Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Movable Feast of Unreason

Even the unreasonable rely on reason.  Even the advocates of the irrational use reason, to justify or explain unreason.  It remains necessary (thus far) to make a certain degree of sense when proclaiming one's views, which we all can do with increasing ease thanks to our technology.

But there seems to be a tendency to rely on reason less and less as we shriek our views at one another these days.  In fact, there seems to be a growing tendency among left and right, religious and irreligious, to engage in skreeds rather than argument.  This may be deliberate; emotional appeals may be considered more persuasive.  For example, I follow a blog where another follower recently made the statement, in connection with religion, that ridicule is the only means by which to make certain ("bad", of course) people think.

I admire wit, and the use of wit in argument can be entertaining and even effective.  Sarcasm can be witty, but in order to be witty it cannot be blunt, rude or vulgar.  Unfortunately, this is the kind of sarcasm we encounter more and more in argument.  And, as had been said, sarcasm is generally employed when a reasoned response is not available.  I'm concerned, though, that it is now being employed by most regardless of whether there is a reasonable response.  I suspect that's the case because we are less and less inclined to think, or are less and less able to think.

Our political discourse seems particularly unreasonable.  I wonder what we would even make of an appeal to reason by a politician.  I suspect we would think the politician uninspiring, at best.

As an admirer of stoicism, and pragmatism, I think that reason is an exceedingly valuable tool.  Being something of a libertarian, though, I distrust government--suspect it may be a better word.  I do so because I think it has been made clear that those in power fail to use reason.

I'm currently reading--without much enthusiasm--Liberal Fascism.  I find nothing in it particularly enlightening or surprising, so far.  I think the author is dealing with totalitarianism rather than fascism, but this is to a certain extent immaterial.  Governments of the right and the left have been authoritarian, and will continue to be, as long as governments think it their place to tell us to, or make us, do most things.  The author's point is apparently that the current political left has a history of totalitarianism, and is in many respects totalitarian in impulse.

What I find interesting is the author's evident belief that pragmatism as a philosophical movement somehow contributed to "liberal fascism."  So far, he hasn't bothered to explain why he feels this is the case in any comprehensible detail.  It's emphasis on experiment contributed to it, somewhow.  Mussolini liked the work of William James.  John Dewey, he says, was in favor of American involvement in World War I.  Q.E.D.?

The author seems to feel that movements such as pragmatism by their nature support governance by an elite, by specialists.  I think it's fair to say that philosophy has its fair share of those who believe that rule by the wise is preferable, starting with Plato.  Let's assume that's the case.  Is the appropriate way to avoid this to ensure that the wise do not rule, that specialists do not participate in government?  If reliance on reason somehow results in totalitarianism because those who rely on it think democratic government won't result in the rule or reason (so to speak) is the employment of reason in government to be avoided?

Plainly not.  The conservative, or libertarian, position can also be taken too far.  Limited government may be unreasonably limited.  Reasonable limits should be imposed on the unreasonable.  We haven't figured out how to do that, yet, with any consistency.

It's foolish to contend that reason, or even the "experimental method" should not be employed, in government or anywhere else.  I don't think it has been in any significant sense.  I worry it never will be.  But, it doesn't follow that it should not be.

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