When I read history, I like to think about the events behind the events. I imagine the movers and shakers of the day and how they influenced things…and why. I can’t necessarily point to specific findings as “proof” but all the pieces are out there and they sometimes come together for me in unexpected ways. One example of this is the period in history known as the Dark Ages. The Dark Ages occurred between the fall of Rome and the beginning of the Enlightenment. To sum up, it generally refers to a period in Europe when everything was crap for most people. It’s almost as if when Rome fell, European civilization itself fell with it, as if by magic.
But it wasn’t magic and it was no accident, either. When Rome fell, the subsequent power vacuum was filled by the Catholic Church. The church went on a mission…to remove books. They went out of their way to find any books they could, keep one copy for themselves in the Vatican, and destroy the rest. With information disappearing, people got dumber…and the church gained power – and money, of course. Services were given in Latin – which most people no longer spoke. People had to take the priests word for things and the priests words had an unerring tendency to earn for the church.
I pin the Dark Ages to the church because they only happened where the church was and they didn’t happen where the church wasn’t. In fact, the Dark Ages finally came to an end when church warriors known as Crusaders discovered a vast library that had been maintained by Arabs. The Crusaders brought the contents of the library back to Europe, information began to spread again and the Dark Ages gave way to the Enlightenment. (Now would be the time to acknowledge this is a bit of a simplified telling of events but it’s essentially accurate…)
The reason I’m thinking about the Dark Ages these days is that I think I see another era on the horizon. We currently live in what’s known (euphemistically, as it happens) as the information age. Because of computers, we the species have access to vast stores of information. There’s no way a single entity could ever bottle up information the way the Catholics did fifteen hundred-plus years ago. But, in a way, ours is the opposite problem.
The information age has been flooded with bad information right along with accurate information. The result is the same as when all the books were eliminated: people are getting dumber. When bad information is presented alongside accurate information and looks just the same – just as “official” and legitimate – people get confused and are readily deceived – even otherwise intelligent people. When one cannot discern between accurate information and “fake news” (actually, “lies”) ALL information becomes useless.
Without solid, trustworthy information, society is…slipping. We make poor choices about policies and politicians because we don’t know what’s real. Our infrastructure is failing because we don’t know it’s condition. Preventable sickness and diseases are on the rise – because of poor information.
No, I’m not calling our current situation a dystopian hellhole similar to Europe in the throes of the Dark Ages – but I fear we’re on the leading edge. As day-to-day information becomes less accurate, less useful, things are failing around us and I don’t think it’s an accident now any more than it was after the fall of Rome. I think the hyper-wealthy in this once-great nation have a vested interest in “dumbing down” as many of us as they can and for the same reason the Catholics did it – power and money.
I’ll tell you this: if the masses don’t learn to discern between real and fake information, and quickly, history shows that the future is going to be a less than pleasant ride for most of us…
NOTE: Edited to correct a typo. I wrote “as if my magic” at the end of the first paragraph when I meant “as if by magic.”