Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Death of Reason?

It is beginning to seem that reasoning is a dying art. In politics, reason clearly is not a prized commodity. When Stupid W told us that Iraq was a threat to the US, why did people believe it? After all, no Iraqi missiles could reach the US. There were no real links to terrorist organizations. Where was the threat? Was Saddam going to mail the missiles to these shores? In the media, we keep hearing the same sycophantic silliness. On the blogs, which are supposed to be the 'new' media, we find little but axe grinders and ideological prostitutes. Where is the crystalline threat of clear reasoning in any of these areas? I do not see it.

I hear my students speak. They hold beliefs, as they are entitled to. But where do these beliefs come from? All too often they just seem to parrot what their preacher said, or what they saw on TV, or what they read 'somewhere on the internet'. This is not encouraging.

Even the people I work with seem to find reasoning quite difficult. They have been told to do X, so X must be done. This seems to happen no matter how nonsensical the proverbial X may be. They should have the skills, the training and the motivation to ask questions, but they seem incapable of doing just this. I guess having work associates who seldom publish, who have terminal degrees from odd places and yet wish to maintain professorial status should have alerted me to the underlying problems some time ago. The people with degrees from good schools who end up here are the very worst idle 'irrationalists' of the lot, as they believe themselves 'entitled', but enough on this issue

However, reason is important. It is what has helped us become more than apes (in the words of Nietzsche, "Man is more of an ape, than all the apes", TSZ). So why is reason valued so little these days? It appears that a focus group has more power than a well reasoned argument, in far too many arenas. To make matters worse, it is difficult for people to know where to turn to learn to reason better. Do you know how to learn to reason better? Have you ever asked yourself that question? Do you even care? It appears that most people are quite happy with their reasoning skills, no matter how defective they may be. If folks can paint themselves a picture that is appealing to them, then that suffices, or so it seems.

Well, reasoning matters. Learning how to reason well is a skill. It takes both time and effort to learn. Most people, it appears, do not want to expend that effort. As the old saying goes, "If ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise". However, this is proverb sells a false hope, a weak excuse. Stupidity is unequivocally bad! Would you rather go to a physician who knows nothing, or to one who is knowledgeable? Would you rather sail on a ship, or fly in a plane, that is piloted by an ignoramus? I think not. Yet, what steps have you ever taken to learn to reason better? Do not worry. You are not alone. The evidence is around us all every day. However, this very complacency is the precursor to the death of reason. This will not serve to make the world a better place.

The CP


Blogger ToastedSuzy said...

Watch how I make this all about me:

I like to tell myself that my tendency to be reasonable is why I am often ignored--on message boards I mean. Man, am I a conversation killer. (see my several posts at

It might just be because I'm boring or stupid though.

The point is...I made a dumb little post on my blog that I am thinking of as a preamble to some other dumb little posties that have to do with language and teaching and thinking etc.

It seems that it is a lost art, at times, thinking. But I really think the stupid to reasonable and wise people ratio is pretty much the same as it has ever been.

It's just that now we are able to see the unenlightened in all their stupid glory because we have these cool new tools called the interwebs.

So the stupid are more visible, but the thing is wisdom is also more visible--more visible than it ever has been. Now those unenlightened people have access to ideas and information they have not had access to before.

The down side is that we have to listen to people fumble blindly with concepts they don't really understand, and experiment with arguments that they cannot reasonably support.

It is ugly to listen to a bunch of ill-equipped people contend with complex ideas and language. But the alternative, I think, is scarier still. I think as long as we are talking--even if most of us are saying really stupid shit--I think as long as we are talking, things are looking up!

(I wonder if your mental image of me is much like Gidget or some other Sally Fields character--Forest Gump's mom, perhaps. Yep, that's me!)

9:03 PM  
Blogger James Dupree said...

I would tend to agree concerning reason's departure.(Not that
politics was previously a parapet of reason.) Reason has become the
proverbial odd-man out.

However, as noted, the rationale is somewhat understandable. Both
church and state spew forth their platitudes like STDs at an orgy.

Reason has become inconvenient to the powers that be. Instead, it is more advantageous to teach the masses to wave every flag they can't attach to their cars. Give them banal mottoes to recite like mantras for morons. Its easier that way. Don't think. Don't question. Call those who do "Liberals", and act like it is a contagious disease. Just never let the masses see the bodies, or the flag draped caskets being taken off the plane.

It is still very nauseating, and more dangerous than fresh
Californian spinach. But it is all quite understandable. "Stupid W" has done what I used to believe was impossible. W has made stupidity patriotic. And may Plato help you if you actually think for yourself. 'Cause we all know....thats how the terrorists win!

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a flag to burn.

6:40 AM  

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