EDITORIAL: More Dubious Ideas

HomeClass-article

EDITORIAL: More Dubious Ideas

For the second issue in a row we are examining the odd persistence of questionable ideas. Why? I guess because there are so many of them.

For the second issue in a row we are examining the odd persistence of questionable ideas. Why? I guess because there are so many of them.

The world’s spinning madly, it drifts in the dark
Swings through a hollow of haze,
A race around the stars, a journey through
The universe ablaze with changes.

~from the song “Changes” by Phil Ochs, from his 1966 album “ Phil Ochs in Concert”

Although he is mostly forgotten now, Phil Ochs was a leading figure in the American anti-war protest movement in the 1960s, writing such songs as “The War is Over” and “I Ain’t Marchin’ Any More,” and dozens of others. Some thought of him as the greatest of them all, with a rich distinctive voice and a powerful expression of moral outrage at the actions of the American government in Viet Nam.

That war was one of the very worst of bad ideas. Those of us who lived through those terrible years are still haunted by the spectacle of thousands of innocent young American boys and girls being sent into those jungles to die alongside thousands of innocent Vietnamese boys and girls. And as the world changes, as it continues to spin madly and drift in the dark, another madness – growing fascism – threatens peace and human safety and dignity. We need Phil Ochs now, but he died in 1976.

Phil Ochs was more than a protest singer. He wrote from a deep moral conviction concerning personal obligation. Perhaps his best-known song was “There But for Fortune,” also covered by Joan Baez and many others. Ochs’ vivid imagery here forces us to confront the fragility of our middle-class existence and the callousness of our treatment of the less fortunate. Ochs tells us that yes, we are our brother’s keeper.

Show me a prison, show me a jail
Show me a prison man whose face is growing pale
And I’ll show you a young man with many reasons why
And there but for fortune may go you or I

Show me an alley, show me a train
Show me a hobo who sleeps out in the rain
And I’ll show you a young man with many reasons why
And there but for fortune may go you or I.

 

As we approach the end of life, moral reflection begins to intrude, more aggressively, more insistently, into our thoughts. What have we really accomplished, what remains undone, what else could we have done? If we have been blessed by good fortune these thoughts might well take on a special poignancy and urgency, for, inevitably, we will feel incomplete.

My obsession, my self-assigned life’s task, has been to struggle in favour of rational thought -a rage against dubious ideas, a despair over the persistence of such ideas, an exaggerated sense of what I could do to fix this widespread and entrenched problem. As it has turned out, I could not do much about it. For every essay I and others write about critical thinking, evidence and rationality, ten more conspiracy theorists have their way on the internet. Maybe it was all a fool’s errand.

Maybe all calls for reason, in a world wracked by unreason, are futile, perhaps even foolish. But if this is so, if Humanist Perspectives stands in the vanguard of futility and foolishness, I am still pleased to have had this chance to stand with them.

Just wish I could have done more.