Imagine you’re in an 18th century French salon, surrounded by intellectuals and elites discussing and debating ideas that are today known as the legacy of the Enlightenment. Not only the dress and behavior, but the very conversation will be dictated by convention. You may feel intense nervousness and pressure to speak up, worried about speaking with unrefined language or treading on a taboo topic. In the event you do say something, you know your reputation will be determined by the thoughts you share with them, and how you share them. Now imagine that every time you stand up, you say, “Now, I’m going to say some things to you, but just because I’m sharing them with you does NOT mean I endorse them!” Would this assuage your fear for your reputation among the public? Would this have any effect on how your listeners will judge you? Would this protect you from judgement in the event that you share inaccurate or unpopular information? If you write “RT ≠ Endorsement” on your Twitter profile, then you might think the answer to at least one of these questions is “yes.”
Let me give myself up entirely to the sweetness of conversing with my soul, since that is only thing men cannot take away from me.
-Jean-Jacques Rousseau, from The Reveries of the Solitary Walker
Last Thursday’s New York Times published an op-ed article, “Welcome to the Age of Denial,” by Professor Adam Frank. He condemns a very real and very dangerous trend in American society of denying scientific facts, both on the political stage and in households. He writes that we live in a climate in which it is “politically effective, and socially acceptable to deny scientific fact.” I agree, and Frank’s own evidence below is very supportive of this disappointing statement:
For many of us, “monsters” are shadows on a child’s bedroom wall; aliens only exist in the imaginations of “pathetic low-lifes with boring jobs,” as cartoon child Lisa Simpson says. While these creatures’ real existences are debatable, they are essential elements of our stories. In the sci-fi horror genre, monsters and aliens are not only for good for tingling spines and jump scares, but also to stand in for much less tangible, yet more real, sources for anxiety – fears rooted in the human experience. In certain circumstances, characters’ tumultuous encounters with monsters and aliens in our horror and sci-fi favorites reference our relationship with an entity whose existence is even more hotly contested, whose actions may appear even more twisted and mysterious – God.
So Plato, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Robin Pecknold of the Fleet Foxes and I walk into a bar…and discuss how we can embrace human individuality and the common good of society at the same time. Continue reading