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Life Arts    H4'ed 4/23/14

If Reason Dies, So Goes Civilization

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Is there an insoluble glue that sustains what we call civilization, without which everything disintegrates? Okay, beyond breathable air, climate dynamics, electricity or gravity. Ordained commandments by divisive religions or tribal cultures routinely cleave the unity they claim to promote (recall the "human family").  National boundaries, amplified by domestic scrums, only provide the continuity of nasty, oppositional factions and parties. Oddly, the globe's vast, international transport systems defeat time, distance, and space without fostering vital species connectedness. We may all breathe the same air, indeed the same molecules, but curiously we exhale segregation, even estrangement.

Don't insatiable capitalistic fingers insinuate the globe, facing surprisingly minimal resistance while noodling for resources and untapped markets? What nook or cranny, except remote Bhutan, seriously defies Gross National Product to measure progress, let alone happiness? Yet the money octopus is more the effect than the cause, leveraging breakthrough technology, in turn the offspring of science and research. Here we come to the root of the root since applied knowledge is nothing without reason, testing and confirmation. Reason hardly makes the world go 'round, but it fuels our species dominance and whatever passes for progress.

Here is no unqualified defense of what reason (or technology) hath wrought, as negatives of late swamp positives. Even old technology like the telephone, the miracle that connects billions instantly, rings with surveillance. Further, one doesn't have to glorify reason to favor it over the true enemy in our midst -- unreason -- flush with racial superiority, nationalistic frenzies, and knee-jerk militarism that turns troubled nations into rubble.

Enlightenment Flickers

Call me naive, but I posit the Age of Enlightenment rationality still separates modern times (and advances) from medieval fixations. No longer does any absolute, communal faith fulfill all human potential, especially when new truths eviscerate the illusion man is the measure of all things. Wisdom (and biology) define kinship with (soul-less) life forms, despite our presumptions to the contrary.  If scriptural dictates, plus crude sensory perception, still reigned, we'd be doubly misinformed. Not only does our tiny earth not center this solar system: we don't center anything but our own vanity. More liberating still, there is no center, or up or down, nor ever confirming otherwise. Species-saving humility surfaces to know we spin through a backwater of space, altogether enhancing our modest magnificence.

However belatedly, reason and science will continue to exile our worst superstitions, logical fallacies and cognitive biases -- the sort dragged out to defend creationism claptrap, climate denial, unregulated guns, or free market perfection. It is reason, and research, that exposes smoking as poison, lead as dangerous, or shoddy food production that threatens health and welfare. Let us rejoice at absurd follies long behind us, like misreading comets, plagues or eruptions as divine punishment. The dynamic of cause and effect, however complex, answers to reason, just as obscure "mysteries" (like electricity or radiation) help cure disease.

All in all, those of us who benefit from modern life (longer, healthier life-spans, better food and housing, superior transport, inexhaustible entertainment) should thank, before any transcendent beings, gutsy, human brainpower. Not just logic and precision informing method but imaginative brilliance that trumps regressive leaps of faith. That rationality is open to misuse does not invalidate its power, especially to defeat modern superstitions, whether dumb denials, elaborate conspiracy thinking or dismal jeremiads.

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For a decade, Robert S. Becker's rebel-rousing essays on politics and culture analyze overall trends, messaging and frameworks, now featured author at OpEdNews, Nation of Change and RSN. He appears regularly at Dissident Voice, with credits (more...)

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