Thursday, May 2, 2013

Ours Not to Reason Why

My liberal law-professor friend passed this image along on Facebook today.  It's stuff like this (and there's a lot of it around) that produces the apathy I was complaining about yesterday.  I mean, why bother when so many of the people who are supposedly on my side are so damned, determinedly dumb?

Here's the thing: reason isn't something you wake up to.  It's something you have to work at, a skill that doesn't come all that naturally to human beings and must be developed.  As Jean-Paul Sartre wrote in a passage I've quoted before:
The rational man seeks the truth gropingly, he knows that his reasoning is only probable, that other considerations will arise to make it doubtful; he never knows too well where he's going, he is "open," he may even appear hesitant But there are people who are attracted by the durability of stone. They want to be massive and impenetrable, they do not want to change: where would change lead them? This is an original fear of oneself and a fear of truth.  And what frightens them is not the content of truth which they do not suspect but the very form of the true -- that hinge of indefinite approximation.  It is as if their very existence were perpetually in suspension. They want to exist all at once and right away.  They do not want acquired opinions, they want them to be innate; since they are afraid of reasoning, they want to adopt a mode of life in which reasoning and research play but a subordinate role, in which one never seeks but that which one has already found, in which one never becomes other than what one originally was ...
Ludwig Wittgenstein said something along the same lines, chastising his former student Norman Malcolm:
... what is the use of studying philosophy if all that it does for you is enable you to talk with some plausibility about some abstruse questions of logic, etc. & if it does not improve your thinking about important questions of everyday life, if it does not make you more conscientious ... You see, I know that it's difficult to think well about 'certainty,' 'probability,' 'perception,' etc. But it is, if possible, still more difficult to think, or try to think, really honestly about your life & other people's lives. And the trouble is that thinking about these things is not thrilling, but often downright nasty. And when it's nasty then it's most important.
But, like, who has time to think when there are more important things to dwell on, like sports or how adorable President Obama is, or how stupid those Bible-thumpers are, or how we need a woman president, preferably Hillary?  Learning to reason, learning to try to think honestly about your life is so tiring, and often it's a downer.  So let's accentuate the positive: It's much easier just to celebrate Reason Day.  It'll make you feel good, and isn't that the important thing?