“The empires of the future are the empires of the mind.”
When I think about Churchill’s observation, I’m overwhelmed with its many-layered significance for our time.
Today, if we stop to look, we can clearly see thought empires shaping our reality.
ISIS, for example, is a thought empire. Its thinking seems to be contagious in certain geographical regions. Its viral imperialism demands absolute adherence. Colonising in character, repressive and self-serving, its thought is utterly incompatible with democratic principle and thrives in those cultures that are tribal, totalitarian and opaque. The mind of ISIS has weighed and justified violence, terror and killing. Its thinking is at odds with humanity, human rights and human dignity.
There is no room to belong to ISIS and question; it is a thought empire of blind acceptance, obedience and action. It does not tolerate dissent, difference or division. Empathy has no place in its worldview, nor does compassion – even though one of its names for God is ‘The Compassionate’. It is thought at odds with itself; intellectually barren and morally bankrupt.
We call individual minds like that ‘weak’, ‘troubled’, ‘sick’. One of the signs of strong intellect is the ability to see the value in different concepts – to accept the possibility that things in this world are not black and white – like the ISIS flag.
Another thought empire is the democratic tradition of the West. What does our own, dear democracy stand for – and is it as easy to define? Junk thinking is easier to analyse than complex and ancient democratic ideologies – with sophisticated expressions of purpose and belonging. But recent events in Paris have surely helped us to be clear about what ‘democracy thinks’.
Democracy values liberty, equality before the law and fraternity – a deep knowledge of camaraderie brought by the common denominator of citizenship. Democracy values freedom of expression, diversity of every description and the right to question. Democracy celebrates difference. It is no surprise that Democracy’s history is filled with voracious intellects and thinkers of every persuasion. It is full of the diverse and conflicting ideas of artists, intellectuals and visionaries. Its history is rich with conflict – the result of which was always to enshrine more freedoms.
And yet, in coming into conflict with the dark empire of terrorism, it seems that these dearly-won freedoms are being eroded.
The challenge for democracy and all those who call themselves ‘free’ is to know that once thought becomes reality, it cannot be unthought except at great human cost. ‘In the beginning was the Word,’ the good book says. And just as our thoughts give rise to our words, our words bring change. We must be very clear on our thoughts, our opinions and our beliefs so that we may guide our words and our actions at this time of great need.
Our world is fragile now; let’s think clearly.
© gvons 2015