Peace and progress depend on the rights and duties of informed individuals to think independently.
One of the basic principles of our Order is the freedom of the human being and of his intellect. It is an unfortunate mistake that mankind has not secured the freedom of human intellect simultaneously with the codified prohibition of treating human beings as commodities, although the two freedoms are inseparable. The liberation of the spirit is still our task.
Institutional servitude in all its forms aims at the possession of power and at increasing production. For this double purpose, it suppresses spiritual development at large and, primarily, its individual manifestation. The goal of tyranny is to create a uniform, collective social consciousness and then direct it at will. The former main precondition, isolation, for such control is no longer available due to recent social changes and technical advances such as democracy, transportation, and communication. Yet, the methods of striving for power, of stirring up hostilities and the oppression of differing opinions, keep up with the times. The revolution of communication via new media–such as mass distribution newspapers, radio, film, television, and now the Internet–cleared the way for a new and dreadful form of spiritual slavery through false or distorted information aimed at conditioning and fanaticizing the masses.
The impact of these factors is shown by the hecatombs, the slaughter of innumerable victims, on our continent in this century up to our days. To use a geological parallel, the clash of different cultures is like the convergence of tectonic plates affecting the movement of whole nations and continents. The basic difference between continental and social movements is that the former is predetermined whereas the later is dependent on human behavior as the result of social changes. The consequences of the social movements can be observed in all societies, but they are most conspicuous in unstable, divided societies.
The primary cause of the political-economic instability is the clash of the different faiths and cultures. Classical examples are East Central Europe and the Balkans. Ethnic and cultural tensions push the individual towards a group identity promising salvation by fomenting radical prejudices. Under these unfavorable conditions, the backbone of the modern society, the intellectuals, can become defenseless and can be forced to give up their independence. The repeated conflicts of different groups clear the way for the destruction of individualism and for social-political totalitarianism.
This current form of “totem and taboo” restrains individual freedom by the manipulation of powerful symbols. The competing power-oriented groups have their own respective rules with their own sets of values represented in symbols whose ideas are not hereditary (“idea innate”) but acquired and trained. In effect, ancient tribal mysticism is transformed into modern propaganda material. Finally, the imperative symbol of monopolized truth, like the NAZI swastika, becomes a means of suppressing individual thought and forming collective opinions.
This social vicious circle has the empty mind (the tabula rasa) as its starting point. This empty mind, filled with preset information and with directed experiences, leads to a programmed personality characterized by reproduction and multiplication.
The only weak point in the chain of intellectual slavery is error, i.e. incomplete and distorted truth. The right method to liberate the intellect and to abolish prejudice is to make people familiar with complete facts accessible to everybody. This aim directed at knowledge is unattackable, suits our developing world concept and, at the same time, teaches tolerance and reevaluation of the hitherto monopolized truth by presenting controversial aspects fully and with clarity. Considering the present circumstances, I see our Masonic task at this point.
To fight against ancient or new exploiters of stupidity and ignorance or to hope to stop directly the hostility of larger or smaller groups (nations/cultures or forces within the same society) would be hopeless and inefficient. The roots go too deep. It would be even an error to take steps head-on against these dogmas. We have to try to make the intolerant, hate-inducing, fanaticizing half-true ideas ineffective by raising interest for the complete truth and real facts.
Just the same way as in the past, not even Galilei was able to convince prejudiced people of the rotation of the earth by dispute. To revoke their false doctrine and recognize the truth, people have to look through the master’s telescope, evaluate their own experience, and so find the truth.
The abolition of spiritual slavery depends first on intellectuals by which I mean literate people with a capacity to receive and synthesize new data into individual opinion. I reckon ourselves, Freemasons, among this group. This is the social layer which forms history. The Bastille couldn’t have been taken without Masonic antecedents such as Voltaire and the Encyclopedists.
Emmanuel Kant was not only the greatest philosopher of the 18th century Enlightenment but also the prophet of social peace since he taught the rights and duties of independent intellectual activity. He propagated the idea that intellect is the ability to use one’s own mind without the guidance of others. The society, world view, and communication system of the 18th century did not allow for the dissemination and implementation of his ideas. Now we have a chance, and it is our Masonic duty to encourage the independence of the intellect, the liberty of the spirit, and so carry out Kant’s teaching “Sapere aude!” “Have the courage to think!”
Ill. Gyorgy Gatai, 33
Sovereign Grand Commander, Supreme Council for Hungary
The above article was originally one of several formal papers read at the 41st Conference of European Sovereign Grand Commanders meeting in Vienna, Austria, May 7–10, 1997.