Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.
– Voltaire, philosopher (1694-1778)
Voltaire (FranÃ§ois-Marie Arouet) was a brilliant thinker and astute observer of human nature, but I believe he missed the mark with this quote.
For an educated person with a broad base of knowledge and understanding of what the ancient Greeks called philosophy, the quote makes sense. Someone who can make you believe something that is absurd can surely make you commit atrocities.
The concept of slavery as practised during the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries qualifies as atrocity since it was based on the belief that because people of a different culture and skin colour who lived in the tropical areas of middle Africa could not speak the language of the white European imperialists and had a different form of economy than European capitalism, they must be stupid subhumans who were good for nothing more than working in the fields of white plantation owners. Slaves formed a part of white capitalism.
It may seem less than an atrocity that one person would impoverish an entire family by investing everything the family had managed to save in an internet (scam) venture that they knew to be “too good to be true.” More of an atrocity if you were a member of one of those families who went from middle class to poverty overnight. Whose education ended a high school because college could no longer be afforded.
Hitler and his propaganda minister Goebbels managed to persuade enough German citizens and the military that Jews were a curse to the world because they worked hard and did well in business, thus earning income they believed should have been in the hands of Germans, that they participated in the Holocaust.
Militant Hutus in Rwanda persuaded their fellow tribesmen that the Tutsis who were better at business and at influencing government policy than the Hutus deserved to be destroyed because they were keeping Hutu people unemployed, so the Hutus slaughtered nearly one million Tutsis, mostly using machetes.
However, Voltaire made the mistake of believing that other men were as knowledgeable and as well educated as he. Knowledge is crucial to the effectiveness of the quote.
To him, an absurdity would be something that didn’t make sense. However, what makes sense is learned, not inherited through genetics. There is nothing “common” about “common sense” if its components and way of analyzing factors and determining reasonable and acceptable conclusions are not taught to everyone–to the common people in common (through schools) ways.
We insist that our schools teach language, mathematics, science, geography, history, some arts, some life skills and a variety of other optional subjects that differ from one location to another. But we don’t teach thinking skills, as such.
Life today in cities is not similar to life on the farm when the economy mostly depended on agriculture. Not even similar to the days when city people were mostly employed in factories, where neither the factory workers nor the farmers needed much formal education. Yet our education systems teach updated versions of the same subjects our ancestors were taught.
Today the farmers and factory/business workers all receive a good education, in agriculture, engineering, computer science and so on.
But not in how to make the basic decisions of life. Not in how to repair stuff that breaks at home. Not in how to distinguish between foods that will poison (eaten in excess) or fatten us to obesity from those that will give us longer and healthier lives. Not in the factors that must be considered when buying a car or a house. Not in the skills of building and maintaining a healthy relationship with a spouse. Not in what children need so that we can be good and effective parents, not just conscientious ones.
Most of these things were taught at home when people lived on farms or worked in factories and had to tend to their own needs. Today’s parents don’t have time to teach these lessons. Worse, many of today’s parents don’t even know what lessons to teach their kids themselves because they didn’t receive those lessons from their own parents.
This is not rocket science. It’s stuff everyone should know. Even in wealthy countries nearly half the adult population is functionally illiterate and two-thirds of the seniors are, if the results of a Statistics Canada study in 2002 can be generalized for other countries.
Something is wrong. People are taking drugs, gulping Prozac and having breakdowns in unprecedented numbers because they don’t know how to conduct their lives safely and smoothly. This is not a consequence of modern life. It’s a consequence of not teaching to children what they will need to know as adults.
Tobacco companies put poisons into cigarettes, as proven by the Canadian Cancer Society. That is absurd, but legal. It’s an atrocity that such a large percentage of our adult population and a shocking percent of adolescents smoke, which will eventually kill them or give them chronic diseases.
But that’s OK. The students are learning maths and science. The adults get to kill themselves through overwork or addictions by virtue of our belief in free will.
This doesn’t make sense. Yet we allow it to happen. Because we don’t teach children and young adults common sense, the skills of thinking and the knowledge about what is important about life.
If you want it to happen in your community, start spreading the word around. Get people to write to the authorities of your state or province. Read Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems (see the web site URL below) to find out what you need to know and how to implement a new plan.
Does it make sense to do nothing? Is it not an atrocity to continue to allow what is happening around you to go on?
Your life and the lives of those you love are being affected–and not in a good way–by allowing things to continue the way they are going.
You aren’t powerless. You may believe you are, but that is only an excuse. You have a book that will show you everything you need to know and do. And we are building a community of people around the world who will offer support to each other. The web site will give you information about how to join that community (free).
Let’s get busy. It’s absurd to let things get worse.
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, striving to make the tough things about life easier to understand and to provide a plant to change them.
Learn more at http://billallin.com