Friday, July 01, 2011

The Importance Of Being In Earnest, Or Of Weaponizing Reason

When Experts, the Chairmen of the Fed, Pundits and others, are surprised by 'unexpectedly low numbers' in jobs, production and economic growth... nearly every month... for over two years... are we really to imagine that when they make their predictions, they are being earnest? Here's a thought: Can they be in earnest, and dishonest, at the same time?

Does it matter? Well... only in every way that matters. That's all.

I ask because an old question has surfaced again, this time in the New York Times of all places (I'll get to that in a couple of inches), asking what Reason is for. I did nine posts on my take on what Reason is, so I'll spare you that, and anyway there is a more relevant question for us today , which is: What difference does it make whether you use reason to discover the truth, or as a weapon to win arguments and get your way? If you don't think that's such an important question, then you haven't been paying very close attention to the world around you - the state of the world today is a real time demonstration of one these positions getting more use than the other, which it has been steadily replacing for well over a century.

For instance, in addition to the NY Times, which I'll get to in a moment, we've also got TIME Magazine demonstrating their take on the matter, employing Reason to declare that
"If the Constitution was intended to limit the federal government, it sure doesn't say so."
I'll leave tearing into this particular article for another day because for right now I'm more concerned with how it's possible to make such a statement, publicly, with a straight face and a modicum of concern for your reputation? The answer is, that the only way someone could say such a thing, assuming that they'd actually read the Constitution beforehand, would be if they had read nothing else whatsoever, other than the Constitution, and only narrowly at that.

But... that's not quite true, or rather it is true, but only if you are reasoning in a traditionally Western fashion, as a tool in order to discover what is true. But as the NY Times points out, that isn't the only way to employ your faculty of Reason. You can also use it as nothing more than a rhetorical weapon to win an argument; and since the only way someone who considered Reason to be a tool for discovering the Truth could say such a thing, would be if they were ignorant of every other pertinent bit of information, thought. and history concerning the Constitution - and not even TIME is that ignorant - then we should really wake up to the fact that the most dangerous weapon known to man, the reasoning human mind, weaponized, has us in its cross-hairs.

So we'd do well to look at this question as being one that's worth our consideration today. It's not a new question of course; 2,500 years ago Plato marked the coming of age of proper Western philosophy with his dialogs of Socrates' adventures against the Sophists of his day. Socrates tried his best to show that reason could serve a worthier purpose than simply controlling their fellow man, and of course he gave his life - willingly - but in the process, having, in his opinion, won the more worthwhile argument and prize - a well examined and virtuous life, he felt no loss in the face of their silly claims of victory. Such is the value of Truth... and the poverty of the alternative.

And the fact is that from that day to this, the answers, and the stakes, have remained the same, the evidence is still the same and the results are still the same.

2,500 years after Plato, after the halls of power have moved on from Athens, to Rome, to Constantinople, to Renaissance Italy, to Paris, to London, to Washington D. C. to... well, we'll see... through all of that time, through all of those millenia of examples, here we are still, standing gape mouthed at the bizarre rhetorical antics of the sophists as they flash their glittering rhetorical jewels and absurd sophism's, scaring you this way, enticing you that way and flattering you all the way down, having turned with common sense on its head while brazenly still calling it 'common sense'; devouring the wealth of reality and laying all to waste as sacrifice to their ready wits.

And still the question remains the same: Is Reason a tool to discover the Truth, or simply an evolutionary weapon to win argument s and get your way?

And still the answer remains the same: Yes.

The 'New' Sophists
The new-sophistry-paper of record, the New York Times, recently ran an article "Reason Seen More as Weapon Than Path to Truth", and in a paragraph more pregnant than the Octomom, stated:
"Now some researchers are suggesting that reason evolved for a completely different purpose: to win arguments. Rationality, by this yardstick (and irrationality too, but we’ll get to that) is nothing more or less than a servant of the hard-wired compulsion to triumph in the debating arena. According to this view, bias, lack of logic and other supposed flaws that pollute the stream of reason are instead social adaptations that enable one group to persuade (and defeat) another. Certitude works, however sharply it may depart from the truth."
"A lack of logic and other supposed flaws"?! Supposedly these people are defenders of evolution... they sure are fighting hard for a primitive, devolution of ideas and concepts, aren't they? They even manage to flatter themselves into thinking the argument is original to themselves. I suppose ignorance has some reward... if you keep it to yourself anyway. Do they realize the parody they have become? Ah... but that question, and its answer, shows our bias - you see we assume that it is being asked of a person who reasons in order to examine their life and the world around them in pursuit of Truth, whereas if you intend reason only as a weapon to win arguments and get control over other people, then ours really is a meaningless question if asked without the predetermined 'correct' answer and supporting materials to follow up with and make some further point along the same predetermined line.

