Sunday, July 03, 2011

Through the looking glass: Weaponizing Reason with a graduate of Screwtape University

Yesterday I took a look at the popular notion that subdivides Reason into one camp which foolishly uses it as a path to reason, and the other which cleverly uses it as a weapon for winning arguments. Today we’ll hear from a real graduate of Screwtape U, someone who’s taken the ‘Reason as a weapon’ argument to heart.

Now, before you get all out of whack on this, keep in mind that I’m not saying that this is what everyone on the left does think, I’m talking about the line of thought, not the people thinking with those thoughts. I know plenty of friends and family who place themselves on the left, as well as plenty of conservatives who I place on the left, and few if any of them would endorse any of this.

If they ever were to bring the roots of their positions out into the light, that is.

Were they to actually pursue the basis of their positions though, yes, they’d have to confront the fact that these are the essentials behind the lines of thought they've been thinking, but that’s one of the beauties of leftism – you don’t have to understand the ideas behind your positions, you only have to wish they were true, so you could help others.

Which is why it’s usually useless questioning people who hold these ideas – they’ll dismiss you at the first opportunity to patronize you into one or another category of ‘no one believes that anymore’, and it’s also why I’m bypassing interviewing any particular person here, but going straight to the living dead within their thoughts which think themselves - and with just a touch of tongue in cheek. Just.

Blogodidact: So here we're privileged to have a graduate of Screwtape U, someone equipped with real weaponized reasoning skills, to tell us how they are able to look at the world as they do. I'd like to pick up where we left off yesterday, where we noted that
' The fact is that there is no squaring things between the purposes of Truth, and those of power... their reasons are in complete opposition - you can grasp the answer, but not explain the one to the other.'
, this seems to deal with ideas as if they're... well, not objective things, but objects, discrete ones, rather than interrelated, integrated forms of understanding the truth of the matter, why is...

Screwtape Univ. Thinker:: 'Why?'?! Again with the why's. Oh, you are incorrigible aren't you. Look, you're just going to have to accept that your outmoded form of 'reason' just doesn't apply anymore. We don't need to bother with inter-related and integrated... that's out. See, we had a culture once, it was called 'Western Civilization' and, like you, it sought to pursue 'Truth', it had this mindset that it should use our tool of reason to discover the nature of things, to rise above mere facts and discover the truth of how things 'really' were and why... and what did it get them?

Blogodidact: Nothing but a nation that was founded upon the idea that each person had unalienable rights, among which were the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Screwtape Univ. Thinker:: Right, and how useless is that?

Blogodidact: Excuse me?

Screwtape Univ. Thinker:: Look, what it got us was a system that was just out of control, with individual people doing whatever they pleased, no one following a plan, no one even paying attention to a plan... for what?! You can't establish control and make plans if individuals are allowed to think and make their own decisions, you have to get them into groups to do that.

Blogodidact: Now wait a...

Screwtape Univ. Thinker:: No, you wait, in fact, how about you just shut it and let me clue you in on a few things, ok? Look, if you actually bothered to read the New Yoursophist Times article "Reason Seen More as Weapon Than Path to Truth" you made such a big deal of noting yesterday, through to the end, you'd have seen how easily that can be accomplished, if we simply embrace Reason as a benign weapon (in the proper hands of course) for doing away with the problem of individuals. Here, look at this part,

"Mr. Mercier is enthusiastic about the theory’s potential applications. He suggests, for example, that children may have an easier time learning abstract topics in mathematics or physics if they are put into a group and allowed to reason through a problem together. "
See! A more anti-individualist position you'd be hard pressed to find even in John Dewey, and stated here so kindly and subtly, as if its actually meant to help individuals... a veritable knife in the back of individualism. Love it. And it has further applications, look,
"He has also recently been at work applying the theory to politics. In a new paper, he and Hélène Landemore, an assistant professor of political science at Yale, propose that the arguing and assessment skills employed by groups make democratic debate the best form of government for evolutionary reasons, regardless of philosophical or moral rationales.
How, then, do the academics explain the endless stalemates in Congress? “It doesn’t seem to work in the U.S.,” Mr. Mercier conceded.
He and Ms. Landemore suggest that reasoned discussion works best in smaller, cooperative environments rather than in America’s high-decibel adversarial system, in which partisans seek to score political advantage rather than arrive at consensus.

Because “individual reasoning mechanisms work best when used to produce and evaluate arguments during a public deliberation,” Mr. Mercier and Ms. LandemoreRawls and Jürgen Habermas, this sort of collaborative forum can overcome the tendency of groups to polarize at the extremes and deadlock, Ms. Landemore and Mr. Mercier said. ”
We're nearly there of course, representative government is nearly been done in, the bulwark of it has become treated as near comic relief in academia and the media, we'll finish it off soon enough.

Blogodidact: American exceptionalism is hardly d...

Screwtape Univ. Thinker:: Hey! You're shutting up, remember? You've seen the TIME article?

Blogodidact: Well... yeah, but...

