27 September

America’s Own Dark Age And The War Against Science And Reason. Finally, Something Worth of Fighting For

by Jon Katz

If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?” – Alice In Wonderland.

Sure, I see; this is the story of everything right now. Everything that would be isn’t. In 2021, we may need a voodoo chanter or psychic, not a priest or shrink, to translate for us to find the truth.

I feel that we’ve entered a new kind of Dark Ages in our country; knowledge and truth and honor have fallen from favor.

Science and expertise are scorned and treated with contempt. Whatever happened to the Judeo-Christian ethic?

Lying was wrong, the highest calling of science and humanity and journalism was to search for the truth, not the lies. The role of the journalist is no longer to seek out the truth, but to search for lies. When religion faltered, so did honesty.

Almost everything I was taught to hold dear in school is rejected by a new kind of citizen: they hate our country and our democracy, they worship ignorance and demagoguery even at the expense of their own lives, their family’s safety, and their country’s well-being.

The world seems upside-down sometimes because it is upside down. We are shocked and bewildered by this sudden darkness, off-balance, unsure.

Lies are truth, and the truth is lies. Traitors are patriots, and patriots are traitors; science will save us; science has betrayed us, good is wrong, and evil is good; compassion is for the naive, and cruelty is a virtue. Compassion is hypocritical and empathy is elitist.

Our love for one another has been canceled.

I haven’t given up on my country, and I won’t, but these are the times that try the souls of people who believe in knowledge, science, and reason. The sunshine soldiers are in charge now. The lunatics are running the asylum, they have their own TV Channel, and are loving all of it.

I’ll spend a lot of time in the next few years figuring out how to live with this astonishing new reality and respond to it positively and thoughtfully. I won’t run from it or succumb to it. My life will never be an argument.

The easy way to think about it is that we are in a phase, one of those spasms that afflict democratic government once in a while, like locusts and tornadoes. Thomas Jefferson, the smartest of all the Founding Fathers,  was not afraid of Kings. He was scared of mobs, of the ignorant, the lazy, and the cruel.

The new thought is no thought, the new policy is no policy, the new compromise is no compromise, the new democracy is no democracy. Lying and cruelty, racism, and misogynism are the new idea of strong. Think of Marjory Taylor-Greene, she is going places, the Queen of our Dark Age. The honest people are fighting for their lives.

Jefferson thought the Electoral College would guard against the property-less mobs. the checks and balances are mostly puddles to step over.

Judges are our newest hypocrites, they tell us not to believe what we see. They are not judges, but partisans in robes. Where we were when all of this was being planned? Where will we be now? Their work is not protecting the weak and the vulnerable but confining them and disabling them.

It seems Jefferson was wrong. The Electoral College is a wall against the mobs, it is the only college the mobs want to go to. They love it there. They can screw up the whole system from another angle.

In the current poisonous atmosphere, it is widely assumed that everyone must be on one of only two sides, liberal or conservative, left or right, red or blue. “Ah, but that’s the point,” says the March Hare, “if you don’t think, you shouldn’t talk.” I’m having trouble coming across leaders who want to think, but they do love to talk.

In the Age of Ignorance, you don’t think, and you talk all the time, all day, every day – on Facebook, Twitter, Fox News, and hundreds, if not thousands of websites and private groups where lying and hatred is not only practiced but promised, the reason for existing.

It’s not an offshoot, it’s the point. In the Age of Ignorance, there is an Avalanche Of Lies, too man to keep up with or answer.

It almost seems that the new ethic is whoever lies the most and is the loudest wins and is rewarded. No need to do your homework, tell the truth or make sense.

When I lied as a child, I felt shame and dishonor.  Lying was considered a grave sin. I expected to be punished for it. It is just more background noise now, we run out of outrage.

I wanted to be a good person, and a good person didn’t lie and wasn’t cruel. Disgrace is no longer shameful; there is no way to be dishonored except by telling the truth. People who defend the facts in our culture instantly receive death threats in their inboxes. People who lie are praised. God help our children. We are not accountable for what we do unless it is to help the needy and the vulnerable.

It doesn’t matter that neither of these labels – liberal or conservative – reflects much in insight, vision, or intellectual responsibility for the dangers facing the world. The Age of Ignorance wrote social critic Harold Bloom – the age of TV, the decline of reading, texting, social media, and e-mail – signal the death of the American Mind. He wasn’t kidding.