How is this relevant to today? Lets look at some recent news, shall we? Again, you must have wondered how it is that every month we hear something like "Experts are surprised by unexpected downturn in economic figures"? For instance, this illustrates the point:
""A drumbeat of disappointing data about consumer behavior, factory sales and weak hiring in recent weeks has prompted economists to ratchet down their 2011 economic forecasts to as little as half what they expected at the beginning of the year.
Two months ago, Goldman Sachs projected that the economy would grow at a 4 percent annual rate in the quarter ending in June. The company now expects the government to report no more than 2 percent growth when data for the second quarter is released in a few weeks.
Macroeconomic Advisers, a research firm, projected 3.5 percent growth back in April and is now down to just 2.1 percent for this quarter.
Both these firms, well respected in their analysis, have cut their forecasts for the second half of the year as well. Then this week, the Federal Reserve downgraded its projections for the full year, to under 3 percent growth. It started the year with guidance as high as 3.9 percent. ""
Now, no one with any basic economic knowledge of Frederic Bastiat, or Jean Baptist Say... or Von Mises or Hayek, or even anyone who paid fairly close attention to how two plus two manages to equal four, can look at what the government is doing to 'fix' the economy these days, and say, with a straight face, that they are surprised by anything... except maybe for how slowly the economy is collapsing around our ears.

Or turn and look how our President, who awarded a medal of honor to a soldier, posthumously, and privately met with and consoled the family of that soldier, could then just a year or so later go to the home of the army's 10th Mountain Division where that soldier came from, and blathers on about how clearly he remembers, how happy he was,
"...that SFC Jared Monti was “the first person who I was able to award the Medal of Honor to who actually came back and wasn’t receiving it posthumously.”
This doesn't even manage to qualify as wrong or false... it never even makes it on to the court. But does this show some monstrous inhuman callousness? Does it show him to be a cocaine addled dead head, incapable of remembering or caring about anything or anyone? No, it doesn't - it doesn't rule that out of course, but I contend that it doesn't show that at all. What it does show, as well as explain, is why it's not being followed up in the media, because for the president, and his fellow travellers, things are not done because they are thought to be good, they are not done because they are thought to be just and they are not done because they are thought to be true (they might be, but those would be mere incidentals); their actions are not taken and words are not said because they feel that in some fundamentally principled way that they must be done or must be said because they are the right thing to do; instead they are said and done as means to an end and that end justifies, and dictates, the means taken to achieve it - as well as ignoring adverse issues that might tamper with achieving their mutual ends.

What, to a person concerned with Truth, would be a meaningful, even wrenching event - such as meeting with the parents of someone who died carrying out your orders - to someone concerned only with winning and achieving their ends, these situations are simply things which must be done to move your argument forward, rhetorical stepping stones, glitteringly jeweled photo-ops, statements, actions, useful only for getting from here to there, useful steps for 'getting things done'. Get what done? In Obama's case, those things he wants to get done. Not because they are right, but... because he wants to get them done.


Why even ask that (you'd do well to wonder about that, btw, but more on that another day)?To get them done of course. Experts predictions about the economy are made not because they are considered to be true, but because it is believed that by making them, they can influence your actions and help shape events in such a way as to produce their desired ends. Remember, Truth isn't the goal, the nature of reality and whether one economic theory is correct and true isn't the issue - for those armed with a weaponized form of reason, that isn't even a consideration! - what is at issue is winning the argument and convincing people to do things their way.


Why does you child's school want to know your beliefs concerning their beliefs about political policies, the climate, sex, etc? In order to help them change your beliefs, and those of your child's, into their beliefs, so as to achieve their ends, of course.

Why? Why do you persist in asking why (I hope you are thinking about that - why ask why?)? Why to win, of course.


