'Some kind of philosophy is a necessity to all but the more thoughtless,' said Bertrand Russell, a renowned philosopher and peace activist. He meant that ever since we were children, most of us have had a desire to learn. Philosophy, which means 'love of wisdom', encourages the normal inclination to know what is true. The desire to form a coherent interpretation of reality is natural to the reflective mind.
'Almost all the questions of most interest to speculative minds are such as science cannot answer,' Russell taught. One of the functions of philosophy is to keep alive interest in such questions. Our consciousness wants to expand. We want to know the truth.
Sadly, truth is a rare commodity these days. We need only tune into our national politics or advertising to dismiss all doubts. The news media have become mostly outlets for public relations offices, telling us what they want us to know. And the truth gets tweaked or suppressed. How can a society founded on democracy survive without the truth?
Bertrand Russell was a foremost supporter of democratic causes, devoting his life to principles of human freedom. He sponsored a movement of nuclear disarmament, condemned the creed of militarism and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950.
He reminded us that d emocracy is the safeguard against arbitrary power. Humans have acquisitive and predatory impulses, and a function of the state is to control those impulses. The aim of those in power should be the betterment of the human race, and the state is a means to that end and not an end in itself.
As a senior citizen who has seen the glory days of America suddenly slip by, I look with dismay and sadness at what the young people are going through these days, many who are either without employment or in dead-end jobs. They are forced to choose either to forego college or to go into big-time debt. It didn't use to be this way, kids, not before the wars and the Wall Street bailout, leading to the financial stranglehold of the mega-rich and their minions.
The American eagle can't fly with one wing. We on the left of a political spectrum are called to be more open to religion; else 40% or more of the population will be forever beyond reach. Most of our grievances come from 'organized' religion and not the spirituality inherent in each one of us. Making a distinction between religion as an institution and our natural religious instincts is critical.
Russell was an agnostic, who liked to remind the churches that they've frequently done more harm than good, invoking theology for persecutions and religious wars. Nevertheless, he attached value to any religious attitude concerned about life. The worthwhile life for him was one inspired by love and guided by knowledge.
He writes in praise of the 'spirit' that enables us to transcend the search for purely personal satisfaction, by feeling the same interest in other people's joys and sorrows, and serving ends which are supra-human: Truth or Beauty or, for religious people, the Divine.
It's doubtful the enthusiastic energy that is focused in a positive direction can be sustained within the protest movement without a spiritual element. Both Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King stressed that point, speaking of the 'spirituality of love' which they knew was in the heart of everyone who listened. And they believed passionately in a transformation of human consciousness.
There is so much more that binds us than divides us. But there are strong forces of political, economic and corporate power that seek to distract and divide us in order to maintain control over the earth and its people. Perhaps that's why the Star Wars movies were so popular. The story comes so close to the truth.
Human history has long been a struggle between light and dark forces, those who want to live freely, and those who want to subject others to their whims and fancies. Where is the 'force' of Star Wars that's supposed to be 'with' us? That seems to be the missing dimension, the one we need if we are to wrest control of our world and our lives from 'dark' powers.
Bertrand Russell lived to be an old man, yet he continued his battle on behalf of the welfare of humanity. He kept his mind alive with the sense of inquisitiveness and desire for knowing that we all had as children. His reflective mind wanted to know the truth, which shall set us free !
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