“Brain workers, comrades, scattered throughout the world, kept apart for five years by the armies, the censorship and the mutual hatred of the warring nations,”
This standing declaration by Nobel Laurette Romain Rolland was penned in 1919 – a point of reflection after the first World War. And though it was over a hundred years ago, we are at a similar point of historical prominence.
Signed by hands such as “Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russel, Rabindranath Tagore, Jane Adams, Upton Sinclair, Stefan Zweig, and Hermann Hesse,” this declaration was given credence by some of the greatest minds of the time (1).
Over the next few years, we have the chance to set the foundations for future generations of digital origin. With an influx of information and conflicting points of view, it has become harder to keep an organized, free mind. Rolland continues:
“barriers are falling, and frontiers are being reopened; we issue you a call to reconstitute our brotherly union, but to make of it a new union more firmly founded and more strongly built than that which previously existed.”
Our information overload stands as a threat, but it also gives us a chance to be so much more than we have been.
The longstanding prominence of western culture is beginning to fall to the strength of the rising east. And though many see this as a threat, it can also be seen as a profound opportunity. This equalizing strength allows new voices to rise to more freely understand what it means to be a part of this global network of humans.
Democracy and individual sovereignty stand to grow, not weaken.
“The war has disordered our ranks. Most of the intellectuals place their science, their art, their reason at the service of the governments. We do not wish to formulate any accusations, to launch any reproaches. We know the weakness of the individual mind and the elemental strength of great collective currents. The latter, in a moment, swept the former away, for nothing had been prepared to help the work of resistance. Let this experience, at least, be a reason to us for the future!”
As we settle into new routines and relations, we have a chance to soften the contrast we see with those we disagree with. Our openness to information can serve our bias, or it can serve as a chance for understanding and growth.
“First of all, let us point out the disasters that have resulted from the almost complete abdication of intelligence throughout the world and form its voluntary enslavement to unchained forces. Thinkers, artists have added an incalculable quantity of envenomed hate to the plague, which devours the flesh and the spirit of Europe. In the arsenal of their knowledge, their memory, their imagination, they have sought reasons for hated, reasons old and new, reasons historical, scientific, logical, and poetical. They have worked to destroy mutual understanding and mutual love among men. So doing, they have disfigured, defiled, debased, degraded Thought, of which they were the representatives. They have made it an instrument of the passions, and (unwittingly, perchance) they have made it a tool of the selfish interests of a political or social clique, of a state, a country, or a class. Now, when from the fierce conflict in which the nations have been at grips, the victors and the vanquished emerge equally stricken, impoverished, and at the bottom of their hearts (though they will not admit it) utterly ashamed of their access of mania – now, Thought, which has been entangled in their struggles, emerges, like them, fallen from her high estate.”
The modern human doesn’t have to be weakened by the digital age, nor should we be seen as such. Opening to new ways of life and new creative combinations of living – this is what we should live for!
We shouldn’t hold ourselves to stagnancy but rather find new routes that strengthen stability.
A mind, free to think across the many disciplines – academic, religious, and those of the state – is a mind that can reach potentials yet foreseen.
A free mind is a mind that sits in our humanity first, before any other priority. This gives us a chance to understand the different ideologies no matter how distant they may be from each other and find their individual value.
“Arise! Let us free the mind from these compromises, from these unworthy alliances, from these veiled slaveries! Mind is no one’s servitor. It is we who are the servitors of the mind. We have no other master. We exist to bear its light, to defend its light, to rally around it all the strayed sheep of mankind. Our role, our duty, is to be a center of stability, to point out the pole star amid the whirlwind passions of the night. Among these passions of pride and mutual destruction, we make no choice; we reject them all. Truth only do we honor; truth that is free, frontierless, limitless; truth that knows naught of the prejudices of race or caste. Not that we lack interest in humanity. For humanity, we work, but for humanity as a whole. We know nothing of peoples. We know the People, unique and universal; the People which suffers, which struggles, which falls and rises to its feet once more, and which continues to advance along the rough road drenched with its sweat and blood; the People, all men, all alike our brothers. In order that they may, like ourselves, realize this brotherhood, we raise above their blind struggles the Ark of the Covenant – Mind which is free, one and manifold, eternal.”
So, let us set the grounds for a future of not only free speech and action but free – genuinely free to be an individual. Though our struggle seems never-ending, it’s what makes us human.
And as we do so, we can look to history as our teacher and the future as our inspiration to draw on a new canvas – a world that will come again – a world we can take a step forward:
A world that values life and liberty and the upper limits of the human legacy.
1. Popova, M. (2015, July 7). Declaration of the Independence of the Mind: An Extraordinary 1919 Manifesto Signed by Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russell, Jane Addams, and Other Luminaries. Brain Pickings. https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/07/07/declaration-of-the-independence-of-the-mind-romain-rolland/