What is Enlightenment in St. Louis?

Preventable catastrophes and disasters typically earn the ‘wake-up call’ title.  Such a response implies a moment of realization—an enlightenment. A break in experience  as we know it has occurred. Before we were blind and now we can see. Yet, the glaring rays of our dawning reality prevent us from clearly grasping our orientation within the moment. A wake-up call is the first step towards awareness—towards insight.

In the ‘wake’ of Ferguson, St. Louis has only reached the first stage: information gathering (it’s morning, on a weekday, am I late?). Knowledge is information accumulation and interpretation. Wisdom is valuable application of information (appropriately getting ready for the day). Insight is understanding why specific information gains value in certain applications (awareness of why we are getting ready in the morning).

To stir the region, the Ferguson commission has to peel back media spin, political stratagems, and historical contexts; “enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-incurred immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one's own understanding without the guidance of another. This immaturity is self-incurred if its cause is not lack of understanding, but lack of resolution and courage to use it without the guidance of another. The motto of enlightenment is therefore: Sapere aude! Have courage to use your own understanding!” (Kant).  Unfortunately, the Ferguson Commission is under the direction of the state. Its pursuit ends when its search for knowledge does (September 15, 2015).  In turn, the commission may only help the region discover the snooze button.

snoozeBut groups that seek to unlearn conventional judgments must also have the courage to wisely apply new lessons in order to come to a consciousness of the, “relations of control over things, relations of action upon others, relations with oneself,” or put another away, to come to a combined awareness of, “the axis of knowledge, the axis of power, the axis of ethics,” (Foucault).

The Ferguson Commission, along with other nonprofits, only collects and interprets information. It does not have the chance to apply wisdom gained from its comprehensive search—or extract insights (enlightenment) from such application. Individuals, no matter their status, must pick up the torch. The time for rubbing our eyes and collecting information will end, but our pursuit for underlying clarity must not.

Enlightenment in St. Louis “has to be conceived as an attitude […] in which the critique of what we are is at one and the same time the historical analysis of the limits that are imposed on us and an experiment with the possibility of going beyond them,” (Foucault). We must hold the belief, the hope, and the attitude that we will transcend present limits. That is how we cultivate insight...how we become stronger.

Unless individuals awake to the fact we are far from grasping the region’s potential, St. Louis will fall back asleep without taking any enlightened action. A unified regional consciousness will only arise if it begins with individuals courageously putting their reason to the test by adopting the attitude that their small steps do create change.

“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.”  ~William James.

Note: In November 1784  a Prussian newspaper, Berlinische Monatschrift, published philosopher Immanuel Kant’s response to their question ‘What is Enlightenment?’ Later Michel Foucault, a French philosopher, took up the question by examining Kant’s response. Both of their responses are linked within the above piece. The question remains relevant.