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August 2005, Volume 12 Nr. 30, Issue 165

The Counter-Enlightenment

Jozef Hand-Boniakowski

History texts call the period where people realized that they could use human reason to counter superstition and ignorance, "The Enlightenment".  It was a time when humanity surged forward using  human reason to challenge the ingrained aristocracy of the times and the control religion had over people's lives.  The aristocracy in power by virtue of their birth, royalty and inherited wealth dominated society.  The Enlightenment confronted the domination of the many by the few.  The Enlightenment was a period of intellectual explosion coming about from the cumulative logic and knowledge acquired by all the previous philosophers and current thinkers ranging from Michel de Montaigne, Galileo Galilei, Copernicus and Rene Descartes to Voltaire, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, and many others.  The United States revolution against the tyranny of England's King George was a defining moment in the birth of a nation built by those who continued the Enlightenment through the 18th century.  The United States "founding fathers" rejected the dominant paradigms of their time.  They were not content with the influence the Church had on society and the emerging new and independent nation.  Incorporating Jean-Jaques Rousseau's deist god and the French concept of equality, they wrote the Declaration of Independence.  The revolution in the North American colonies was a break from the royalty and the Church of the past, and the old ways.  Just as the Enlightenment in Europe had broken nations away from the old order, the United States had broken away from the Old World.  Creativity, ingenuity, critical thinking and knowledge flourished.

Jean-Jaques Rousseau, the 18th century philosopher advocated   self-rule over the dictates of religion.  Rousseau wrote in The Social Contract that "Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains".  Rousseau said that by capitulating to society's will under the guise of doing what is best for it subscribes its members to a societal totalitarianism that puts society's needs ahead of individual needs.  Society's will is with few exceptions determined by those who have the power and means to define and implement it.  History is thus written by those possessing the means to write, disseminate and inculcate it.  We are taught what society wants us to teach.  We think what society wants us to think.  We behave the way society wants us to behave.  We are what society wants us to be, until that is, we choose to be otherwise.  Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin picked up on Rousseau's notion that people are inherently good, but that they are corrupted by the evils of society.  They believed that people act against their nature because they are uneducated. Jefferson and Franklin showed us that we can break away and be free.  We can choose otherwise.

Anti-Enlightenment Totalitarianism

History texts place the age of The Enlightenment as being 1600 - 1800.  The 19th and 20th century saw big advances in philosophy and science.  From Karl Marx through Albert Einstein, to Edwin Powell Hubble, human understanding advanced.  During the last 20 years of the 20th century and the opening decade of the 21st, especially in the United States, however, fetish regressionism has taken hold.  There now exists a fetish commodification of simplistic religious belief being sold by the anti-Enlightenment establishment.  The neo-conservatives have much to gain from an ignorant and pliant public.  Their merchants of ignorance peddle a deliberate and eager reversal and distortion of the accumulated wisdom and knowledge acquired by the world's greatest thinkers and philosophers.  More importantly, there is an institutionalized engineering leading people into extremist apotheosis. Televangelical proselytizing peddles the opiates which the masses crave.  Television, the plug-in drug for tens-of-millions, has the "faithful" boldly going anywhere those in control want to take them.   

The televangelist Pat Robertson, on his August 2, 2005 "700 Club" program, prayed to God for creating further vacancies on the Supreme Court so that the Court could be further stacked with like-minded anti-visionaries.  Reverend Barry Lynn of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State stated that,

Robertson seems to view God as a divine hit man, taking out justices or anyone else who gets in the way of the Religious Right agenda....I think most Americans don't like to see God dragged into this kind of divisive and demagogic politics. 

While Lynn is correct, the average US citizen would be hard pressed to define demagogic politics.  The anti-enlightenment totalitarianism of the 21st century is no accident.  It is orchestrated by those smart enough to understand that manipulating society's will  manipulates what society further wills.  First, establish an addiction to God and religion within the masses.  Karl Marx called religion the "opium of the masses" referring to religion as being a painkiller that salves our psychological pain, a narcotic that makes us sleep and numb to the suffering around us.  Marx saw religion as the illegitimate response to disbelief in God ("Opiate of the Masses Religion as Socio/Political Control", Todd F. Eklof (2004).  Second, establish an abundant and well-financed cadre of television evangelists and church preachers claiming credibility in communicating with God and who privy to the "holy solution" save us from the pain and suffering that science has "failed" to eliminate.  Finally, tell the conditioned masses what God wants and the masses will want it too.  Society's will is thus re-established in the image and likeness of its creator, that is, the pusher's religious  phantasm becomes our "salvation".  

