“…you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8: 32
Have you ever wondered why World War Two happened the way it did? How could fascism (visit this link for definition of this) dominated the worldviews of the perpetrators, from philosophical elites to political leaders to the population en masse?
Or, move a few centuries back. How could Communism impacted the world the way it did?
And we still wonder today. How can Kremlin/Russia do what she is doing? How is it that so many nations in the world are either silent or quietly supporting her aggression?
Quite unbeknown to many, including those who think they are well informed, is the role which different philosophical worldviews play in shaping minds, often with lasting and dire consequences.
Imagine some well-meaning Singaporeans seeking to clean up some beaches for the sake of the environment. That involved months of hard work. Then the tidal waves of Tsunami came. Or think of some massive melt-down in Antarctica leading to a sudden rise in ocean levels. Either way, the beaches, as we knew it, disappeared. In a few hours, all the clean-up work come to naught.
For there are forces with an impact which is far larger than our local efforts. And at times, ordinary citizens like most of us do feel helpless when facing these tidal waves.
Worldviews and philosophies matter. Books matter. Ideas matter. As Karl Marx, in referring to the alphabets said, ‘Give me twenty-six lead soldiers and I will conquer the world.’ And the ideas from Das Kapital almost did.
Coming back to the current Russo-Ukraine crisis, some of you may want to some listening here. While philosophers who are familiar with Russian culture may debate the extent which ideologies play in shaping the current affairs, the fact is there are people who have values which may be radically different from those we hold dearly. We cannot begin to understand why people of a certain culture can do the things they do without first trying to understand their philosophical worldviews.
These very ideas are also being pushed to us. Sometimes overtly, often subtly.
You may have heard the oft remark that “Singaporeans need to learn to think critically.” Have you ever wondered what this means? So, we think and then criticise? We are already pretty good at this! A quick Google search tells us this: “Critical thinking is a kind of thinking in which you question, analyse, interpret, evaluate and make a judgement about what you read, hear, say, or write. The term critical comes from the Greek word kritikos meaning “able to judge or discern”.”
There is no easy way to learn to “think critically.” This means a lot of good reading, real and thoughtful conversations and a mind which is questioning what is being written or said. There are parallels in the world of Scripture. On the need to think in a mature way, St Paul said, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:2)
We need wisdom, and that is another way of putting it. Coming back to the current crisis, I am surprise sometimes with how Singaporeans think about these issues. Of maybe I should add, prefer not to think about them! Through various random conversations I can detect some popular logical thinking which explains their neutral or even soft support for Russian actions.
We can also conclude that some of these thinking is affected by our media. In general, it is true that the more we consume a certain kind of non-mainstream media, the more these type of news will be push to us. It can range from outright fake news to those which causes you to question if anything can be believed at all. And some will focus on the usual red herring questions that paralyses our ability to speak with confidence against a present criminal action. These are the usual cheap and low hanging fruit arguments such as:
· “What about-ism” – i.e. What about what US did in Iraq and further back, in Nagasaki and Hiroshima?
· “Who is really benefitting? In war, some military companies are reaping huge profits and they are the ones driving these wars.” This is the usual conspiratorial way of thinking: there must be something else which is secretly driving this.
· “The true cause.” - It is Nato expansion, not Russian imperialism which is the main underlying cause. I can recall those Hong Kong TV series (i.e Shanghai Beach) which tells viewers that gangsters are really poor victims of injustices they faced in their childhood. And viewers teared when these “heroes” finally faced lawful justice.
I just named a few ways of thinking which fudges our ability to condemn a current wrongdoing.
Now you may feel powerless and helpless against these tides of larger forces. But in your much smaller world of influence, you can still make a difference. You can learn to think well, to discern and to be a constant seeker of the truth. If anything, you can help yourself and someone from being scammed get into a lifelong debacle and tragedy. For untruth will always bind and chain us, whereas truth will set us free.
And for all you know, right thinking on your part may well change the world for many others. So, don’t stop cleaning the beaches.