The Age of Unreason
Our legacy will be one of self-absorption, greed, obsession with youth and – at the end of our lives – pitiful attempts to shift the blame for our actions and inactions. This latter failing is clearly shown in Billy Joel’s immortal song, “We Didn’t Start the Fire”. It is the story of how T-shirts and bumper stickers failed to have any significant impact on world events.
But I digress.
The 1960’s were often referred to – by the generation we now call the “Baby Boomers” – as the “Age of Aquarius”. This simply shows their appalling sense of reality, since the earliest that astrologers place the dawning of the “Age of Aquarius” is 2150. By then, the “Aquarian generation” will all be dead. Even those who don’t believe in such negative things as “death”.
Astronomers, incidentally, place the beginning of the “Age of Aquarius” at 2600.
In the 1960’s, the Baby Boomers felt that an era of peace and worldwide love was in the offing and that they were the generation that was going to make that a reality. Their beliefs could be summed up by something I found on an astrology site:
“The key phrase for Aquarius is ‘I Know,’ but that knowledge is not a righteous, superior or exclusionary knowledge. It's a sort of wisdom that draws people together, for Aquarians are, above all else, social animals.“
I couldn’t have said it better. So, the Baby Boomers spent their twenties trying various magical means to bring about world peace and brotherly love (or just getting stoned out of their minds) and then got distracted by making a fortune in the stock market, buying loft condos and finding a way to keep from getting old.
However, the magical thinking never left them – and they’ve passed it on to succeeding generations.
So, after centuries of slow but steady progress against the forces of unreason, a single generation is trying to send us back to the Dark Ages. After centuries of scientific progress in medicine, a single generation brings back homeopathy, naturopathy and introduces any number of new variations on shamanism. Crystals, “The Secret” and Quantum Healing are all the result of this steady erosion of critical thinking.
It is this sort of unreason that has led people to make the most absurd statements without any apparent fear of contradiction, since – as the postmodernists tell us – there is no privileged reality. It has reached the point where many people believe that wanting something to be true will make it true. Some examples:
 Iran’s nuclear program is much in the news of late and all reports include a comment to the effect that “Iran claims that the nuclear program is solely for power generation”. What I never hear said is that Iran is a net exporter of oil and has an infrastructure that is so dysfunctional that it has to import gasoline.
It seems extremely unlikely that Iran would put the money and effort into something so complicated as nuclear power when it could buy oil-fired power plants for a fraction of the cost. And without stirring up the threat of UN sanctions.
Still, the talking heads and pundits seem to all be of the mind that by not actually saying that Iran’s rationale is full of baloney, they won’t have to face the ugly truth that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is trying to make a nuclear bomb in order to destroy Israel – as he has repeatedly said he was.
 Ardent believers in “Intelligent Design” (the belief system formerly known as “Creation Science”) repeatedly claim that their brand of bunkum is a “science”, despite the fact that it has no data to support it (it is, in fact, unfalsifiable and so untestable) and makes no predictions about the universe. Some of the top people in the “ID” world are scientists who should know better. Yet, somehow, they have the conviction that by saying that “ID” is a science that it will become one.
In the end, “Intelligent Design” is not science, not even bad science. It is religion dressed up to look like a science – if the light is bad and you squint a lot. And yet it has a serious following, even among people who call themselves “scientists”.
 “Quantum connectedness” continues to be all the rage in the Western world, as demonstrated by the number of people who mindlessly repeat bits of the movie, “What the #$*! Do We Know!?”. People who wouldn’t recognize a wave function if it bit them on the bum splutter on about its collapse by an observer which, so they claim, means that we can create our own reality by thinking it. Or they will wax eloquently about how quantum entanglement shows that we are all connected.
One of the most famous of the quantum-confused is Deepok Chopra, whose many books cash in on the general public’s ability to understand only that quantum physics is strange and seemingly paradoxical. He has repeatedly claimed that he has studied quantum physics, but his writings convince me (and others) that he may have studied it, but he surely hasn’t understood it.
 Much of “alternative” medicine encourages people to abandon scientific principles that have brought us in the West to a level of health and longevity that are unrivalled in human history. If we want to see what happens when that happens, we only have to look to those parts of the world where – for economic or philosophical reasons – scientific medicine is unavailable.
Yet, in the midst of the best medical care in the world – now or ever in history – a growing number of people are turning to magic. Whether it’s “quantum healing”, homeopathy, chiropractic, “energy medicine”, “thought field therapy” or any of a thousand others, it’s magic if it invokes unmeasurable “energies” or other undetectable properties.
This is not to say that there aren’t energies or other properties of the universe that we can’t currently detect or measure – not at all. It’s just that if we can’t currently detect or measure them, how can anyone propose that they exist? To echo that infamous movie, “How the #$*! Do They Know!?”. What special power do they have that allows them to know that these energies or other properties exist?
One of the common responses from these folks is that Newton didn’t know about radio waves, even though they existed (from the Sun other natural sources) in his time. True enough, but Newton also didn’t make any hypotheses that required radio waves. That’s the difference.
I could go on, but I won’t. I hope you get the point.
Our society is growing more and more dependent on rationality, science and technology to keep it from collapsing. It’s too late to turn back, now – giving up on reason and returning to magical thinking will cause a human (and probably environmental) catastrophe that would beggar the imagination. And, at the same time, the forces of Unreason encourage us to turn our back on reality in favor of “The Secret” or other such nonsense.
The technology that most people take for granted is far beyond the knowledge of the “average” citizen – not because they can’t understand it, but because they don’t. We run a very real risk of having an increasingly smaller proportion of our population that understands how critical technologies work or – even worse – the principles behind them.
Now is the time to take a stand – to come out on the side of Reason over Unreason, of Science over Magic, of Reality over Fantasy.
Or, we can all sit and meditate on a happier future.