Are we stupid?

Time for Truth

The following is the text of the address I made to the Seek, Speak and Spread Truth Conference in London yesterday, 23 November. Its main thrust is about the need for citizens to become politically engaged to make democracy work (before it’s as dead as the two-state solution for Israel-Palestine) in order for our children and grandchildren to have the real prospect of a future worth having.


I want to start with a promise. I won’t be disturbed and you won’t be disturbed by my mobile ‘phone because I don’t have one. I have thrown mine away because I am trying to stay human.

That said I’ll give you my one-sentence overview of the state of affairs on our small, fragile, endangered planet. Modern life is a de-humanizing process which has reduced us, most of us, to units of consumption, digits in corporate computers, figures on accountants’ balance sheets.

What this suggests to me is that the prime task for each and every one of us is to claim back our humanity. I’ll be offering some thoughts on how we can do this, but first of all we have to address what I consider to be THE most important of all questionsthe question of human nature.

What, really, is the quality of it?

There are, broadly speaking, two views.

One, the pessimistic view, which is more or less an article of faith for most politicians and mainstream media people and many corporate executives, bankers especially, is that we human beings are inherently and unchangeably short-sighted, selfish and greedy, preferring to live for today at the expense of tomorrow and are, on balance, more “bad” than “good”. In other words, we are really quite stupid. And that, our so-called leaders tell themselves, is why they can’t tell us the truth about real choices and options for the future.

If the pessimistic view is the correct one, it seems to me that nothing matters because the end, catastrophe for all, was inevitable from the beginning; in which case we would all be well advised, as individuals, as communities and as nations, to go on screwing each other for all we can get. Praising the lord and passing the ammunition.

The optimistic view is that we could be much more “good” than “bad”, meaning that we have at least the potential to act in our own best, longer term interests and those of our children especially, even if doing so would require those of us who live in the rich nations (and the pockets of plenty in the developing and poor nations) to lower our expectations and actually be prepared to take less in the way of material gratification.

I believe the optimistic view of human nature is the correct one and that we have been CONDITIONED to be short-sighted, selfish and greedy, and to assume that the purpose of life beyond mere survival is the acquisition of material things, buying now and paying later. It follows, or so it seems to me, that we could be RE-CONDITIONED by information, education in the widest sense of the term. As the American John Dewey (my favourite philosopher) put it, we must “unlearn” what we have been taught about the “unchangeability of human nature.”

If we did that, I believe we would discover that changing the world for the better is not a mission impossible.

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