January 3, 2020
Over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, I was fortunate to be able to enjoy the company of family and good friends as well as to re-read some of my favorite authors. Among them, Aldous Huxley (1894 –1963) the philosopher and writer. He was born in England but spent the last twenty-six years of his life in the United States. Many people remember him for his science-fiction novel Brave New World, in which he describes a futuristic society, called the World State, that revolves around technology and efficiency. In this society, emotions and individuality are programmed out of children at a young age; and there are no lasting relationships.
My favorite Huxley quotation is “Experience is not what happens to you, it’s what you do with what happens to you.”
Huxley’s observation is my starting point for 2020.
I hope in 2020 that I can help people seek and discover the truth. I hope other people can help ME discover the truth, that is so often hidden or totally distorted in news reports, in political rhetoric, in pious religious platitudes, and of course, in social media. Today I better understand Huxley’s fear that truth can be drowned in a sea of rhetorical irrelevance. (Perhaps he was thinking about political campaign rhetoric as well? We will certainly have a lot of that in 2020.)
Ignorance may not be bliss but it helps the ignorant feel good and surrender themselves to authoritarian leaders who gradually take control of their faithful followers, by negatively labelling and denigrating those “dangerous people” who are anchored in historical observation and critical reflection. We used to think that a written sentence had a level of verifiability to it. It was true or not true. Or at least one could have a meaningful discussion about its truth. Today, within popular political and religious movements, we see climate-change deniers who value only a climate of “alternative facts.” For them, verified information is “fake news.”
I find social media, like Facebook and Twitter, increasingly problematic. Yes of course one can find truth statements there; but they are too often intertwined with bizarre fabrications or gross distortions of the truth. When they get repeated again and again or are “shared,” the phony becomes accepted truth. Twitter for example makes it easy to pick a passage out of context, denigrate the author, and broadcast the erroneous phrase or sentence to the tweeter’s sympathetic audience. Such tweets too often become a form of hate speech, fomenting racial prejudice and violence.
It won’t happen of course, but I often wish people would document their assertions and quotations. I will try to do that and be careful to not just repost an attractive observation without checking it out. It is called critical observation and critical thinking. Critical observation and critical thinking give leaders credibility. We don’t need and we don’t deserve leaders whose only talent is making loud, inflammatory statements, many of which are spectacularly untrue.
Our big challenge in 2020 will be selecting and promoting leaders who have credibility and sending the others to the sidelines. Certainly far from center stage….
Effective change occurs when people with credibility not only speak knowledgeably but actually make changes happen. Nice words are not enough. We need to support, defend, and encourage them. We need to defend and support young change agents like Greta Thunberg.
We need to build communities of trust with truth-speakers. We need to courageously denounce the purveyors of false information and absolute lies. And….we need to practice civility and respectful dialogue with those who have a different perspective. Not always easy. The aim is not to convert but to learn how to live together. No one has all the truth. We are all truth-seekers.
Safe travels as we journey into 2020…….I think it will be quite a ride.