What me read?

In the opening days of the 21st century, the world is witness to another King George.  George W. Bush and his legions of vassals, crusaders and preachers, foist a religious adherence to their notions of virtue and proper behavior onto the nation and the world.  Literature, science and critical thinking must be attacked as they directly threaten their self-serving and power-drenched regime. The Bible replaces the biology book.  Christo-babble replaces the dialectic.  Belief replaces knowledge.  Faith replaces fact.  

By sporting an air of ordinariness, George W. Bush cleverly associates himself with the common man.  He skillfully disguises the fact that his class is far removed from the common man's daily existence.  Bush co-opts the working class never experiencing what it means to be part of the it.  He is incapable of understanding the working class and does not seem to particularly care about them.  The masses, well-indoctrinated into professing their "pre-ordained" will of society blindly nod and go along.  They are "with him", and  may fear not being with him will brand them as being "against him".  As with their God, they see a life without Bush as being adrift, going nowhere.  

Ignorance creates post-modern regression: the counter-Enlightenment.  As a consequence the people become, as Jason Miller ( calls it in his piece of the same name, "Forgotten Victim's of America's Plutocracy".  However, It does not matter if they are "forgotten" as along as there is some mythology and/or someone to hang on to that fulfills the promise of their illusion with more illusion.  Jason Miller states that, "Like wolves among sheep, America's Plutocracy preys on the weaker and less fortunate members of society."  This plutocracy is the anti-enlightenment totalitarianism regime that is presently in control of the United States of America.  It is the regime that is in charge of the world's only superpower.  It is a regime steeped in the counter-Enlightenment, and it is bringing the nation to new lows.  That which was unacceptable is now routine as torture and extreme rendition become commonplace.  That which was venerated as the crowning jewel of Unites States republicanism is discarded as the Bill of Rights is shredded by the  misnamed and acronymaniacal "USA PATRIOT Act".  That which was once a prized accomplishment of society, literacy, is now no longer so considered as the president of the United States, the husband of a librarian, sees little value in reading books. 

The New Enlightenment

Isaiah Berlin, a liberal philosopher who lived through most of the 20th century first used the phrase "counter-Enlightenment".  Berlin correctly labeled the opposition to rationalist thinking and the ideals of The Enlightenment.  Berlin said, 

...the counter-Enlightenment embodies a pluralist vision, accepting the fundamental irreconcilability of cultural values and their ineradicable conflicts with rationalism, as well as the conflicts within Romanticism, irrationalism, mysticism, and neo-Medieval forms of religious thought.

Berlin's goes beyond portending what the anti-Enlightenment totalitarianism and the New Dark Age have in store for critical thinkers and those with a naturalist world view.  Berlin compels us to determine what must be done to create a New Age of Reason (not the "new age") leading into the New Enlightenment.  The opening paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, written partly as a result of the Enlightenment's 18th century manifestation offers us a good clue:  

When in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the Separation. 

Norman D. Livergood, in his essay Completing the American Revolution, writes that there are two "American" revolutions.  The first was "the revolt against British oppression by Americans", and the second is, "the revolt against wealthy American merchants and financiers by the common people of America."  The second revolt, however, will come when the New Enlightenment emerges.  The ferocity and viciousness of the anti-Enlightenment totalitarianists suggests that they know the New Enlightenment is imminent.  Perhaps, a thousand years from now, if humans still exist, they will look back upon the 21st century and wonder how the Dark Ages ever returned? 

Our gods are dead. Ancient Klingon warriors slew them a millennia ago. They were...more trouble than they were worth. 

--Worf, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, “Homefront” 

© 2005 Jozef Hand-Boniakowski, PhD
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