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June 21, 2016 / trajsingh

I find your lack of faith disturbing, western civilization

“We don’t want to listen to experts anymore”. “We don’t want to elect elitists”. “Give us someone ‘like us’, an everyman, a commoner, not someone already part of the system”.

A few years ago, I started commenting about how the traditional sources of authority (politicians, doctors, professors etc.) were being less trusted. They were being replaced by friends, celebrities and other people we perceived to be more like us, and more attuned to our point of view. This was interesting to me because I was running a startup (Sooqini) that was a crowd-sourced platform where businesses could get services provided by ‘the crowd’. Having trust reside in ratings and reviews by your peers was a good thing, (possibly selfishly speaking, but I continue to believe that, post the demise of Sooqini).

I see now that this trend continues with the rise of Donald Trump, the anti-vaccination movement led by vacuous celebrities, the UK’s flirtation (I hope) with Brexit, and so on. It also occurs to me that the trend is being enabled by something else, which I’m calling a lack of faith. By this I mean, western civilization is inextricably linked to religion (and also geography, and climate and so on) in that our foundational beliefs (manifest destiny, who is and isn’t human, moral codes, etc.) spring largely from the Judeo-Christian system.

What has happened is that as religion has eroded in influence (almost completely, even in the US, despite the churches on every corner) nothing has taken its place, unless you count consumerism and the Internet. In that moral vacuum, the rise of nihilists like Trump, Farage, Haider, Le Pen etc. can be seen as being enabled by the lack of faith/belief in countries ranging from Austria, the UK, and France, to the US.

As it happens, I’m not in favor of religions and don’t subscribe to the idea of a supernatural being. I believe they were ideally suited to controlling large numbers of people in a time when most people were illiterate and uneducated. Oh, and they enabled abuses of power, too. But, if we are unable to replace the sense of community, morality and sharing that they preached with something else, we’ll be in big trouble. Or, rather, even bigger trouble than we are now.

If we are to salvage the gains of the Enlightenment, we need to a) vote, and b) start teaching civics again and make it a top priority for all students (and perhaps adults too). I know we all hate being told what’s good for us, but if we really believe that tolerance, learning, respect, and equality are the right way to go, we need to draw the line somewhere. Yes, it will be hard, and take a long time, but it is worth it. And, if we have to make it an app with gamification in order for people to pay attention, so be it. After all, the other path is just too horrible a future to actually allow it to become a reality.

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