By Bradley Harrington
“Yes the answer lies within / So why not take a look now / Kick out the Devil’s sin / And pick up, pick up a good book now” — Cat Stevens, “On the Road to Find Out,” 1970 —
Last week, while speaking of my journeys through mankind’s accumulated treasures of knowledge, I mentioned that “in my late teens I shifted away from the hard sciences and began studying politics, economics, philosophy and history.” (“The Indomitable Power of Our Minds,” WTE, Jan. 1.)
What I didn’t mention, because I wanted to develop the thesis further this week, is why I made that shift.
Yes, part of it was that my learning curves were beginning to repeat themselves. After all, you can only study galaxies, quasars or the composition of atoms for so long before you get the picture.
After that, you either start constructing your own experiments (and, at 17, I didn’t have any particle accelerators in my back pocket) — or you shift to other areas of study. So that was definitely a factor.
More importantly, however, a question had been steadily growing in my mind over those last couple of years. How was it, exactly, that our minds had the power to send men to the moon or grasp the atomic processes taking place in the cores of stars, but not have the ability to feed the world’s population or get rid of war?
Somehow, in some fashion unbeknownst to me at that time, the principles of science which had proven so successful in the physical arena were not being translated into reality in the fields of the “humanities” — in ethics, political philosophy or sociology.
So, it was time to focus my energies elsewhere. Perhaps, I thought, after I began grasping what those other fields consisted of, I would be in a better position to be able to determine the nature of that disconnect. I was on a new “road to find out.”
Part of that gap, of course, is related to the level of complexity of the disciplines in question. Physics, by focusing on inanimate matter, was the simplest; biology, by studying living matter, more complex; and psychology and philosophy, by concerning themselves with conscious, living matter, even more complex still.
Even so — science is science, right? Sure, it might take us longer to handle those more advanced levels of knowledge — but, after thousands of years of thought and study, even those areas should be within our reach.
But the state of the world, back in 1976, told me otherwise — and I made it my mission to discover why that was the case.
My first undertakings into those fields, however, were a bit of a shock, to say the least. In psychology I rebelled against the dominant thinking that we were little more than “behaviorist” automatons or mindless stimulus-response machines — while, in sociology, I was confronted with the noise that we were insignificant cogs in a wheel, witless ants trapped in an anthill over which we had no say or control.
And this was science? Where, in all of that garbage, was the vision of man the individual, man the thinker, man the creator of his circumstances?
Which led me to philosophy — which, as the science geared towards the study of the fundamental aspects of the nature of man’s existence, was where I was sure I’d finally find my answers.
Um, not quite … After reading everything from Thales to Herbert Marcuse and everybody in between, the horrors I encountered — with few exceptions — were even greater still.
Here, I “learned” that metaphysically, there’s no such thing as objective reality (Plato, Heraclitus, Kant); epistemologically, there’s no such thing as knowledge (Hume, Russell, Heidegger); ethically, there’s no objective standards to guide our choices and actions (Hegel, Rousseau, Comte); and politically, that “society” is the rule of brute force, where it’s only a question of who is going to rule whom (Marx, Kropotkin, Schopenhauer).
It took me a number of years, but — with the help of better thinkers, such as Aristotle, Spinoza, Locke and Rand — I finally got it: THIS was the disconnection point, the reason why the world was such a mess. The “science” whose task it was to enlighten, was little more than an intellectual desert in severe need of irrigation — and, consequently, socially and politically, everything from hunger to wars to unemployment to slavery was the result of those bad ideas.
We are what we think, Dear Reader — literally. So, if we’re tired of the rule of the thug, doesn’t that therefore mean that we need better ideas?
So, next week, let’s begin by exploring an idea that I consider to be the key to a rational social system: Banning the use of force from all human relationships.
Bradley Harrington is a computer technician and a writer who lives in Cheyenne. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
NOTE: This column was originally published in the “Wyoming Tribune Eagle” on January 8, 2017. Here is this column’s original downloadable PDF file.