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Dark Ages Redux: American Politics and the End of the Enlightenment

Society & Culture  (tags: americans, culture, dishonesty, education, family, freedoms, government, politics, religion, rights, society, violence, women )

- 2164 days ago -
We are witnessing an epochal shift in our socio-political world. We are de-evolving, hurtling headlong into a past that was defined by serfs and lords; by necromancy and superstition; by policies based on fiat, not facts.

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Kit B (276)
Wednesday June 20, 2012, 7:25 pm

We are witnessing an epochal shift in our socio-political world. We are de-evolving, hurtling headlong into a past that was defined by serfs and lords; by necromancy and superstition; by policies based on fiat, not facts.
Much of what has made the modern world in general, and the United States in particular, a free and prosperous society comes directly from insights that arose during the Enlightenment.

Too bad we’re chucking it all out and returning to the Dark Ages.


Two main things distinguished the post Enlightenment world from the pre Enlightenment Dark Ages.

First, Francis Bacon’s Novo Organum Scientiarum (The New Instrument of Science) introduced a new way of understanding the world, in which empiricism, facts and … well … reality … defined what was real. It essentially outlined the scientific method: observation and data collection, formulation of hypotheses, experiments designed to test hypotheses and elevation of these hypotheses to theories when data consistently supported them. It was and is a system based on skepticism, and a relentless and methodical search for truth.

It brought us advances and untold wealth and health. From one-horse carts to automobiles to airplanes. From leaches and phrenology to penicillin and monoclonal antibodies.

Until recently.

Now, we seek to operate by revealed truths, not reality. Decrees from on high – often issued by an unholy alliance of religious fundamentalists, self-interested corporations, and greedy fat cats – are offered up as reality by rightwing politicians.

For example, North Carolina law-makers recently passed legislation against sea level rise. A day later, the Virginia legislature required that references to global warming, climate change and sea level rise be excised from a proposed study on sea level rise. Last year, the Texas Department of Environmental Quality, which had commissioned a study on Galveston Bay, cut all references to sea level rise – the main point of the study.

We are, indeed, at an epochal threshold.

As Stephen Colbert so aptly put it: if your science gives you results you don't like, pass a law saying that the result is illegal. Problem solved.

Except it isn’t. Wishing reality away, doesn’t make it go away. Pretending that the unreal is real doesn’t make it real.

And the descent into the Dark Ages is marked by more than global warming. Take austerity budgets. There is an extensive historical record showing that implementing austerity measures in an economic slowdown is counter productive. And this data is backed up by current experience in Europe, where austerity measures have been disastrous.

So the data is telling us austerity during a jobs crisis hasn’t worked in the past and isn’t working now. What to do?

Pass an austerity budget, of course.

Welcome to the Dark Ages.

The litany of ignorance goes on and on. Teach Creationism. Teach the “controversy” on climate science and intelligent design. Declare deregulation – which was a primary cause of the 2008 economic collapse – to be the solution to it. Preach trickle down economics, even after it has failed every time it’s been adopted; even as we watch wealth rocket up the income brackets.

What’s next? Give the flat-earthers a say. Oh hell, why stop there. Let’s put Earth back in the center of the solar system where it belongs.

We don’t need no stinkin’ science. We don’t need no pesky reality. We just gotta pass a few laws and declare things to be the way we want them to be, facts be damned. You know, keep your government hands off my Medicare.

Second, the Enlightenment laid the groundwork for our form of government. The Social Contract is the intellectual basis of all modern democratic republics, including ours. John Locke and others argued that governments derived their authority from the governed, not from divine right. Governments could be legitimate, then, only with the consent of the governed.

Jefferson acknowledged Locke’s influence on the Declaration of Independence and his ideas are evident in the Constitution.

Here again, our founders used reason, empiricism and academic scholarship to cobble together one of the most enduring and influential documents in human history. For all its flaws, it has steered us steadily toward a more perfect union.

Until recently.

Now, reason, empiricism and scholarship are the punch line to right wing jokes and jihads. Santorum captured the Tea Party’s hostility to these Enlightenment virtues when he likened a college education to an indoctrination. Thankfully, Santorum is gone, but the embrace of ignorance he advocated lives on.

