People talk of disillusionment as if it’s a bad thing, but it should be good. Disillusion, and it’s suffix-enhanced derivatives, is one of my favourite words. It is misleading in its use, but revealing in its construction.
The Gage Canadian Dictionary defines disillusion as “free from illusion”, “freeing or being freed from illusion”. Examining its constituent parts, this seems obvious – dis = not, remove; illusion = false vision; and ment = condition or state of. So disillusion means not under – or free from – false vision, and disillusionment is the condition or state of not – or no longer – being under false vision. In other words, disillusionment is clarity. That’s a good thing, no?
Clarity is good, but we think of disillusionment as bad because when people see the truth after being lied to all their lives, they feel resentment or, perhaps, depression. But, it’s not the newly found clarity that is the problem, it is the lies they’ve been taught by the people they should have been able to trust the most. When the people you counted on to raise and teach you turn out to have been wrong, and to have given you a false vision of the world, it is natural that there will be negative sentiment.
When this happens people lose confidence in the old system. But there isn’t a system in place to replace the old one so they may become cynical and adopt the attitude that it doesn’t matter, that there are no rules or limits on behaviour. This, at least in part, is what happened in the 1960s and 1970s when, for the first time, large numbers of people questioned the institutions of their childhood and found them lacking. But, they didn’t really have anything to replace them with. There are those who would point to this and say, “See? This is what happens without god.” There are alternatives, though.
We need to teach children a new system of ethics based on rationality, common sense, and truth – not fear of a god or eternal damnation. It has to be done from an early age, in school. They should be taught how to figure out the right thing to do, rather than to follow like sheep. In other words, they have to develop critical thinking skills so they can distinguish right from wrong. Then, maybe, everyone can be on the same page in the future.
Of course, it will have to be done carefully. I’m thinking of a conversation I had years ago with a French friend, in which I told her I had the impression that French kids throw away their Sartre when they read they are free and go out to wreak havoc, before getting to the part about responsibility. She didn’t disagree.
This post appears in the Carnival of the Godless #87.
Tags: 1960s, 1970s, children, clarity, common sense, critical thinking, cynicism, definitions, dictionary, disillusion, disillusionment, education, ethics, existentialism, France, god, meaning of words, morality, philosophy, rationality, resentment, Sartre, school, truth, words