Sigh... foolish truth seeker, because that is what they are after, that's why. If you're not careful, you'll end up like Winston Smith asking 'Why?' of Mr. O'Brien. Tut-tut. It suffices to simply say, that because those are the ends which they are pursuing, those ends require such means in order to accomplish them. Nothing more, we shouldn't take it personally, it's just business.

You want more (again, why? Annoying, I know, but... really... ask yourself)? How about this: "Obama Administration Launches Anti-Physician Informant Network"
"Alarmed by a shortage of primary care doctors, officials in President Barack Obama's administration are recruiting a team of "mystery shoppers" to pose as patients, call doctors' offices and request appointments to see how difficult it is for people to get care when they need it.
The administration says the survey will address a "critical public policy problem" — the increasing shortage of primary care doctors, including specialists in internal medicine and family practice. It will also try to discover whether doctors are accepting patients with private insurance while turning away those in government health programs that pay lower reimbursement rates."
This from a president who is pursuing policies which mandate, control, and force physicians to treat their patients as prescribed by an army of federal bureaucrats and to seek their payment through incomprehensibly labyrinthine rules of insurance applications. Anyone even mildly familiar with the the effects of giving orders to highly accomplished and notoriously egotistical professionals, and on top of that, telling them how to do their own job, to say nothing of the workings of a free market, could have told you what would have followed from such policies; anyone concerned with using reason in pursuit of truth, could, and did, over and over, tell you that these actions which the government is taking to interfere in the workings of the market - the elimination of free and honest choices - would lead to. The person using reason in pursuit of truth, could tell you that under those circumstances, the best of doctors would be getting out of the business, leaving behind a few of the most dedicated, as well as the worst of doctors, remaining to serve the ever growing needs of those who increasingly need to have every ache and pain cataloged, for free.

Or as economic truth seekers from Bastiat to Hayek would have put it, simply and much briefer: Shortages.

There's should be no surprise in this. None. Not even the 'anti-physician informant network' should be a surprise, nor is there any point in asking so provincial a question as 'Why'... come on now... you keep asking that as if you think that the 'truth' was the purpose of their actions? It is not. Didn't you read the NY Times article? Aren't you paying attention? The new 'Dock a Doc' network only exists in order to 'discover' that more rules and bureaucracies are needed, further 'proving' the argument which President Obama and all of his like minded modern buddies had long ago pre-determined to arrive at all along: More Government.

That is their answer.

More control.


Because with more control, you can control how you want things to be.


Did you really just ask that again? Oh... I know, you say you want the truth... but ... you can't handle the Truth. Can you? It's always been there, right out in the open... why have you not seen it before? Maybe because you weren't looking for it? Maybe... because you were too busy trying to win your own arguments, rather than seeking to know thyself and to examine your place in life?

Here, let O'Brien tell you the answer, as he told Winston Smith in '1984', it is harsh, true, but just as true of our sophists today, as when Orwell wrote it in 1948, or when Plato told us how Thracymacus summed the same position up to Socrates more than 2,500 years ago:
""The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. ... We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means, it is an end. ... How does one man assert his power over another ... By making him suffer. Obedience is not enough. Unless he is suffering, how can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own? Power is inflicting pain and humiliation. ... A world of fear and treachery and torment, a world of trampling and being trampled upon, a world which will grow not less but more merciless as it refines itself. ... If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face--for ever."
Most people like to sweeten that up a bit with one pretext or another, but they're just avoiding the truth - which is kind of the point too - and then again since the truth is besides the point... why not? You still get to get your way, and that after all is the ultimate point and purpose of all they do - getting control, using reason as a weapon (see Orwell's essay on "Politics and the English Language", or even better, Josef Pieper's "Abuse of Language Abuse of Power ", well worth your time and money) for getting their way.

Why? Again with the questions... as if an answer is going to solve the question? The fact is that there is no squaring things between the purposes of Truth, and those of power... there reasons are in complete opposition - you can grasp the answer, but not explain the one to the other. What you need is to look at this from the other point of view, that of those who don't care about the truth... unless it helps them to win their argument - lets do just that, look at it from the other perspective: Tomorrow. Tomorrow, we'll have a look at this through the point of view of a graduate of Screwtape University.

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