The Age of Unenlightenment

April 26, 2018 Daniel Langer-Hack

There are a few indisputable truths about the world around us. The sky is blue. What goes up most come down. And the world is round. Or is it?

Apparently not, according to a growing movement of people who are choosing, stunningly, to ignore Einstein's century-old theory of relativity, decades of objective scientific research and extensive satellite imagery which suggests otherwise1. Basketball star Kyrie Irving famously proclaimed himself a Flat Earther last year, saying, "The Earth is flat… I’m telling you, it’s right in front of our faces. They lie to us.” Evidently, the illuminati have now taken up shop in NASA. Who knew? 

This is part of a broader, growing trend wherein people are choosing to eschew logic and reason, effectively turning the objective into the subjective. Why? Because the truth does not fit their own personal narrative or value system. I could go on at length about the various biases we all carry around with us that make the idea of equating your gut with the truth a dangerous proposition.

At the intersection of Fake News and The Echo Chamber exists a new movement that I’m coining “The Age of Unenlightenment.”

For the first time in generations as a society, we are actively regressing in terms of our desire to learn and our willingness to reason. This is concerning in its own right, but the most frightening part of this movement is that it seems to be happening not to us, but rather by our own choosing. And while we have a certain President to thank for making it feel more permissible for the public to behave this way, even he alone can’t be blamed for the sharp and sudden rise in this sentiment.

The original Enlightenment was epitomized by the pursuit of knowledge above all else. Prior to this era, religion was how we made sense of things that we did not yet understand. Many influential thinkers and philosophers took up a (then controversial) position against the church and its widely held beliefs regarding the truth about the world around us. Those thinkers put themselves in the unenviable position of defying the beliefs of the establishment, such that we could benefit from these enduring truths (side note: When we rebranded to Church+State, I promised not to make any references to religion and I’m already reneging on that in order to make a point).  

In the world of Marketing, the idea of truth is perhaps more malleable than in most other fields. It is bent and stretched in order to cast product attributes in the best light possible, or to make news of something that is perhaps, not so newsworthy.

Sometimes this is done with intent, in the tongue-in-cheek sense, like when Cossette and Egg Farmers of Canada recently introduced a campaign promoting “Weekday Eggs.” One of the more famous new 'product launches' in the past decade was Diamond Shreddies, which brought some life back into a stale cereal brand - pardon the pun.

But to outright ignore facts? Well, that seems irresponsible, bordering on dangerous. I mean, there are pseudo government bodies which we take for granted to protect us from such atrocities, right?  

As marketers, must we now concern ourselves with the repercussions when a parody or abstract idea goes over the heads of some of The Unenlightened? One litmus test I often like to use against more cerebral creative concepts, is "Would your Aunt Linda understand it?” Obviously not everyone (myself included) actually has an Aunt Linda, but she represents the suburban or even rural customer who doesn’t understand your pop culture references. She might believe, for a moment at least, that Weekday Eggs are actually a thing. But what happens when Aunt Linda starts to construct her own truth? Must we now consider the lowest common denominator to be those who choose to invent their own reality?

French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin authored a piece titled "Omega Point”, referenced by Flannery O’Connor’s incredible novella “Everything that Rises Must Converge. The key takeaway from this work was to "Remain true to yourself, but move ever upward toward greater consciousness and greater love.” What happens when we embrace the former at the expense of the latter? I suspect we’re about to find out...

1In the past two years, searches for “flat Earth” have more than tripled, according to data from Google Trends

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