time in our history. However, in all this information there are very few facts, very little truth. What truth can be found is often buried in so much detritus, the rantings, ravings and musings of a society preoccupied with personal feelings and emotions rather than reality and reason. The light of reason and the objective testing of information do not predominate in the behavior of the majority. Worse still is the recently acquired inability to follow the evidence, wherever it might lead, especially if it threatens to shake someone out of their belief system or comfort zone. Based on first-hand experience and years of observation, it is very nearly impossible to convince someone of the truth in a given situation once they have their mind made up, even if you have incontrovertible proof. As it has been stated many times, it's not that the truth is so difficult to see that we make mistakes. We make mistakes because we tend to look for truth where it accords with our own selfish emotions.
This is the situation we find ourselves in today. Soft science, riding in on the coat-tails of hard science, has hijacked our worldview, our perception of reality, and our very thought processes (or lack thereof). Soft science is characterized by unproven theories, untested hypotheses and a belief system resembling the most dogmatic religions. The adherents of soft science are trapped in willful ignorance---they have locked themselves in a virtual mind-prison and swallowed the only key. They are not held to the same standards of proof and objectivity that hard science and technology are. If they even know what the "scientific method" is, they certainly do not practice it.
To be able to fully grasp how severely unbalanced and nearly- extinct critical thinking has become in the last few decades it is necessary to define certain terms and put boundaries on undisciplined ideas. There is a vast chasm between information and facts, between facts and knowledge, between knowledge and wisdom. When we have so much information without solid, proven facts, we have nothing. When we have facts without any knowledge, legalism and tyranny overwhelm us. When there is knowledge without wisdom, catastrophic arrogance and destruction follow.
For a large percentage of the population, a sort of hypnosis has settled in and replaced objectivity with sentiment, reality with rhetoric, and positive action with instant gratification. The recent brainwashing of western civilization has been so thorough and effective that most people now are afraid of sticking out in any way. Taking a stand against something immoral, taking a personal risk, especially if it involves temporary discomfort or uncertainty, is unthinkable. People are not afraid to shout their opinions as long as they are in a crowd, part of the majority. But this usually changes when someone finds out they are in a small minority, especially if they are challenging the irrational thinking of the majority.
How, then, are we to debate such important things? How are we to come to any kind of consensus about what is right and wrong, good or bad, reasonable or unreasonable? The necessity of bridging these chasms is clearly paramount. To be able to engage in meaningful, rational debate and take positive action, we must all be standing on level ground and have firm footing. While it is true that human beings are frequently influenced by emotions and circumstances, we must not be blinded by them. By allowing our thinking to become outweighed and saturated by these feelings we risk losing touch with other people, ideas, and a somewhat objective sense of reality. This is the point at which all common ground is lost, including all possibility of reasoning with others.
We have all witnessed, very recently, the disastrous results when entire nations go down the path of irrational thought and behavior. Polluted by overwhelming hatred, jealousy and greed, their brainwashed minds are unwilling to distinguish fact from fantasy, completely divorcing their perceived enemies from the human race, and in turn, divorcing themselves from reality. We have also witnessed many astonishing and inspiring people who have broken away from these centers of mass brainwashing, sometimes fleeing country and family just to have a chance at freedom.
The central problem still remains, that there are many people for whom no amount of evidence will suffice. If our civilization is to survive, then, we cannot just stand around and curse the darkness. We must first light our lanterns so that our own path is not in darkness. And as the scriptures remind us, no one gets a lantern to put under a bed, but instead sets it up on a lampstand, giving light to anyone wanting it. Success is not assured, yet we still must strive---because it is the right thing to do.
Charlotte B. Cerminaro is a Juilliard-trained classical musician who, in addition to being a studio and orchestral musician, enjoys writing. © 2016