Monday, March 21, 2011

People Unclear On The Concept

In this age of information access and the free exchange of knowledge, it is amazing how so many of us decide to fall back on ignorance and inaccuracy to state our case. The backlash against reason, the constant rhetoric that decries “elitism,” the gutting of programs that would increase access to knowledge for millions of Americans, is staggering. The country we live in now is hardly recognizable as the nation that sent men to the Moon; in fact, a depressingly high number of Americans believe we didn't actually go to the Moon, that it was simply a government ploy. And this willful ignorance is not limited to areas of science and industry, but even religion, where the profusion of Christian sects that do not practice adherence to the words of Jesus and The Holy Roman Bible is confounding and confusing.

It is as if we live in a modern age wrapped in a dark age, a kind of yin-and-yang society, where intelligence and ignorance are attempting to coexist, but none too successfully. Intelligence tries to enlighten; ignorance tries to proselytize. Intelligence makes aware of real dangers; ignorance makes us fear phantoms and shadows. Intelligence seeks broad consensus; ignorance works to enforce its rules and ideals on others. Intelligence seeks to strip us of our burdens; ignorance seeks to make out yoke heavier and chains more sturdy. The problem is: the two disparate sides of the same coin have trapped us in the middle. The average American can be too easily swayed, and both sides seek to buttonhole us, forcing us to choose which shall rein supreme.

Intelligence is the engine that brought us to this point in our existence, freed us from a daily fight for survival against the natural hazards that threatened us: predators, starvation, disease, etc. It created the idea of a “quality of life,” which would remain poor if we were still trapped on the plains, hunting with flint-tipped spears, at the mercy of drought and storm. Our intellect allows us to ponder our world, attempt to solve problems, and modify it to suit our needs. It can also be a source of great hubris, because we think that intellect can cure all ills, even as the solutions it comes up with bring about repercussions it could not foresee, generating newer and more intractable problems.

Ignorance can always crow about the sins of intelligence – and its consort, science – but has never come up with a sound plan of its own for dispensing with human misery and the plight of humankind. Instead, it seeks to hold on to dogmas and discredited ideas from the past, trying to apply some alchemical admixture to them to make them more palatable to a modern audience. And, sadly, it meets with some success, deploying its rough crew – fear, indecision, classicism, bigotry – to put a strong, shabby arm around humanity and whisper in its ear of all the things that would be better if things “went back to the way they were in the 'Good Ole Days'!”, even as it picks humanity's pockets to feed its own insatiable greed.

They stand before us: charlatans, “snake oil” salesmen, pirates, hypocrites, prevaricators. They look us in the eye, plead with us to “trust them,” then proceed to hand away the freedoms we hold so dear, and when confronted, merely shift the blame. The minions of ignorance are slippery, elusive, and seductive. They speak to the inner fears of many, teasing them to arise, as a charmer pipes a snake from its basket. Gullible, willing, fear-swathed humans flock to ignorance, enticed by promises and dazzled by baubles that have no intrinsic value.

Intelligence has nothing to give but truth, and truth is often a hard meal to swallow, sometimes bitter, sometimes laced with ashes. Truth, for all its lack of raw appeal, is the precursor to the sweetest of fruits – peace and serenity. Acceptance of the truth can liberate the soul and the mind, allow one to enjoy life for what it is, and see what needs to be done to bring about such for all humanity. Truth touches us and binds us, heart to heart; it can make us put aside petty differences and artificial boundaries and wrap ourselves in the warm embrace of fellowship, trust, and understanding.

These forces are constantly at war with each other, and each seems to gain a hand on some regular cycle. That one does not dominate is probably so that we never rest upon our laurels as a species. We have anointed ourselves the highest of the animal kingdom, even though we can be felled by the tiniest. It remains to be seen if we shall make it much past our evolution as thinking beings, if we do not use the gift of coherent and rational thought as it is intended – to take us to the next level of our existence. The tug-of-war between intelligence and ignorance is not a balancing act, but a struggle whose ultimate outcome determines our fate, see-saw though it will. One day, one or the other shall finally best its foe, and we will be condemned to obsolescence and extinction, or lifted up to take our rightful place amongst the stars.

It seems clear that intelligence is the way to go, but perhaps we are not yet ready to make that leap. Perhaps, as the forces of the universe intend, we are still simmering, still stewing, becoming stronger with each passing generation. Indeed, this fight between both forces may be the crucible which forges us into something unbreakable, or causes us to shatter into a thousand pieces. No matter where we stand now, there is still work to do; in the meantime, we must soldier on, and the forces of intelligence must continue their impassioned assault on ignorance, if we are to drive it back into the night.

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