Monday, February 11, 2013

Let There Be Actual Light

We would like to believe light will triumph over darkness and that eventually good will prevail.  Not by itself, not in any abstract sense.  Would that it were always so.  It takes more than good intentions. 

It must have been extremely difficult in the mid-19th century for Claude Bernard, the founder of modern experimental medical science, to have realized he was largely right in his views about the nature of living things, including people, while surrounded by powerful men in theological and government positions who denied that reality.  They were threatened by the idea the vital forces they believed residing in each person, with which they were embued by God, often a very fearsome God, were in charge of our actions, not actions of our brain, nerves, hormones and muscles. They were committed to ethereal worlds inaccessible to ordinary people, denying the objective alternative reality Bernard presented to them.   Persistence against such opposition has not for the faint of heart, for representatives of church throughout Europe had a long history, not only suppressing such knowledge, but literally destroying those who professed it, from Copernicus to Darwin, the latter of whom the Vatican Council would have recommended for excommunication had he been a member of the Roman Church.  That conflict continues virulently even today in the US, much to the dismay of much of modern developed countries.

Illustration from Attwood's
Oryx and Crake
The current conflict between the materially powerful and the rest of Western society is a continuation of that tradition dating to the trial and execution of Socrates.  Throughout the early the Dark Ages, Central and Southern Europe was divided into areas controlled by feudal lords. There was no urban life as such. There were many barbaric tribes and loyalty was to one’s tribe, not to a country, as is still true in much of the Middle East. They had no written literature, and runes were used for monuments. They operated as city-states, similar to that imagined by Margaret Atwood in Oryx and Crake.   In Attwood’s world, powerful corporations instead of Medieval War Lords ruled the city states.  There was no concept of the long-term consequences of unbridled greed, which has become a disturbingly familiar story today.  Political control by any means, including unconstitutional means, is a vehicle to economic control.
In a world run by greedy men and women seeking to garner control over others for their own advantage, the reality of the actual consequences of unbridled selfish human actions, always take second place.  In the 18th century, a series of letters were published in the London Public Advertiser under the assumed name Junius, who it is believed was actually Sir Philip Francis, an Irish-born British politician and pamphleteer.  The Letters of Junius were a source of inspiration to many, including those in the American colonies.   In his letter No. 35 dated Dec 19, 1769 Junius wrote, “When once a man is determined to believe, the very absurdity of the doctrine confirms him in his faith.”  He went on to write, There is a moment of difficulty and danger at which flattery and falsehood can no longer deceive, and simplicity itself can no longer be misled.”

Perhaps we are reaching such a point today in the United States of America.   Just perhaps we are coming to understand, as Wizlawa Szymborska remarked, "All the best have something in common, a regard for reality, an agreement to its primacy….."