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Fighting the Unlightenment

By every measure, the future demands creativity. It demands a return to the raw pursuit of ideas. And supporting nerds in their pursuit of amazing innovations is fundamental to the problems we face.

Seamus Byrne
Seamus Byrne
6 min read
Fighting the Unlightenment

Why are so many old white men so scared of the pursuit of knowledge?

It’s a question that haunts me on a daily basis. I love knowledge for its own sake. My greatest dread in life is that there will never be enough time to read all the great words and to know all the things worth knowing.

I abhor this idea that people who love to learn need to be put into ‘real work’. Work that lets you see with your eyes what was achieved in a day. How much you painted, built, paved, or dug from the ground. A deep suspicion for anything that can’t be held in your hands.

The denigration of brilliant thinkers and creatives for the very act of challenging status quo. The kind of status quo challenging that drove our progress since the Enlightenment, when the drive to place reason at the heart of society led to three centuries of explosive advancement in science and thought.

The kinds of advancements that led to their beloved coal-powered world. That made Capitalism possible. That championed free markets that have now devolved into protection rackets that aim to stall innovation from dethroning the people who made friends with politicians in the 20th Century and now want to stop the world from moving any further forward.

This is the Unlightenment. And it began in Australia long before a reality star won the Presidency in the USA.

Always with the crappy excuses for why clean, renewable fuels aren’t good enough, and that rather than invest and promote solving the small handful of remaining problems there it’s better to double-down on the old, dirty fuels. Because somehow there is ‘work’ in digging up coal but they pretend there’s no jobs in installing and maintaining solar arrays and wind farms.

We’ve had a government that has said it wants to “build the roads of the 21st Century” and literally means roads, while undercutting our actual 21st Century road network, the NBN.

Four decades of evidence that ‘trickle down’ doesn’t work and their still selling the same old schtick. Or the repeated lie over recent weeks that jobs are always available to anyone who wants one – regardless of what the evidence says. And if you decided you want to get a better education while the jobs aren’t there, you’ll have to live in poverty and pay a lot of money because education is the wrong kind of work to pursue.

What do they fear? Like churches and royalty of the 17th Century, it feels like a fear of loss of control. That advancement is not their wheelhouse even if it was for their ancestors who got us to today.

At its worst, it could be the Protestant ‘work ethic’ that we’re only supposed to hate the jobs we do. Any job that lets you enjoy yourself and get paid for doing it must be the Devil’s playground. With a heavy-handed return of religion to the public square (sorry, public-private partnership).

So what’s this got to do with tech, games and digital culture, Seamus?

By every measure, the future demands creativity. It demands a return to the raw pursuit of ideas. And supporting nerds in their pursuit of amazing innovations is fundamental to the problems we face.

Give the scientists real funding. Then listen their findings.

Support creative industries – because we are nothing if we are only defined by our work. They want to sell us giant TVs but then pretend that anyone who wants to work in the videogames industry is unworthy of the same support given to the film and TV industries (looking at you, federal and NSW governments).

Give libraries and public schools more than they *need* so they can be what their communities need them to be. Too many great thinkers are lost to a lacking education system simply because they came from the wrong town or went to the wrong school.

The Australian Coalition government loves to claim Australia should be run like a business. If that was true, Australia would be a Kodak. A Video Ezy. Clinging to the vestiges of old business ideas because that’s what they know how to do. A world sailing past them, leaving them stranded in their stubborn belief in the good old days.

Actually, that second example is a bit harsh. Video Ezy found a way to stay relevant by creating a kiosk experience for those who still want to rent discs.

For whatever reason, it’s the 21st Century itself that remains under attack in Australia. Deny the future. Cling to the past.

Why this rant today? I’ve been sitting on a draft of this rant for a couple of years, actually. The end of 2020 feels like a good time to plant the flag and demand a reset. A refocus. Everything about this year has proven again and again that technology has a huge role to play in making our daily lives better in the face of a crisis. To help us work smarter, to stay connected, and to be entertained and informed.

I hope you’ll stick with the Byteside team and I as we try to add informative and fun coverage to the Australian marketplace of ideas in the year ahead.

Last chance to enter our Xbox Series X giveaway! Closes Monday 30 November! If you missed it last week, here’s the secret bonus code:


We’re also launching a new Byteside membership system next week! Out of the gate the system is about showing support for our effort to pay our contributors and be a new space for smart, clever voices on digital culture in Australia.

No paywalls, just a show of support. But we will launch with a monthly prize draw exclusively for Byteside members. Every member will be in the draw every month for cool prizes thanks to our friends across the tech and games industry.

Sound good? We’ll have all the details on on December 1 and here in the newsletter next week. So stay tuned!

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Seamus Byrne Twitter

Founder and Head of Content at Byteside.

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