And so corporations are now accorded the rights of citizenship. Power, once again, is meted out by birthright, not inalienable right. By possession of wealth, not by justice or equity or merit.

So what?

Well, the US now has the same income inequality as Cameroon, Uganda and Rwanda, and we’re trapped in this pathetic state – income mobility in the US lags behind most other developed nations.

In short, Horatio Alger is dead, long live Exxon.

We are, indeed, at an epochal threshold. We can continue to discard the Enlightenment values which enabled both an untold increase in material wealth and a system of government which turned serfs into citizens. A system which – for all its flaws – often managed to protect the rights of the many, against the predatory power of the few.

Or we can continue our abject surrender to myths, magical thinking, and self-delusion and the Medieval nation-state those forces are resurrecting.

Republicans and Tea Partiers may be leading this retreat from reason, but they are unopposed by Democrats or the Press.

And in the end, there is a special place in Hell for those who allow evil to prosper by doing nothing.

by John Atcheson | Post Carbon Institution | Engery Bulletin |

Kit B (276)
Wednesday June 20, 2012, 7:28 pm

I want to thank Pam who shared this article with me. I also want to thank John Atcheson for a brilliant piece of writing.

Roseann d (178)
Wednesday June 20, 2012, 8:41 pm
Great article Kit. Thanks for posting it.

Roseann d (178)
Wednesday June 20, 2012, 8:51 pm
And pretty chilling too.Mad, mad and scary times we live in.

pam w (139)
Wednesday June 20, 2012, 9:42 pm
More truth in this than ANYONE will welcome....but, truth it is!

Kit B (276)
Friday June 22, 2012, 7:22 am

We are easily controlled by those who proclaim to know what we do not. Should an individual feel uncertain about science and a church leader along with a political leader make absolute statements that science (as in global warming) is just fiction, then the ill informed will follow along.

We need a new image for those who follows other so easily. I worked on a ranch during the summers in my teen years, and sheep can be a stubborn, nearly immovable group. Americans want to fit in, be a part of a group. The group that gets the most attention is the Teabaggers, so people follow along, most have no real thought about future destruction to the United States from this far right wing agenda, they simply follow the leader. Cattle will do not, sheep not so much.

John Atcheson is not proposing that people must be a democrat to resolve these pressing issues, only that people must realize the emptiness that is in not thinking. By allowing others to lead one to a foolish and dangerous way of thinking, or just accepting, we are shorting ourselves and the possibilities for a stronger healthier future.

North Carolina and Virginia have laws now that do not permit the use of terms that accurately explain rise in ocean levels, reasons for air pollution, or why the climate is behaving in erratic patterns. So back to dark ages it is, for those who will not see the actual reality.

If the US is considered by some to be an Empire, is it not the duty of an Empire to protect, feed and care for all under it's control? Instead, we are leading those who follow us to economic collapse, long term hardship, devastating internal strife, some empire we have.

Kit B (276)
Friday June 22, 2012, 7:24 am

**editing error - Cattle will do that, sheep not as much.

Arielle S (313)
Friday June 22, 2012, 8:09 am
And the first to suffer are always the women and the animals - then the environment - how long before we start burning books? But I agree with Charles - if we can't change the entire world, we can make our little corner of it as good as it can be. The best way to teach is by example...

Terrie Williams (798)
Friday June 22, 2012, 11:32 am
I can't give you stars, charles but you deserve a basket full. You too, Kit.

I've been bangingthe gong about the coming Dark Ages for some tme now. It's good to read that others see it too. Now, what do we do to insulate our Enlightened Few against the Lemming Many....

This is how I fight it every day.... One act of defiance at a the grocery store, in the department store, in the corner quick shop, at the gas station, in the neighborhood, at the electric corporation, at the water contro board, in city hall, etc etc......I bow to no one and I look my enemy in the eye. Funny how cowards cannot strike one when they are confronted head on. Conserve on your resource, store up your home grown produce, buy in bulk when possible, conserve on energy, on gasoline, on clothing etc etc....anywhere you can, any way you can and create a haven in your own home. Buy books, read, remember. One day all the information we take for granted will no longer be accessable to the common people. Become a living computer, for one day it is to us many will come to learn, to be educated, to undersand or to pass down ways of doing things that will be long forgotten by many. This is all I, as one person, can do.

