As an escape, a folly if you will, from the miasmas of corruption, injustice and hypocrisy, I have penned the outline for a movie or story about the death of an idea, the idea being tolerance and the ushering in of an era of intolerance based on fear, xenophobia and self-interest – all driven by established religion and the selfish interests of the war mongering industries of the military-industrial-political alliance.
With the death of tolerance came the end of one of the greatest challenges ever posed to humanity – Sapere Aude.
All comments welcome, whether they be good, bad or indifferent!
The Roman poet Horace proclaimed that his motto was Sapere Aude!, literally, “dare to know!” The accepted English translation of which is, “Have the courage to use your own understanding!”
Sapere Aude recounts the death of an idea. Ideas can be dangerous things and this idea has proven to be just that. As is the fate of most great things, the actual date of birth of this idea is unknown though it is generally accepted to have been born in the 1680s, the decade that witnessed the publication of such influential works as Pierre Bayle’s News of the Republic of Letters (1684-1687), Sir Isaac Newton’s Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (1687), and Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). These works ushered in a decade of political tensions between the old world order and a new order based on reason and tolerance. The 1680s culminated in Louis XIV’s revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685) and England’s “Glorious Revolution” of 1688. The date of death of this idea, on the other hand, is well documented – 11 September 2001.
Ernst Cassirer’s “bright, clear mirror”, that cunning device designed to reflect the achievements of the Enlightenment against the realities of our day, a device that had survived the ravages of Nazism and the hypocrisy of what became known as the Cold War. With the destruction of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre, the double exclamation marks of the Western Enlightenment, the mirror was shattered beyond repair bringing the Enlightenment to an end.
“Reason, Tolerance, and Humanity”
There will be, in the next generation or so, a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude, and producing dictatorship without tears, so to speak, producing a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies, so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them, but will rather enjoy it, because they will be distracted from any desire to rebel by propaganda or brainwashing, or brainwashing enhanced by pharmacological methods. And this seems to be the final revolution. — Aldous Huxley
The reasons behind the Enlightenment’s continued unsavoury reputation in some quarters can be traced to three factors. Firstly we have the extraordinary achievement of modern science in remaking the world. Thinkers associated with the Enlightenment have had and continue to have an avid interest in the achievements of modern science and hold significant hope for the benefits that scientific progress will bring to humanity in the future. One such testimony to the Enlightenment’s faith in science can be found in Jean-Antoine-Nicolas de Caritat, Marquis de Condorcet (1743-1794) Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind (1795) (Sketch), written while he was in hiding during the Terror. Condorcet, an early protégé of D’Alembert, was an active participant during the early years of the French Revolution where he was a vigorous advocate of women’s rights and a powerful adversary of those who supported slavery. His opposition to the execution of the king based upon his aversion to capital punishment, led to his fall from public life. In his Sketch, Condorcet pictured a world where the methods of modern science would be used as tools to mend all of society’s problems, thus resulting in the triumph of reason, tolerance, and humanity.
Condorcet’s Sketch is usually offered as evidence whenever the Enlightenment is criticised for its naïve faith in progress. These criticisms are not always entirely wrong, which brings me to my second point. While we have unquestionably witnessed scientific advances of a kind over the two centuries since Condorcet’s death that even he could not have imagined, our political institutions and capacities for moral reasoning have not kept pace. It is not unreasonable to argue that our moral and political institutions are increasingly unable to deal with the dilemmas that advancements in science have posed. Enlightenment thinkers were not simply interested in the promise of increasing human control over nature that science seemed to offer. Thinkers such as Kant held hopes that the free and open criticism which serves as the ideal for the scientific method could be extended to an international community of readers and critics that has the heart for “public reason”. It would seem that as a species, we are moving further and further away from fulfilling Kant’s ideal.
Finally we must not underestimate the continued salience of the Enlightenment in the area of religious tolerance. Tolerance, the great ideal of the Enlightenment, was expressed nowhere more powerfully than in the allegorical engraving of tolerance produced by Daniel Nicolaus Chodwiecki (1726-1801) for a pocket calendar in 1792. Chodwiecki’s tolerance shows members of various religious faiths and communities peacefully gathered together under the protection of Minerva, the Roman Goddess of Wisdom. According to Chodwiecki’s Tolerance, where reason rules, tolerance follows. It is this ideal that lies at the heart of the Enlightenment and as recent events have made all too clear, it is something that cannot be dismissed as “shallow and pretentious intellectualism.”
The Family Tolerance, comprised of Minerva and her children
Three International Court of Justice Justices – a female Negro, a male Caucasian and a male Asian
Brigadier Christos (presiding judge at the United States military tribunal).
Unnamed US Military Captain
Emergency service workers & Hospital staff
Twin tower survivors
Erasmus, Holbein, Kant, Freud, Luther, Calvin, Poussin, Kierkegaard, Marx, Darwin and Nietzsche.
Ground Zero 5 PM 11 September, 2001: Tolerance emerges from the shattered ruins of the Twin Towers, her famine torn children at her heels, dining on the blackened crumbs of bread that follow in her wake. The naked feet of Tolerance are covered in burns and her lower extremities are as hideous as her head is brilliant. As the figure approaches the gathered crowd of emergency workers and survivors, she and her children are given a hero’s welcome. On noticing the extent of her injuries and the emaciated state of her children The Family Tolerance are whisked away by ambulance for urgent care.