In our system of government, the left and the right are paralyzed in the face of the overwhelming issues of our time – climate change, violence, pandemics, dictatorships, homelessness, and the growing gap between the rich and the poor.

It isn’t just a battle over politics; it is a struggle between ignorance and science, reason and ignorance, truth and lies.

I think this period will be looked back on in a few years as America’s Dark Age, a time when science was reviled,  facts meaningless, reality rejected, and reason and honor scorned. To be a warrior in our time is not to head for the battlefield with guns but to type like the wind on Facebook. We fight with our fingers, not our bodies.

The problem is not that people are stupid. The problem is that people are embracing stupidity as their new national value system, proudly making it their own. It’s one ideology you don’t have to think about at all.  The left does it; the right does it; it comes with being ideologically brain-damaged.

The parallels between America now and the Dark Ages are eerie.

The plague ravaged much of Europe; monks and religious leaders were stoned, beaten, and driven out of their monasteries, scientists and doctors were despised and chased through the streets, and science was reviled and rejected. Sickness seems to unravel weak and angry people, they run from it in any way they can.

Many people turned to conspiracies, paranoid fantasies, potions and herbs, chants and curses, psychics and charlatans, and demagogues popped up all over the European continent. In the Dark Ages, the Holy Bible was constantly evoked as the moral guide of humanity. It’s not that simple.

“All that we call progress—the enfranchisement of man, of labor, the substitution of imprisonment for death, of fine for imprisonment, the destruction of polygamy, the establishing of free speech, of the rights of conscience; in short, all that has tended to the development and civilization of man wrote Robert Ingersoll in About The Holy Bible,” all the results of investigation, observation, experience, and free thought; all that man has accomplished for the benefit of man since the close of the Dark Ages—has been done despite the Old Testament.”

All that we call progress is under siege, that’s why it’s looking like a Dark Age. No more right to choose, no more emancipation, no more science and learning, no more facts and truth.

Reason and learning, and education were ignored and dismissed as corrupt and elitist. The wheel turns and turns.

The bright side of the Dark Ages is that they ended, and a of great period learning, art, and Enlightenment followed. Since we seem to learn nothing from history, perhaps we are doomed to repeat it. Maybe we should just wait for it to change. Lying as an ethical standard doesn’t work for long with human beings. Dark Ages are not natural.

I don’t know if I’ll live that long to see new enlightenment. I am hopeful. I think there are already signs that a kinder, gentler, and more learned nation is something more and more people want in America and are willing to fight for – Black Lives Matter, Me Too, the emotional connection many young people are showing for the fight over Mother Earth.

Don’t be fooled by the news. This is dark and ignorant place is far from being the country that would turn to informers and neighbors and force raped women to breed the offspring of rapists. That is not the country most Americans want to live in. We are far from that.

This is the time of the cruel and the ignorant; it is almost unbearable to listen to elected leaders who should be leading us and protecting us teaching us how to hate and lie, and plot and scheme and watch us die so they can be even more powerful..

This is a time when the learned are considered fools. The fools are wise when evidence is ignored, and truth ridiculed as false and naive. My heart bleeds for the nurses and doctors and health care workers – heroes who save lives – to be insulted, spit on, and threatened for telling the truth. I always thank them. They saved me.

It’s the culture around us that is the sickest of all. “Once, we were heroes,” a nurse told me recently, in sadness. ‘You just didn’t lie enough,” I said.

The real legacy of the Facebook and Twitter Era is not community and connection but fear, hatred, and division. We didn’t see that coming; we didn’t protect against it. We didn’t take it seriously enough.

So many of our elected leaders have chosen ignorance over learning, the only work or sacrifice they make is to never be honest, and honorable. It is a more significant sacrifice than they know. They better pray Jesus is not honest and won’t return or that a just God is watching. The governors of Texas and Florida are the lowest form of human life – they are hypocrites, they know better, unlike most perpetrators of evil.

Lying is a kind of freedom, a ferocious virus. Once you reject science and learning, you are free to believe whatever you wish; you can leave the truth behind and do what you want. You are free at last.

