By David P Shirk
As I sat one night – dumbfounded at the state of humanity in today’s world, a friend of mine sent me quote. It read as follows: “That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that History has to teach.” Though I know little about the one who wrote these words (just that he was an English author named Aldous Huxley), things suddenly seemed to make a lot more sense.
The depressing thing about reading history is that you start seeing different trends and patterns followed over and over again in any given society. While they all have a certain amount of unique qualities, they all fall into the same cycle – they are born through rebellion or expansion, they grown and they prosper, they reach a point where they can no longer be sustained, and then collapse. I know this observation is hardly a unique one, yet once the pattern is studied often enough through various events and periods in time, it is depressing nonetheless. After all, how fun is it to live a life where long term success is set up for future generations when you know that at one point it will no longer matter anyway?
Societies answer is to live for the moment, and don’t bother planning to far out. Ironically, this is the mindset that only serves to quicken the process. Yet during any ‘Age of Enlightenment’, a rare thing happens. Society remains as it always does, but takes the time ask the question ‘but what if’?
Such periods in history are those that shaped the foundation of America’s cry for freedom when the Bill of Rights was written. The previous pattern displayed by society was held to long, and to tightly to be allowed to remain in place. People rose up for a brief moment in time to throw aside conventional wisdom, and set forth to find something more meaningful. When Thomas Paine wrote common sense, and it was highly circulated and read. It showed that people were looking for something more meaningful then the life they currently led. Brilliant in its simplicity yet deep in meaning, it gave the ‘common man’ a chance to explore a line of thought that was otherwise buried in volumes of more exclusive works.
So Huxley was only partially right as a general rule goes. Though periods of enlightenment are rare in history, it does show that there are times where man does learn, and does pursue something more meaningful. When our nation was at its peak as far as freedom, individual liberties, and its ability to provide people with the ability to succeed on their own merit, it was simultaneously peaking out in terms of enlightenment. In no other time in all of US history have we ever had such an opportunity to fulfill the dream of liberty.
What we need right now is more than a revolution. We need enlightenment.
This is no easy task either. With a TV tuned attention span shortage, and an educational system that teaches children all they ‘need to know’, it is of small wonder why the outcome is always the same. With politicians who are either ignorant or deliberately deceive, and a mass of people voting based on this ignorance and deceit, is it a small wonder why our country continues in its own downfall? With a people who trust that such politics is the answer to the nation’s ills, and who feel no obligation to fully examine an issue before voting in favor, is it any wonder why we have a nation that revolves around political decision?
I turned on the local congressional hearing the other day to see what is in store for good old PA, and how they will interpret the new Healthcare Bill etc. It was more of session of ‘they said it so it must be good’. Each numbskull sat there and defended the Bill saying that it was a cheaper and more efficient solution to the cost of healthcare. From CBO to independent reports they would prattle off the same list with not an original thought of their own. They never once read from the reports, much less debated their content. If any citizen of PA was watching who never read the reports or the legislation itself, then they probably walked away feeling that their future health was in good hands.
This is what we traded our freedom for. A people who do not value freedom cannot be enlightened. The dependency on a system to preserve their way of life no matter how flawed is held in higher esteem then the want to put your fate in your own hands. Our country was founded on the idea that the enlightenment could continue and prosper. We have instead shrunk back at the unknown and continued to follow the path to a more familiar way of thinking – which just happened to be the ideals behind an empire.
We often hear the phrase ‘Freedom Isn’t Free’, more often than not in reference to the armed services daily sacrifices. Yet that same slogan is unfortunately an embodiment of our entire society. No matter how subpar a service might be that is funded by our taxes, we have grown so unenlightened that we refuse to admit that it can never work in favor of freedom. An enlightened mind is open to new lines of thought – or even those that dare to go outside the accepted conventional wisdom of the times. Enlightened minds take the time to learn what works and what doesn’t. Enlightened minds refuse to accept the idea that just because one politician might be the less of the two evils, that they should vote them into office. Therefore an enlightened mind will never accept the short version as the real answer. To do so would require that they surrender their thought process over to conventional wisdom which is nothing more than a form of voluntary servitude.
A stumbling block to any enlightened mind is assumption. Chances are that if you have to assume something about any given topic, then its best to not mess with it. Each election cycle people continue to vote themselves into a tighter squeeze because they simply assume that they know what is best and need to act upon it.
An equal stumbling block is putting trust in the wrong source. Unfortunately this is not easy to do, especially with so many people out there writing books and speeches using only a splinter of fact followed by a tree of assumptions. As long as they sound smart and speak well, there will always be a following of people who accept their blabbering as absolute fact.
The thing about enlightenment is that you cannot force it. This makes it much harder to accomplish then any form of government we know today. Government is accepted as a necessary evil by conventional wisdom because it is easier to do what you’re told as long as it is not perceived as being harmful. It spreads and infests every aspect of our lives not because it helps, but because that is its nature. Unfortunately it ends up developing into a drug like dependency in the way that it is habit forming usually to the user’s detriment. Our founders sought to help stem this problem by having a very small government that held little responsibility. Those like Jefferson thought that this would provide a means to personal enlightenment by having an individual’s life be in their own hands – something many today take for granted.
In conclusion, there can be no meaningful change in our country until the people get out of this mental rut they are in, and accept the fact that the conventional wisdom of today is nothing more than another chain that they must break if they ever want to be free again. Until they accept the fact that our government can be successfully reduced in size back to its originally intended size, they will continue to feed a thankless machine that will continue to eat at them like a parasite. Until they regain their faith in themselves, they will waste it on a system that will consistently take advantage of them like a deceitful thief. All we can do for now is educate and encourage them to seek out the truths for themselves – and as long as we do that, then there is always hope. All we can do, is turn on the light.