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Posts Tagged ‘history’

By now, you will have heard the news: The United States Supreme Court has just ruled 5-4 in favor of legalizing same sex marriage nationwide!

This is of course an immense moment not only in LGBT history, but in American history. This is our generation’s Loving vs. Virginia – and for exactly the same reasons.

We have not yet won the war against homophobia; indeed, we probably have many struggles ahead as we work to excise discrimination from our hearts and minds. A look at recent tragedies in Ferguson, Baltimore and Charleston are evidence enough of the fact that racist prejudice is alive and well, and the difficulties experienced by Caitlyn Jenner and Chelsea Manning show that even as we celebrate the L, G and B, the T is a victory that yet eludes us. And there is of course no doubt that gay people still face a great many small daily injustices even though this large one has fallen.

But days like today give us hope. Hope that a better day is not a fantasy, but an achievable goal. Hope that the very same society which marginalizes too many can still be brought to change its mind.

Somewhere in this country, a young person who has been burying his identity in hopes of acceptance rather than ridicule is feeling a great weight slowly easing from his shoulders.

Another is thanking God that her ‘other mom’ can finally have the same legal status as her biological mother.

Weary hearts are being lifted today, in every corner of the country. The road ahead is yet long, but today we took an enormous step forward.

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Let’s take a moment to review a couple of fairly important pieces of paper, shall we? Specifically, I’m referring to the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence.

From the Declaration:

“We” (Americans) “hold these truths to be self-evident:” (which means we think you’d have to be kind of a bonehead not to see it)
“that all Men are created equal” (bearing in mind that in the standard usages of the time this referred to ‘mankind’, not to those of a specific gender),
“that they are endowed by their Creator” (this does not restrict us to the Judaeo-Christian God but to any creative force, be it a God, multiple gods, Nature or even the Flying Spaghetti Monster)
“with certain unalienable rights” (definition: unable to be taken from or given away by their possessor)
“that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

This is powerful stuff.

When you take away someone’s life, impinge on someone’s liberty or impede their pursuit of happiness, you are actively opposing what it means to be American.

From this alone we can see that slavery, domestic violence, the death penalty, hate crimes – and any denial of rights to one group of people which another would claim for themselves – are in direct violation of our nation’s most sacred principles.

Let’s also look at the Bill of Rights a little:

The First Amendment. “Freedom of speech” does indeed give you the right to say hateful and discriminatory things. It does not in any way protect you from people calling you out for it, putting your despicable rantings on YouTube, breaking off friendships, refusing to do business with you or voting you out of office. Similarly, this amendment proscribes government from “an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. Even if the people wishing to freely exercise their religion happen to be Muslims, or indeed anything other than Christian.

The Second Amendment. “A well-regulated citizen militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.” Well-regulated. That means that yes, gun control measures to ensure that random nutjobs aren’t shooting up schools and churches are not only perfectly legitimate, they are necessary.

The Fourth Amendment. Understanding that the nation’s founders had no way of predicting the technological advances of the last half century, I think it’s fair to say that “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures” also applies to electronic data – which has been unreasonably searched and seized all too often of late.

The Ninth Amendment. “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” This means that the rights mentioned in the Declaration of Independence above (the rights to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness) continue to be retained by the people and must remain inviolate.

None of these things seem particularly hard to understand….

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Throughout its history, Western science has had one major failing – its inability to ‘think outside the box’. Each passing day brings a new theory or discovery, most of which are ignored or derided by ‘orthodox’ scientists who cling to their safe, comfortable dogma. In the 1860s, chemists refused to acknowledge John Newland’s idea that the elements might fall into eight distinct ‘families’. Later on, Dimitri Mendeleyev was awarded the Nobel Prize for the same idea, which led to the periodic table that hangs on the wall in every high school. The stories of Copernicus and Galileo have become famous examples of maverick scientists proving the establishment wrong. Even such luminaries as Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein suffered the disbelief of their contemporaries at one time or another.

Due to this hostile, neophobic academic climate, few scholars are willing to stick their necks out and embrace a novel idea, regardless of its merits, for fear of losing their reputation or – worse yet – their funding. Indeed, it is an unwritten rule of modern science that the investigation of certain subjects is tantamount to professional suicide. No chemist today will seriously experiment toward the alchemical ideal of ‘transmutation’. Few anthropologists will accept the possibility of trans-Atlantic or trans-Pacific contacts before the days of Columbus (pr at least Leif Erikson), and even those few will guardedly admit that a few small-scale events could have occurred, but no major communication. It is a rare Egyptologist that will look twice at the notion of the Sphinx being older than the Fourth Dynasty, and a still rarer geographer that truly believes in Atlantis.

Science holds tightly to its predetermined ‘facts’ – indeed, just as tightly as religious people hold to their own. Each accuses the other camp of trying to ‘undermine’ theirs with ‘obviously untrue’ statements. Such tensions are understandable, since science and religion are in a sense two roads leading to the very same goal; each is on a quest to understand the ultimate truth of the Universe. I believe it is time that these two take a long, hard, objective look at each other, since there may be a wealth of information in each that would benefit the other. Perhaps Aleister Crowley said it best:

We place no reliance
On Virgin or Pigeon –
Our method is Science
Our aim is Religion.