The result of lying and the rejection of learning and science begins the age of ignorance. Texas Governor Abbott’s state has lost more than 60,000 citizens to Covid-10 as he fights to block mask mandates or accept the advice of doctors and scientists. Instead of resigning in shame or apologizing for his failures, he instead demands the firing of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the world’s leading authority on viruses that kill, a man who has saved ten times as many lives as the governor has helped to kill..

Traitors and seditionists storm our capital, yet many of the most influential people in our government – people who take oaths to defend our Constitution – deny what they and we saw with our own eyes, and claim without blush that it was really nothing.  Not traitors but patriots having some fun.

The ghosts of the dead – including those four police officers –  from April 6 cry out to the Gods for justice, but people want lies instead. Justice will come later. So the traitors are patriots, and the patriots who fought them are the treaters.

We are upside down and backward. Traitors and patriots alike send one another e-mails on Facebook and Twitter. I don’t fear another Hitler. He was more intelligent and, in many ways, had horrific integrity than the Army Of Ignorance.

There is no one on the horizon here as smart and focused as he was. These new prophets of the Dark Ages can’t cross the street without screwing up.

The people on the left wring their hands and wonder why they lose again and again. I wonder if people will still fight for democracy and not just pretend on social media, our new Appomattox.

Every court in the nation rules that our elections are fair and honest, yet few people care or even seem to notice.

In the other Dark Age, there was no truth, only desperation, panic, and rage. As the pandemic continues to kill, we are getting there.

We live in a time where it is right to believe only what we wish to think, not proper. Truth is pushed aside again and again so often that many people can no longer see it. When you get too comfortable with lies, there is no longer any truth.

We see every day what happens to a society where reason no longer prevails, and conspiracy and ignorance seem to have the wind behind them.  Lies are born to spread; they don’t know how to stop.

When you start to lie and get away with it, a spell is broken, a poison is released, a curtain is raised. It is a revelation to most of us that lying has no consequence and might even be a path to power and success. We used to worry about not getting into heaven. Now we worry about already being in Hell. There is no restraint, no reason for the morally weak to hesitate and run amok when there is no penalty.

Indeed, we have entered the age of Wonderland, when all the rules and morals have been flipped, and no one seems to have a clue as to how to return to reason. The old truisms no longer work. Everybody is sick of being lectured to. For liberal democracy to return, we will actually have to help people, not just talk about it.

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked. “Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat. “We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.” Alice answered: “How do you know I’m mad? Oh, said the cat,” you must be, or you wouldn’t have come here.”

I call it the Time Of Ignorance because it is stupid and ignorant, powered by those who have risen, drunk on lies and grievance, and on the power to deny both authority and reality.

The good news from history is that the Dark Ages are followed by brighter days, by the Enlightenment, when reason and learning are valued once again and triumph in the end.  Light follows darkness as the sun follows the moon. We are too hopeful as a species to stay ignorant and small. It is in our blood to create, invent and form communities. To learn and grow, not to be ignorant and static.

It is not, I believe, the nature of most humans to hate and lie for too long. Just look at the heroes of the last century: there was a Hitler, but there was also a Gandhi, a Mandela, A King, A Mother Teresa, a Robert Kennedy, a John Lewis.

When science is abandoned and ambitious and ignorant politicians fill the vacuum, we are adrift,  upended, and confused. We have no beacon to guide the way.

Our contemporary invaders come not from armies but from the ruin of our heartland,  the place author and farmer Wendell Berry calls Our Deserted Country.

The Time of Chaos and Ignorance, he says, has its origins in the impetus and motives of the Industrial Revolution, the mass replacement of human workers by industrial technologies.

We call it “joblessness” and “homelessness.” The Luddites in England understood this instantly. The purpose of industrial technology has always been and is now to cheapen work by displacing human workers, thus increasing the flow of wealth from the poor to the wealthy.

When McDonald’s can’t find workers, they don’t go out of business; they close their dining area and cut back on employees, blaming their workers for being lazy, greedy, or too ambitious—and boosting profits. The big ones always seem to make more money; they always survive. And their solutions and innovations are always – always – about taking jobs away from people.

They fund robots and machines, solve their crisis by needing fewer people, and then blame them for taking their jobs away.

