June 19, 2012

Final Act - Part 2

An astute reader noticed a discrepancy between my last two essays. 
In 'Death of Truth,' he notes, I implied that the great majority prefer not to think for themselves, preferring entertainment over information. Then, in 'The Final Act,' I assert that the big mistake of humankind was to pursue 'knowledge' (as symbolized by the fruit tree in Eden). Is this a contradiction?

The Canadian philosopher, John Ralston Saul, discusses six basic faculties of the mind-- memory, imagination, common sense, ethics, intuition, and reason. Of these, Saul is most suspicious of, and reluctant about, reason. By "reason," he means applied logic, or method set free from the restraints of the other five qualities. He argues that under the modern corporatocracy (that the West, particularly the USA, has become) reason assumes a perverted and disproportionate authority, and other qualities are suppressed. 

More than that predominance, tho, there's an even bigger, more sinister problem associated with the exaltation of 'reason.' It is that-- how to put it delicately?-- 'BS baffles brains,' as a colleague of mine used to say. What he meant is that a verbal assault employing a lot of sophisticated-sounding 'baffle-gab' mixed with a modicum of apparent logic-- and coming from an authority-- can push people into all manner of illogical or immoral or destructive actions.

We have seen this tactic invoked time after time over the decades, to push our nations into wars the common people never wanted (or even understood properly) with far-off, generally poverty-stricken countries that posed no danger to us. The same kind of 'applied reason' has introduced us to various other, subtle, social policies that, in the long run, are proving ruinous.

A wide open immigration policy in European nations has led to increasing tensions between the indigenous populations and the immigrants, who come from predominantly Islamic countries, and who have tended to integrate very little in their new home. The capitalist imperative for 'de-regulation' of markets has led to extreme abuses of the environment, and to the legalized theft of billions of public funds thrown at the Wall St. Investment bankers as 'rewards' for their deliberate abuses of an unregulated industry.

Other examples abound; but the point is that all these disasters are man-made; they were all packaged and sold to the public as 'good ideas' that must be implemented. The rationale always sounded so good-- more peace; more tolerance; more capital (sure, for the 1%); and so it goes.

The problem with 'reason' then, is that it can be so easily high-jacked by blustering opportunists. Scientific studies (oh, so rational) can be easily skewed to support a desired conclusion. Experts can be bought; opinions can be swayed by the spending of advertising dollars; statistics can be sliced and diced in numerous ways. All the information that we so rationally use as input to our decisions can be altered to point us in a particular direction. All it takes, fundamentally, is sufficient money. And for certain factions, money is no object!

So, if we cannot rely on our reason, one can lament, then what else is there? We've rejected divine inspiration as superstition (and rightly so, in most cases, since this is another claim that too often proves to be mere human expediency). Is there no option?

J. R. Saul enumerated six mental faculties; yet Western civilization has, for centuries, exercised almost exclusively one only-- i.e. reason/logic. What about the other five? I'd argue that the faculties of mind were endowments of the Creator, intended to give us the necessary tools to thrive. It was a devilish plan that convinced us to let all those tools atrophy, except for the one that is so vulnerable to deception!

While reason is entirely a 'left brain' function (after all, we can program computers to make rational decisions) the other faculties are of the 'right brain.' (Altho I use the terminology, for familiarity, I don't necessarily believe literally in the right/left hemisphere distinction.)  It seems that the right brain functions are the ones that are (or can be) attuned to the Infinite.

In the world envisioned by J.R. Saul, “individuals would live in harmony with themselves and others around them, guided by common sense, tempered by ethics, animated by imagination, inspired by intuition, constrained by memory and moderated by reason.” Would this not produce a kind of paradise on Earth, in contrast to the dog-eat-dog struggle for existence that our over-lords tell us is the 'natural order' of life, where Evolution is the religious dogma, and 'survival of the fittest' its stark ethic?

Going back, finally, to the Biblical garden, the tree of knowledge represented this exaltation of knowledge obtained by reason alone; and we are seeing today where it takes us. In 'The Death of Truth,' my point was that individuals must 'wake up;' stop sleep-walking in the miasma of denial and escapism. To do that, they must use the dormant mental faculties that were suppressed by hyper-reason.

Notice how our school system virtually stamps out the faculties of imagination and common sense, with its insistence on 'right answers' derived from approved logic. Even memory is, in the new curricula, dismissed as 'too routine' or whatever. Movies and television have, to a vast extent, supplanted innate imagination and intuition-- why bother, when Hollywood has done it all for you? As for ethics, well it all seems to flow from Darwinian causes, as noted above. Again, the media have pushed society, wholesale, into a brave new world of 'anything goes; if it feels good, do it!'

Which is to say that there appear to be forces at work that are bent on corrupting the very faculties of mind that are necessary to extract us from the hyper-rationality trap. This is no accident, I assert. This assault on the mind is, crucially, the characteristic battle of the age.

The human race took a wrong turn in falling for the 'sin of pride;' i.e. we are endowed with such magnificent reasoning brains that we can achieve anything we put our minds to. Taken to the extreme, we don't just 'shoot ourselves in the foot;' no, we destroy ourselves and the planet, too!

The desirable course of action would have been for mankind to utilize ALL the God-given faculties that distinguish humanity. By exercising the mind under the direction of the Creator, we could have remained in equilibrium with the natural world, learning to live in harmony with creation and with each other.

Have I reconciled the dilemma? I realize that I've probably raised more questions than were apparent before; such is the path of enlightenment. But, I hope that the boundaries of the problem are better defined, and its dimensions better understood. More to follow (probably).

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