I also think we need to start bartering and trading again instead of using illusional money. We won't have any anyway so we best do something about it now.

Craig Pittman (52)
Friday June 22, 2012, 11:46 am
Reality will, I think, only sink in when the effects of what we have done to the environment start costing more than the profits made from exploiting the environment. Once again it comes down to money.
While I do still advocate for sustainability and continue to sign petitions I am also doing as Arielle and Charles are; namely, living simply and happily.

Thomas H (37)
Friday June 22, 2012, 12:01 pm
A very well written article. Articulate in fact! Definitely in the Corporate States of Teabaggery, we are suffering this disease already, and as Charles O points out, have been for quite some time. That's why it's crazy-making to speak logically and reasonable with those who are incapable of returning the favor. I thought it astonishing in 1997 when I took a master's level course in secondary science education that a fellow student (10 years my junior) was contesting bona fide data, complaining that the data did not match what the Bible taught. ( !!!!!!! ) The name of the course was "Scientific Literacy". And here I am 15 years later and she might as well be the Oracle of the Right. Jeez but these people are dumb. And they ASPIRE to be dumb! sigh

Contain and maintain...progress, that is.

Phil R (29)
Friday June 22, 2012, 12:08 pm
If you want to stop the regression of progress in America, you have the tool to do that. Its called a "vote". The turnout for Presidential elections here is just over 50%. The turnout for Congressional elections ("midterm" elections) is just over 30%. Is it any wonder that a large minority of special interests can hijack the system when most Americans don't even vote?

The other thing we can do is to encourage education. Many young people have been raised in an atmosphere of anti-intellectualism. Education is often focused on obtaining knowledge that will lead to employment. But people also have to have some understanding of science and how nature works. You can't make rational, informed decisions in the 21st century if you lack a basic understanding of science.

.....and one more thing. There is a common urban legend going around that it doesn't matter if you vote because, "they all serve the same masters". This is a line of misinformation meant to discourage people from casting their votes. If it didn't matter who won, the two major parties wouldn't spend hundreds of millions of dollars competing for your vote. It does matter who wins. If you want a Progressive and responsible government you have to vote those types of people into office. They ARE out there....Bernie Sanders, Maurice Hinchey, Byron Dorgan, and others, are champions of the common man and common sense. VOTE! Tell your friends to vote! Then support the people you put into office by backing them up when they do the right thing.

Henrik Thorsen (31)
Friday June 22, 2012, 1:12 pm
Thanks for posting this. But what a depressing story it is ...

Yvonne White (229)
Friday June 22, 2012, 2:06 pm
I hope they know that this time the Witchs will fight back! ;)

Gloria picchetti (304)
Friday June 22, 2012, 4:05 pm
Very well written but our country has become so dumb very few can understand it.

Ken W. Simpson (0)
Friday June 22, 2012, 9:22 pm
Democracy died years ago with Thatcher, Reagan, Bush and Blair - and along came the big bad wolf - the dirty digger - Rupert Murdoch.

Susan E (7)
Saturday June 23, 2012, 5:48 am
Thank you for posting this. In my humble opinion, life is really okay for most people and they do not feel the need to vote, because they honestly believe (as my mother did) that "none of that really matters to me, personally". The idea that one vote doesn't really count for anything is certainly perpetuated by the Electoral College system. If you are a liberal in a conservative state, it really does seem that your vote does not count.
We have to find a way to enlighten and educate our citizenry that it DOES matter. Each and every citizen should feel compelled to learn about issues, learn about the candidates, and to vote.
Sadly, so much misinformation and lack of information really muddy the waters.

JL A (281)
Saturday June 23, 2012, 7:28 am
Those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat it...and NCLB devalued history compared to math, science and English...

Sandra M Z (114)
Saturday June 23, 2012, 8:25 am
North Carolina and Virgina may find that their laws are "all wet", after all....!

