These are difficult times for some of us. Our divisions seem more intractable than ever and a certain level of hatred seems to have been unleashed on both sides of the Atlantic, following the tumultuous events of last year. I find myself as frustrated with the dogmatic left as I am with the resurgent right – all while wondering what kind of world I have brought my son into and what the future holds.
I came across this the other day from the great British mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell, which I thought was astonishingly prescient and never more timely. Not just because of his belief in love and tolerance, but because of his call for intellectual rigour and a truth based on fact, no matter how unpalatable it may be. In this dystopian new world of post-truth and fake news, I see so many, from all sides of the political spectrum, falling for easy dichotomies and false platitudes. I think a little rigour would go a very long way.
In 1959, Russell, who was 87, was asked this question: “What would you think it’s worth telling future generations about the life you’ve lived and the lessons you’ve learned from it?
This was his reply:
“I should like to say two things, one intellectual and one moral. The intellectual thing I should want to say is this: When you are studying any matter, or considering any philosophy, ask yourself only what are the facts and what is the truth that the facts bear out. Never let yourself be diverted either by what you wish to believe, or by what you think would have beneficent social effects if it were believed. But look only, and solely, at what are the facts. That is the intellectual thing that I should wish to say.
The moral thing I should wish to say… I should say: love is wise, hatred is foolish. In this world which is getting more closely and closely interconnected, we have to learn to tolerate each other, we have to learn to put up with the fact that some people say things that we don’t like. We can only live together in that way, and if we are to live together and not die together we must learn a kind of charity and a kind of tolerance which is absolutely vital to the continuation of human life on this planet.”
In the spirit of Russell, I’m trying to keep an open mind, to seek the truth rather than easy moral certainties, and to practice tolerance and kindness, more than ever. May love and kindness prevail.