At certain times in history, such as during the Great Enlightenment, differences have been sought out and appreciated. Differences of opinion and, especially, departures from the generally accepted wisdom of the age, have been important to the growth of thought, the evolution of society and industry.
Today is the age of the Great Enlikenment, to coin a word. Everything and everyone is lumped into categories in order to make sorting through the vast amount of information we face more manageable. Differences are minimized and undervalued.
The Great Enlikenment is good sometimes, at least it has salutary qualities, in that it makes teaming up with others by identifying a common goal or enemy quite easy. It also makes mass markets viable, because different products and services are lumped together by people of little imagination and, eventually, the differences disappear through competition and consolidation, so that vast amounts of revenue can be funneled through a narrowly defined organization. The Great Enlikenment makes fashion possible, even the “rebels” who redefine fashion, because sooner rather than later, we’ll be dressed like the rebels. It makes George W. Bush possible, because when he looks out from a podium, he sees people screened for their agreement with his policies.
The cost of the Great Enlikenment, however, is that it erects arbitrary similarities that are largely meaningless to align different phenomena and groups. It promotes simple-minded political differences at the expense of pluralities of opinion that color the debate over public policy. It promotes nationalism and racism, because borders and genetics are simple definitions of what is alike and what infects that perfect simpatico. The arbitrary similarities allow us to tolerate our neighbors, who, even if they play the stereo too loud or don’t mow their lawn, are, at least, the same race or national identity as us. The Great Enlikenment allows us to feel better about ourselves than we do about others, while simultaneously counting others as our comrades.
Anyhow, I’ve been thinking about what another four years of Bush—and the virtually assured attempt that will come with that outcome of the election to ensconce Bush as ruler for life—means for the United States. And, seeing the bright side of the darkness, as one must in this situation, I think it will be a revolution in American thinking and perception that will begin with the realization that the Great Enlikenment has blinded us to the possibilities for change and transformation that surround us. We’ll see past the simple differences and learn to appreciate our subtle differences and how to use the gaps between us as building blocks rather than barriers.
The thing is, when a people have lost control of their society, ceding the direction of society to a fanatical and extremist cadre, they almost always wake up. Then, the changes really begin.