Start with joy: Deepen your inner happiness, find your infinity, share it, create a conflagration that is bigger than the Pentagon, bigger than Goldman Sachs. Make your joy too big to fail.

Thankfully, there are so many people waking up, it can be turned around!

Noted, thank you Kit.

Phil R (29)
Saturday June 23, 2012, 9:20 am
I said "most people don't vote". That was incorrect. I meant that too many people don't vote. :) I agree that the Electoral College is obsolete and should be done away with. It does tend to give people the feeling that each vote isn't really important.

Kit B (276)
Saturday June 23, 2012, 9:44 am

I guess I missed the obituary that democracy was dead. I know that many do not vote, far too many believe their vote has no meaning. Every vote has meaning just as each voice has meaning. If Americans are united on one idea it is that of freedom of speech. Your vote is an integral part of your freedom to speak, make the choice to not vote and you are surrendering a vital element of your freedom to speak.

I agree that the Electoral College, in this day of rapid communications, no longer serves a purpose.

I disagree that people are too dumb to read and comprehend this article, they may not like the substance or the author's take on our current situation, but they can read it and understand.

Kit B (276)
Saturday June 23, 2012, 12:12 pm

@ J.L.A - Those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat it...and NCLB devalued history compared to math, science and English...

We repeat history anyway, the same situation never appears the same twice, and we stumble into the same things over and over. History for most schools is combined into a grouping of history, geography, government or civics, all wrapped in a bundle called Social Science. The consequences being that students don't learn any of those topics.

Terry King (113)
Saturday June 23, 2012, 3:32 pm
We need to view this era of corporatistic oligarchy as our collective "Black Plague and begin a new Renascence of enlightened progressive Democracy!

M B (62)
Saturday June 23, 2012, 4:29 pm
What's it gonna be ? Decide with your vote. BE the change.

Kit B (276)
Saturday June 23, 2012, 5:21 pm

Terry said: "We need to view this era of corporatist oligarchy as our collective "Black Plague and begin a new Renascence of enlightened progressive Democracy!"

Right there with ya! I just wonder who will stand up and begin the move to an new Age of Enlightenment?

Ken S. (3)
Saturday June 23, 2012, 6:00 pm
Absolutely Kit. A wonderful article. Another problem is the Supreme Court. 'Beginning in the 1890s, the Supreme Court struck down an entire docket of Progressive legislation, including child-labor laws, unionization laws, minimum wage laws, and the progressive income tax.' And finally . . . 'That, in the end, is the traffic to worry about. If not the legislators, but judges serve at the pleasure of lobbyists, the people will have ceased to be their own rulers. Laws will be commerce. And money will be king.' (Jeff Lepore, BENCHED, The New Yoker, June 18, 2012)
The only way back is through people power, which undoubtedy will be attacked viciously, by the political and evangelistic right - as card-carrying communism, or Godless socialism. We've seen it all before and we'll see it again - before the death of neo-liberalism.

Kit B (276)
Saturday June 23, 2012, 6:41 pm

Neoliberalism, that's a new term for me but hey, why not? What ever works to shake the foundations of this eroded, failing system we have.

Ken S. (3)
Saturday June 23, 2012, 7:03 pm
I imagine it means much the same as globalisation Kit, what is laughably called 'free' trade -or the Ayn Rand theory of economic rationalsm - survival of the fittest - the meek shall NOT inherit the earth but, with the weak, the homeless, the hungry, the insane, the oppressed, the old,and the sick, shall pass away, and the rich and powerful shall prevail (inherit the earth - or what's left of it). It's a creed evangelistic (Christians) and the Tea Party promote enthusiastically.
This is why we are lumbered with unprincipled governments (state and federal) today. Democracy died yesterday.

Kerrie G (116)
Sunday June 24, 2012, 3:27 am
Noted, thanks.

Patricia N (9)
Sunday June 24, 2012, 10:09 pm
Thanks Kit. The article put into words what I've been thinking. And one must vote. I live in a conservative area also but I always vote and keep hoping the liberal votes will go up and the area will change someday.
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