Shayne Wissler
Imagine a world where we figured out the right direction to push, and then we pushed in that right direction…

On foolish interpretations of The Enlightenment

February 19 2022

I’m looking at you, “Dark Enlightenment”.

Paraphrasing JK Rowling “[History] is like a mirror: if a fool looks in, you cannot expect a genius to look out.” In a substantial way we learn from history what we bring to it. I can look at Elon Musk and consider all his government handouts and view his life through that lens, or I can look at it through the lens of his vision, drive, and courage. Both perspectives are “true” in a sense. Which perspective does ME the most amount of good?

Surely The Enlightenment was a lot of different things, but WE get to pick what WE mean by the phrase. If we choose to mean “everything that happened in a given time period”, we miss the point. If we select the bad parts, that’s a reflection of our OWN preference of what to emphasize about it. If we select those things that truly moved humanity forward, then that is the best sort of meaning, as it does US the most amount of good, for it gives us the pattern to emulate going forward.

But this means that we have to exercise a wise judgement in selecting what parts to emphasize and why. This presupposes that we have a wise judgement, that we know what “wise” means. Which takes us straight to the realm of philosophy. In other words, one cannot be a good historian without also being a good philosopher, knowing what is truly important and meaningful and what isn’t.

The point isn’t to whitewash history. We can and should point out that Elon Musk’s reliance on government handouts is a bad thing, and that Thomas Jefferson owning slaves is also a bad thing. But to amplify the bad things and ignore or misrepresent the good things is to be a fool, and to systematically forge such misrepresentations and present it as “history” is to help create a nation of fools.