A parable:

You and I are two young, educated Europeans in the late 17th century, right at the dawn of the Enlightenment. We are up to date on some of the new philosophy, where talk of “individual freedom” and “human rights” has dominated the intellectual discussion of what an ideal society looks like. We have also witnessed the new sciences start to develop, only to be routinely hampered by the oppressive power of the Church. We feel like we are on the brink of major social revolution, a fundamental revaluation of human life and society, but the power of the Church and of the Kings and Lords is incredibly strong, and the future is uncertain. 

One day, I come to you in hushed tones. “I fear that we may never realize the ideals of our Enlightenment,” I say, “because I do not believe such an ideal society is possible under the oppressive rule of the Church. The Church will never recognize a conception of human freedom that challenges their absolute authority.”

“Nonsense!” you reply. “The ideal of human rights and a liberal society is a noble goal, and one worth pursuing for the good of all people. But the Church is a fact of life, and it has been this way for generations, back to Constantine himself. However we choose to realize the ideal state, we must do it while acknowledging the power and authority of the Church. Only by cooperating with the Church and its wishes will we be able to advance our cause. That’s how it has always been, that’s how it always will be.”

I object again, suggesting that individual liberty cannot be realized within a theocratic state. “In order to realize a genuinely liberal society, we must have asecular society! The road to human rights requires bringing down the Church and its monopoly on power.” You silence me again, staring at me like I’ve gone mad. 

“Enough! Even if I agree that a secular society would be ideal, it will never happen! Religion is part of human nature, and we will always structure our societies on the basis of our religious beliefs. Maybe intellectuals like us can daydream about secular societies, but the masses in the fields need their Church to keep them sane and civil; even a day without the Church would surely drive them to chaos. How could society possibly manage without the Church? The very idea is so far-fetched, it is not worth considering. Any plans for a new society that include secularization are simply unrealistic.”

And yet here we are, a few hundred years later, most of us in states that are quite explicitly secular. Religion is still a powerful force in society, but it is no longer an immutable organizing principle. Secularism is not only commonplace, but assumed as part of the basic institutional framework that structures the social lives of most of the people in the world. At the dawn of the Enlightenment, such an idea would easily be considered so outlandish as to be not worth entertaining, but today we take it for granted. 

We are now at a time when the budding ideals of our coming Digital Age, of open access and participation, have secured such a hold on the public imagination that a systematic reshaping of society seems inevitable. We are increasingly confident in our ability to self-organize and accomplish great things. But in hushed tones I must confess: I fear that Digital ideals will never be realized under the oppressive rule of Money. Open access and participation simply are not profitable, and so we must challenge the authority of the Almighty Dollar. We need a society without money. 

Nonsense!


Original post: https://plus.google.com/u/0/117828903900236363024/posts/GbvhFRWhpxn

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