Crowley’s own unorthodox religious leanings and somewhat dubious reputation aside, this example of his thinking bears remembering. The word ‘religion’ comes from Latin roots meaning ‘re-tying’, more specifically a re-establishment of one’s link with the Divine. ‘Science’, on the other hand, means ‘knowledge, and the pursuit thereof’. I can think of few better ways to be bonded to any God or Goddess than through knowledge – detailed study of Their greatest work, upon whose verdant bosom over six billion of us have made our homes.

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing”.
– Socrates

In our arrogance, we claim to know many things. Just as we once ‘knew’ the Sun revolved around the Earth, ‘knew’ the world was flat, we now ‘know’ that we cannot travel faster than light, we ‘know’ the reasons for rainfall and tides and comets and black holes. We couldn’t possibly be wrong, since we’re such smart, highly evolved creatures.

I’m sorry, I said the E-word. Evolution? Creation? A little of both? Who knows?

Today more than fifty million Americans went to school. They learned, or at least heard, certain key factoids which make up a part of the accepted body of American knowledge. Few will have thought to question anything stated by their instructors – indeed, the most frequently asked question across these schools today was probably “will this be on the test?”. Millions of notebooks were half-heartedly flipped open to record unthinkingly the words of the curriculum.

Western society in particular is guilty of this practice; we place inordinate value on sameness, such that within any given socioeconomic group most people will dress the same, listen to the same music, watch the same TV shows. Fashion statements are generated by large corporations, whose subsidiaries pander to the similarly slavish fashions of the niche markets. Record companies churn out new clones of old artists, the promotional machine turning them into superstars and ensuring their marketability. Ultimately, a tiny élite controls the behavior of most of tomorrow’s leaders, who are mindlessly following orders as they are taught more and more definitely how to think – or perhaps more importantly, how not to think. We read Orwell’s 1984 and think of it as fiction when in fact it simply mirrors today’s reality so perfectly that one must almost ask whether Orwell was a latter-day prophet.

We believe that our government has our best interests at heart rather than its own; we believe that the news media is always telling us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth; we believe that accepted scientific principles are always right and we believe that our textbooks, encyclopedias and religious works provide an unerring guide to the world and everything in it.

Where am I going with all of this?

If the patterns of today continue, it is conceivable that within a few generations humanity will be faced with a completely new scenario, an event which we are unable to predict today, and that the billions of Earthlings faced with this problem will be unable to devise a single new idea between them and will thus perish.

Some may consider this a needlessly alarmist hypothesis. Others may sit comfortably and say that God – and I use the term to indicate any religious figure or figures – will no doubt save us from any such catastrophe. Others still may cling to accepted scientific dogma, believing that the corpus of accumulated data will no doubt yield a solution. What if these people are all wrong?

I believe that it is the duty of today’s Westerner to make himself a royal pain in the tail for the establishment. Perhaps the scientists are indeed right, or the Church, or the historians. I am not willing to bet the continued existence of my species on it. The class of 1491 believed that the world was flat even though the Egyptian, Minoan and Greek civilizations had already mathematically determined otherwise and certain Asiatic folks had already visited the American continent. The learned elders of the sixteenth century were convinced that the Sun revolved around the Earth, going so far as to revile and punish the mavericks who proposed a heliocentric system, notwithstanding teachings from the past suggesting otherwise. Today we all accept the Darwinian theory of evolution, albeit in a rather distorted way that would horrify Darwin himself, though many of us are aware of the establishment’s reluctance to believe him. What do we “know” today that the class of 2100 will ridicule? Nothing, say the scientists. What we know now is obviously the shining, unassailable truth. Their word does not satisfy me any more than the “truths” of yesteryear satisfied Columbus or Galileo.

The Real Truth as we know it today is not an ultimate destination; it is a claim made by closed-minded people who wish to keep their books in the accepted literature and their royalties in their wallets. It is a system of denial whereby anyone proposing a different scenario is immediately dubbed a ‘crank’ (at best) or a ‘heretic’ (at worst). Few members of the establishment are open-minded enough to accept that if a well-loved article of established dogma is proven incorrect it must be amended or replaced. Even on those rare occasions when the ‘lunatic fringe’ is proven correct about something, those very lunatics who dared to dream of something new gather their followers about them and begin to cling to their own discoveries as tightly as the now-discredited generation before them, and before long the new knowledge is just as entrenched as the old, accepted just as blindly by the next generation of students.

If we are to progress, to advance our understanding of Science, of Nature and of God, we must question everything. Only those who believe that faster-than-light travel is possible will have the impetus to make it possible. Only those who believe in human immortality will find the way to make it happen. Only those who learn the lessons of the past will be able to carve out a meaningful future for the human race.

I’m sorry, Henry, but history is no longer bunk. Let’s take another look.

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