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A new revolution is declared. We now begin the Age of Philosophy.

Independence Day

I have been hibernating lately. I am a squirrel in a soft, moss-filled den, dreaming of all the acorns I buried over the last few months. And then I am the acorn, hiding deep underground somehow secretly, vegetably aware of the temperature of the earth as I wait for spring.

This is how I spend most winters. Pretty boring isn't it? But my brain doesn't seem capable of getting over the fact that it's dark by five pm. It gets really confused and starts throwing temper tantraums and then cries itself to sleep. For a couple of months.

So to while away the time I started reading Sophie's World again. (By the way, I'd recommend any book by Gaarder, including Vita Brevis, which I haven't even read yet.) There's nothing like a bunch of philosophers to get the old sap rising. The acorn sprouted. The squirrel stuck its nose out of its den and caught a scent of newly sprouted leaves.

So it's an early spring here in Sydney. If I was still living back in Washington, it would be full summer now, with gravid heat, bare feet, ice cream cones (hopefully) and visits to the Sound where I'd splash around in the still frigid water. Last July was the last time I spent time with my parents as part of a more-or-less united family unit. Our tradition then was to gather as many of our friends as we could on the Fourth of July and have a big barbecue. We'd go get lots of cheap fireworks and talk and laugh and converse until it got dark, late, late into the evening. Twilight wouldn't join us until after nine. If any of my college friends were with me, we'd engage in singing our national anthem and similar patriotic hymns (very loudly, and off key, with a lot of screeching) as fireworks exploded. We'd write our names with sparklers.

Despite all the cameraderie and hilarity, though, the Fourth has always been a somewhat solemn holiday for me. As I would listen to the loud reports from the fireworks, I'd try to imagine what we were really celebrating. I'd imagine bombs going off and people fighting desperately against imperialism. I didn't feel any huge sense of national pride welling within me; I felt glad that I was lucky enough to grow up in a situation where I had a right to education, and that my parents wouldn't be dragged off to prison because they said snarky things about Ronald Reagan. I felt a bit in awe of those idealists who lived in the eighteenth century, reading Locke and Voltaire and thinking, "This is really important stuff! Let's change the world with it!"

I just read about the French Enlightenment in Sophie's World. I also read this brief interview at the Boston Globe (via the Bookslut blog). The thing that stood out for me was the last question:

IDEAS: You characterize America today as a hotbed of antiscientific relativists, economic fundamentalists, radical postmodernists, and New Age mystics.

WHEEN: It's tragic, because America is the biggest, boldest, and most successful Enlightenment project. Those who strive to discredit rationalism consign us all to a life in darkness.

One thing that happens when you read a book about the history of philosophy is that you begin to realise that history is a story of alternating waves of beliefs. Plato will say the Idea is the only real thing, and whatever your eyes perceive are only shadows on the back of a cave wall. Then Aristotle comes along and says no, we must trust and study what our senses tell us. Then the Dark Ages come along and tell everyone to just believe in God. Then people remember Plato and Aristotle again. Around and around we whirl on the merry-go-round of history. (Note: that's a very hyperbolically simple summation of what happened. It's really much more complicated than that. But this post is getting long enough already.)

I think Wheen is right. As much as the coldness of pure reason repels me (I think there should always be room for wonder, silliness, and the nonsensical -- just as long as we know that it's nonsense and we're not calling it "truth"), I think we're short on reason lately. Let's get a grip on ourselves. And I'm not talking about that "anti-idiotarian" crap. Let's have a Rational Revolution. I declare ourselves independent of bunkum! Who's with me?

At 05-07-2004 01:34AM Tish Tish@fatshadow.com commented:

I'm with you.

About the Geek Icon

This is the weblog of a computer geek with a thousand interests, documenting the ins and outs, ups and downs of her daily life. A dual citizen of the US and Australia who has settled (for the time being) in Sydney. Read more about her on the bio page.

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