While The Family Tolerance is in hospital and under sedation, American and other Western societies undergo a period of recrimination and counter recrimination. Eventually all fingers begin pointing towards The Family Tolerance in an accusatory manner. They are unmistakably indicating that Tolerance is the cause of the death and destruction which has followed in the wake of the attack on the twin towers, those dual exclamation marks of Western hegemony.
Following the recriminations The Family Tolerance is held for trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, charged with “undermining the state by preaching universal tolerance and understanding”.
During the course of the trial the CIA surreptitiously approach Minerva’s children and offer them immunity from prosecution in the United States if they will assist the CIA in the apprehension of their mother, Minerva in the event that the ICC hands down a verdict of not guilty.
After a lengthy and hard fought trial at the ICC, The Family Tolerance is exonerated. As they leave the court Minerva is kidnapped by the CIA and illegally rendered to Guantanamo Bay where she is tried in absentia by the United States and sentenced to death.
The World Trade Centre, that once triumphant symbol of Western economic hegemony and Grand Temple to Mammon and home of the West’s major financial institutions, has been destroyed by a society so encrusted in anachronisms that only a shock of great violence could free the living organism within. Institutionally torpid, economically immobile, culturally atrophied and socially stratified, the Islamic world was incapable of self modernisation. Rather than facing up to the prospect of its own internal revolution, the first tremors of which were already being felt, a number of the more radical elements within Islamic society decided to turn their attention to “the great Shaitan” (the Arab and Muslim term for Satan), the double exclamation marks emphasising Western hegemony. The effects of this decision have had and continue to have profound effects on both societies.
Both have become more insular and radicalised, resulting in the stripping away of individual freedoms and rights. For the West, these individual freedoms and rights are what formed the very foundations of the Enlightenment. The physical manifestation of this loss of personal liberties in the West is the placing of The Family Tolerance on trial for “allowing forces to operate within the Western Enlightenment that would eventually unleash their destructive power on one of the West’s most potent symbols”.
The Family Tolerance, defended by Cicero, brilliant, voluble, cranky, a genius of political manipulation, but also a true idealist and one of the greatest lawyers and statesmen of all times, argues in their defence that, “The only enemy of the continued liberation of the individual, democracy, universal rights and the widespread prosperity and comfort associated with the Enlightenment is the military-industrial alliance that predominates in the west”. In their defence The Family Tolerance calls the ambassadors of the Enlightenment – Erasmus, Holbein, Kant and Freud. Along with these ambassadors, the defence calls those who sought to contain humanism’s pride with a frame of higher truth – Luther, Calvin, Poussin, and Kierkegaard – along with those who tried to reform humanism’s tenants, Marx, Darwin and Nietzsche.
After a lengthy trial in which The Family Tolerance is exonerated in a split decision, two to one, the Caucasian male dissenting, they are released from the jurisdiction of the ICC, with the court’s president, and the only female judge sitting on the case advising the family that “they are free to go”. In the glare of the world’s media, The Family Tolerance slowly rises from the bar table and walks toward the doors of the court.
Upon leaving the court, Minerva is arrested by United States officials and illegally rendered to Guantanamo Bay where she is held in barbarous conditions and tried in absentia for crimes against the “sovereignty of the United States” by a US Military Tribunal. Being found guilty in a sham trial, she is sentenced to death.
The action in Sapere Aude takes placein a number of separate, but evocative locations, for the post September 11 world where people no longer “have the courage to use their own understanding”.
The opening sequence is at Ground Zero in the late afternoon of the day of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre.
The camera then leaves the World Trade Centre and follows a number of ambulances as they wind their way through the streets of New York carrying the broken bodies of The Family Tolerance (Minerva and her children).
After arriving at the hospital the camera follows The Family Tolerance as its members make their way to the emergency room at the Mater Mercy Hospital, Fifth Borough New York City, where they are treated and finally admitted to a ward to recuperate.
Time progresses and The Family Tolerance find themselves in a courtroom in the Peace Palace in The Hague in Brussels, home of the ICC. Sitting on a bench facing them are three judges; a Caucasian male, a Negro female and an Asian male. In the rows behind them are assembled the world’s media. Standing beside The Family Tolerance is their defence attorney, Cicero. Opposed to Cicero are Uncle Sam and John Bull representing the industrial-military alliance of the post-modern Enlightenment.
At the conclusion of the trial, the scene moves to the portico of the building that houses the ICC where The Family Tolerance are seen descending the steps of the Peace Palace, journalists and newspaper reporters receding into the background. As they reach the final step of their descent, a number of men in black suits, wearing Ray Bans and sporting crew-cuts approach The Family Tolerance and force Minerva into a Hummer. The camera follows as the Hummer speeds off through the streets of Brussels.
Flashed scene: Minerva is seen in dog cages at Guantanamo Bay. Abrupt shift to a military tribunal, where in a closed court in Washington DC Minerva is tried in absentia by the United States for “crimes against the sovereignty of the United States”. In this trial, Minerva is defended by a nameless and faceless US Army Captain, while the prosecution is again led by Uncle Sam. After a short trial in a closed court the presiding judge announces that Minerva has been found guilty as charged and is sentenced to death.
Penultimate scene: A US Army colonel in full uniform hands to Minerva through the wires of the cage holding her, a document.
Final scene Minerva dead, still strapped into an Electric Chair ethereally floating above the World Trade Centre Memorial, while images of a Christian Cathedral, an Islamic Mosque, and Jewish, Buddhist and Hindu Temples circle her.