The philosophical foundations of the word are shifting. Fact, evidence; they are becoming irrelevant even though they have governed our decision-making processes for nearly 350 years. And they have been a good 350 years for the Euro-centric Western world.
Let’s start with that scientific colossus Sir Isaac Newton. He based his conclusions on what he could prove with his senses. He saw with his eyes that the apple fell from the tree (and he felt it on his head). He saw that when a croquet ball collided with another there was a physical reaction.
In the seventeenth century, Sir Isaac laid the scientific foundations which eventually led to man landing on the moon.
He also laid the foundations for what became known as natural philosophy. That is the belief that the answer to human relations lies in the study of nature. Newton said every action has a reaction. Well, in politics, every decision, every word, every campaign promise, has a consequence. Or at least it did.
Today’s political dialogue is dominated not by facts but by the ability of politicians to manipulate the electorate’s fears and prejudices with distortions and lies. Nothing new? Well, yes and no. Politicians have always misled the public. But since the time of Newton, governments have had a free press to hold them to account.
The economic decline of the traditional press has opened new vistas for unprincipled politicians. In the US, Donald Trump bypassed the media and transmitted his message of hate and prejudice direct to the voters through social media. When challenged, he and his supporters simply drowned out the opposition with the bully boy tactics of shouting louder and longer.
In Eastern Ukraine Russian troops have been seen and photographed. “It’s a Western lie,” shouts Vladimir Putin. A Russian missile was identified as responsible for shooting down a Malaysian airliner. “It’s a Western lie,” shouts Vladimir Putin. Russian planes have been seen bombing humanitarian convoys in Syria. “It’s a Western lie, shouts Vladimir Putin. Maybe he is right. He shouts loud enough.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is more traditional in his approach to the opposition. Since the attempted military coup he has fired 110,000 civil servants, locked up ten parliamentarians and arrested thousands of academics and army officers. Erdogan commandeered the authority to appoint the heads of all universities and his country is now the world’s number one jailer of journalists. Since July, 170 media outlets have been closed.
An independent judiciary has for centuries sat alongside the free press as guardian of liberty and protector of the rights of the individual. In Britain—home of Sir Isaac and long regarded as the traditional protector of individual liberties– the Brexiteers have branded the second highest court in the land “Enemies of the People” because of their refusal to allow the pro-Brexit government to start exiting the European Union without a parliamentary vote.
The case has been appealed to Britain’s Supreme Court. The judges who sit on the court’s bench are refusing public speaking engagements because of threats against them by Brexiteer supporters.
Sir Isaac Newton helped lay the foundations of anti-clerical humanism. Ironically he was also a deeply religious man who spent more time studying and writing about the Bible than he did about maths and science. It is believed that his failure to reconcile his strong faith with the evidence of nature led to insanity in later years.
Humanism and natural philosophy were a reaction against a faith-based society controlled by a church who answered the omnipresent realities of death and misery with promises of a glorious afterlife. They had no proof. There was no evidence. But if you had faith, paid your tithe, bought indulgences and endowed the church, you would enjoy a glorious Heaven.
Trump fails to offer proof that he can make American Great Again. The Brexiteers offer no evidence that life will be better out of Europe. They both hark back to the days before the Age of Reason to say: “Believe in me.”
Tom Arms is a broadcaster and columnist focused on world affairs. His regular wold affairs podcast can be heard at www.lookaheadnews.com. He is also available for lectures and speaking engagements.
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