The Enlightenment was a thought-movement, named by itself self-flatteringly. Here’s the beginning of the entry on Wikipedia, which is itself a website based on the idea of Enlightenment in the hands of the educated few, though it purports to be populist: entries written by anyone, then edited to suit the assumptions of a few white male elitists.
The Enlightenment (also known as the Age of Enlightenment or the Age of Reason; was an intellectual movement which dominated the world of ideas in Europe in the 18th century. The Enlightenment included a range of ideas centered on reason as the primary source of authority and legitimacy, and came to advance ideals like liberty, progress, tolerance, fraternity, constitutional government, and separation of church and state.
No need to worry about religion anymore. Now we’re busy abandoning tolerance and constitutional government, labeling them “politically correct” but not expeditious when we’re trying to get things done.
The Enlightenment dates depends on whose light you’re using, but the longest period begins in 1620, which is also considered the beginning of the scientific “revolution” and roughly the beginning of industrialism. This was also the beginning of modern democracy, at least soon thereafter.
There are two realizations just beginning now: One is that these concurrent revolutions are based on streams of thought developed linearly in Europe and carried elsewhere mostly through colonialism. They have made “rationality” the definition of virtue, even if it is “rational” to destroy whole groups of people as trouble-makers: you know, dark folks, disobedient people, women and journalists. From this point of view, they’re all essentially terrorists, or potentially anyway.
The other is that when science began to see ever more deeply into the world and how it works, the more logic began to fall away as a useful tool. It was still valuable to designing experiments and conceiving of the big picture, but its usefulness in framing a Big Picture and the human place in it was much diminished. Mysticism, poetry, the long history of Western humanism, came back as ways of managing consciousness. Science is far more than logic now.
It became clear that industrialism, with its authority and legitimacy, was destroying the world and ourselves: children with lead poisoning, seas with plastic entanglements and bleaching coral, lost ice as habitat for polar bears, and the return of authoritarians, this time not bothering with nations unless they need borders to fence or major ceremonies on occasions, maybe an election to keep the voters thinking they’re in charge, even when the majority of voters don’t vote.
This is cynical. But there is evidence. Many people have come to believe that “rationality” is the same thing as reality and that facts can’t be contradicted, but now along comes the idea of “alternative facts” which seems to be a variation on statistics/skewed statistics/outright lies.
Then another reality arrives: the same data-gathering that was so revelatory about porn users and which brand of toothpaste people will buy, turns out to be an incredible tool for winning elections, esp. if it is preceded by gerrymandering people into preference boxes. This is the way to kill democracy: get people grouped, discourage some from voting, offer incentives to those you like — usually the rich.
This is advertising, or as one Trump advisor says: “I always wonder why people in politics act like this stuff is so mystical,” Parscale says. “It’s the same shit we use in commercial, just has fancier names.” High school rules: cliques and teams, what’s in and what’s out, clothing as allegiance. Fads, hoaxes, slander, bullying, racial stereotypes — it’s all there. A return to the medieval. Walls. Winter is coming.
I haven’t used Facebook since they deleted a year’s work of our poetry and image. Like Trump, I use Twitter, but mostly as an index to Blogger, which is long-form writing which no one has time to read. My family, my denomination, my environmental groups, all go to Facebook. Now and then I point out to them what they are doing — I was enough into law enforcement to know that one’s name, birthdate, location, phone number are as good as a fingerprint. Your diseases, credit records, legal relationships, past contracts, tax returns and so on are all accessible unless you’re Trump and know how to hide them.
Even so, with enough motivation, they’ll eventually be hacked out for public view. We’re finding out laws can be re-arranged and re-instated— so now even the lawyers are disabled, except for sorting out the unforeseen consequences. What one needs is a clever publicist because fame is as good as wisdom, as movie stars and musicians have discovered. Of course, if one ends up on the wrong side of the popular politics, that’s the end of any praise for your work. Suddenly you’re overrated. Fired.
What to do? I no longer think that rallies, marches, and long committee sessions arguing about procedure do any good at all. Stories help, if you can get them out there. Images are great — I’m thinking of cartoons. But I’m also having a sort of personal tea-party — getting rid of things, throwing them overboard, leaving them beside the Oregon Trail to let the oxen pull a little more easily. I may have to start walking, carrying what I can and hoping for a refugee camp.
I took a box of books about how to teach English in high school over to the local school. I have another box to go up to the Blackfeet Community College when the weather is better. I may simply tear down the old building in my backyard. My UU archives have been sent to the respective congregations. I’ve managed to discourage most of my email correspondents. And this blog may be ended, once I’ve mined it for specialized subjects.
Suddenly invisibility has a lot of appeal. Neither enlightenment nor endarkenment. Isn’t transparency supposed to be what is desirable? We feel entitled to know everything, but then we can’t handle the truth. We want to know which politicians are ripping us off and destroying our prosperity, but when it’s perfectly obvious who they are, we vote for them.