Growing up in England of the 1960s meant growing up in a world of optimism and rapid scientific progress, it meant having a confidence in a modern world where research and technological advance would change not just the way we lived, but also the way we thought. The tenets of religion would be replaced by the tenets of science; ideas would be tested against empirical evidence, truths would only be accepted if they were evident to all. Somewhere, the aspiration to a modern scientific world lost momentum, and old ways of thinking returned. The belief in a modern world and way of thinking became replaced by something called “post-modernism” and post-modern society has produced not people who believe nothing, but people who will believe anything.
Far from becoming mature, rational and objective, the decline of traditional religion in the wake of scientific advance has led to the rise of the irrational and to the return of old superstitions. The 14th Century English monk and writer William of Occam would have been dismayed at the backward slip of civilization, William expounded a principle that became known as Occam’s Razor. The principle in its shortest form says that one should not make any assumptions more than the minimum necessary to explain an event or phenomenon. William believed that the simplest explanation was generally most likely to be the correct one.
Growing up in the 1960s meant growing up in the culture of the Enlightenment which since the 18th Century had encouraged the application of scientific method. People’s thoughts and ideas were to be tested against public and verifiable facts and rational people would adapt their thinking in the light of the facts. It was an approach which would surely have found favour with William of Occam. Instead, of rational thought, the online world and the public discourse seems filled with unfounded assertions presented as definitive explanations and conspiracy theories presented as explanations to uncomfortable realities.
A very large razor would be useful in dealing with the lazy thinking that now abounds; the lazy thinking that slogans will suffice in the face of economic realities; the lazy thinking that blaming minorities will be an answer to political problems; the lazy thinking that constantly insists on rights without acknowledging responsibilities. The lazy thinking that rests on many assumptions and few facts.
Simple explanations are those that do not try to avoid realities, they are those that do not try to transfer blame to other people, they are those that accept the need for people to think for themselves. Post-modernism has created a world where everyone believes themselves entitled to their opinion, which, in itself is not a problem; the problem arises when people believe their opinion is as valid as that of anyone else. All opinions are not equal; there are those based on research, those that can be tested, those that are verifiable, those that are modified by evidence, and there are those that, like pre-Enlightenment medieval religion, rest on half-formed notions and plain prejudice.