When new machines made farming cheaper and more profitable, the politicians and economists quickly set in motion a system that drove the farmers off of their lands and turned their farms over to giant corporations who hire few people and pay them nothing. No one seems to care that while milk is cheaper, the social costs, tragedies, and consequences of taking work away from people are enormous. Just look at the heartland now.

If you sense a feeling of revenge, you are not wrong. Much of America is a deserted country; their pain and sorrow never seem to end. We are all about taking jobs from people whenever possible.  For these people and their families, there was no one to trust. It’s payback. All of those smarty-ass economists and elitists left them high and dry, no longer to be charged.

When politicians and economists forgot what people are for, one chapter ended and another was born. We’ve never gotten over it.

Questions and complaints about work have never seemed to penetrate or disturb the consciences of corporate farms, textile mill operators, coal executives, or other companies and never aroused the sympathy of politicians.

Out of this trauma came a hatred of government, politicians promising justice but offering lies, and millions of jobs hemorrhaging to other countries, where the process is already repeating itself.

As in the Dark Ages, the learned and the wise became enemies and frauds and the subject of ridicule or worse.

The natural enemies of the struggling working class – the politicians and corporations who took their lives and culture away – worked hard to claim that the poor and the people of color and the immigrants and the eggheads and economists and the educated were to blame for their troubles.  It was the billionaires and the CEOs who were protecting them, or so the story went.

The tragedy of the ignorant is, well…they are ignorant. They have alienated their allies and friends and aligned with their enemies and betrayers. There is no reward for the rebels, no happiness, no just ending. Every reporter knows that the biggest and oldest story in the world is simple and inevitable; it is the rich screwing the poor.

In all of American history, no one is a better liar or manipulator than corporate executives or politicians choking on corporate money. No one is more prone to believing them than the very poor and deserted whose lives they destroyed. That is the underlying irony of the new Dark Age in America.

When the Dark Ages cast its shadow on Europe – when science and learning and rationality were considered useless heresy, much as is happening today –  scholars said it was apparent what the problem was – when people were disconnected from their land and their families and traditions, they suffer.

But that’s just one-half of it.

When rightful, rational, and honorable people lose their land and work or are driven from either, the land suffers, communities wither, and the bonds that bind people to government and leaders suffer or are torn apart. That is the tragic story of the American farmer.

After World War II, nearly half the country was displaced, voluntarily or forcefully. It was an earthquake for working people, the rumbles are still easy to hear. The culture and ethos that bound the country for two centuries were shattered. The shared values that kept our democracy together began to tear.  The government decided that family farms were too small, small businesses couldn’t compete in the new global marketplace, communities were no longer critical, cities were.

The heart in Heartland was ripped out and left to die. To get it back, leaders have to start telling the truth again; we see that lying won’t cut it as a campaign promise or policy, or inspiration for a people.

Hundreds of thousands of our people die from the deadliest pandemic the world has yet seen, yet millions of people have turned on doctors and scientists and praised bigots and fools, and sent them money to endanger their own constituents.

Marjorie Taylor Green, who would never have been permitted in Congress just a few years ago, is a rising star in her political party.  She believes Jewish billionaires conspired to steal the 2020 election and ssend lasers down from the sky.

What does someone like me do in the face of this? Just what I have been doing. I will try to do good, every single day. I will strive to be positive, empathetic, and compassionate to people when I can. I vow to practice honesty and love as often and as honestly as I can. I believe, as John Lewis did, that love and truth are the most powerful weapons on the earth.

Human life is not static, it ebbs and flows and comes and goes. I can only speak for me, and that is my plan for enduring the Dark Ages and coming out intact on the other side.

I believe most people are good and want to do good. I think that that is the impulse and the moral value that will bring us back to reason. I think truth will win. It always has.

 

4 Comments

  1. This really is a crazy mixed up world we live in. You described it so well in this essay. Lots to digest here. And thank you for ending on a high note. I think the number of good people in this world still outnumber the bad. We have around 3000 Afghan refugees temporarily living at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin. The request for clothing donations to help these people resulted in an overwhelming response. It made me feel good to read about it. We just have to get through these Dark Ages. Also thanks for recommending Pastoral Song. It fits into this theme of lies and deception and greed.

  2. Loved your analogy to the world we are in like Alice living in Wonderland. That’s exactly what it feels like! Everything I was taught is upside down. 🙃 I hope it’s in passing because all is so confusing.

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