Screwtape Univ. Thinker:: But nothing! As I was saying, once we herd people into thinking as the group thinks, rather than as reason might lead them to discover the truth, we'll be able to get our way.

And seriously, what are these people arguing for anyway, did discovering what was 'True' enable them to win any arguments when the real answer you were after was what YOU wanted it to be, because you wanted it to be?!

Heck no!

Blogodidact: But what's the point of pretending to know something if it isn't True?!
 Sorry. Shutting up now.

Screwtape Univ. Thinker: Thank you. So. As I was saying... what use was that freedom and liberty crud if it didn't get you anything useful?! Oh sure, if you learned to understand and follow along, you could do that and maybe even become wealthy and get those things you wanted - but you couldn't get them simply because you wanted them, no, you had to actually produce them, you had to do what was 'right'... where's the fun in that? You had to actually develop Virtue! Live a Good Life! Can you imagine?! What would be the use of getting everything you wanted, whenever you wanted it, if you were so full of 'virtue' that you felt such things were worthless when stacked up against what cost you nothing (you know the type of stuff I mean, family, friends, love, liberty, etc)?! That's the sort of fool who'd willingly set his treasures aside for 'peace of mind', 'happiness' or worse yet, your 'soul'!.

Are you kidding me?! What use is a sound soul if you don't have the basic necessary comforts, a full belly and sufficient riches to amuse yourself with at every moment of the day and night?

Blogodidact: But... sorry, go on.

Screwtape Univ. Thinker:: Sheesh. Look, those things need to be provided for you in order to have an adequate level of living, and there's only one way to provide you all of those things, the state.

Blogodidact: But where does the state get... it.... Sorry. Shutting up now. Again.

Screwtape Univ. Thinker:: Uh-huh. On the other hand... if you just tweak things a bit, you can have anything you want... as that old revolutionary said "Ye ssshall be as gods...", now we're talking, eh? Now we're getting somewhere, right?

Blogodidact: (blink)

Screwtape Univ. Thinker:: You can say something. Answer...

Blogodidact: I don't have any-thing to say.

Screwtape Univ. Thinker:: Whatever. Look, if you'll just forget about worrying over what is good and evil, and get the hang of spinning whatever is most useful to be thought of as being good, or evil - as needed - then you get to say what is good and evil for you and your purposes, then you can win your arguments simply because you want to! Can anything be withheld from you if you develop the skills to do that?

Not a chance!

Now seriously, listen to what I'm telling you, I am, after all, a man of wealth and taste...that whole business of truth and earnestness, it just isn't worth it! If you want to pursue truth, do you know what you'd have to do?

Blogodidact: Yes.

Screwtape Univ. Thinker:: Again, whatever. If you want to become 'Good', rather than simply accumulate goods... well, then you'll have to go back and read... not just skim the facts to pass a test or get some useful trivia mind you, but read... to understand, and I'm talking about the oldest of the old dead white guys, you know, Homer, Socrates and Aristotle, Virgil, Cicero and Plutarch, Moses & Jesus, Aquinas, Shakespeare, Locke the founding fathers...! But seriously, all they're going to tell you is that reality exists, it is what it is, and you are capable of knowing and abiding by it, and pursuing happiness through your best choices... but then you'll have to follow the rules of what IS right and what IS wrong. Where's the freedom in

Where's the fun in that?! Now, if you're a smart guy, a real NewYorkT'imesian like myself, then you don't need any of those guys and they're dead civilization, nah, just pick up a few tid bits here and there, get someone else of wealth & taste to certify that you've picked up the right tid-bits, you know, a diploma, and you'll have a ticket to ride as far in the world today as you'd like!

Blogodidact: So... you do need to know some things, just not true things?

Screwtape Univ. Thinker:: Shut. It. But, yeah, yeah, I'm afraid that there's still a few things you'll need to pick up, but it's no big deal, just pieces here and there will be fine (it's not like anyone expects them to add up!), stuff like Descartes's two tips, seriously, we never could have succeeded in weaponizing reason without him, that old fool is the one that made it all possible. His first tip was "I think therefore I am" - how cool is that?!

Think about that, take that to heart and you no longer need to bother either with what is real, or with the bother of discovering what is real, all you have to do is, as he put it,

"I concluded that I might take, as a general rule, the principle, that all the things which we very clearly and distinctly conceive are true..."
and it must be (if you word it right, that is)! How's that for hocus pocus?! And if anyone challenges you with 'facts', you can use his other tip, and it's serious weapons grade reasoning stuff too, just employ the Method of Doubt against it - that's it.

Blogodidact: That's it?

Screwtape Univ. Thinker:: That's it. You've got to be careful though, you've got to be sure to use Doubt - not a Question! That's a newbie error, but it's an easy one to make and a big one at that, you risk undoing everything you've propped up if you do.

See, you don't want an honest answer, or even to propose that there could be an answer - make that mistake and you're back to having to respect reality, truth, and the whole shebang (shiver), no, no, no no! But don't worry, it's easy to get around, just look all thoughtful and say "I doubt that" - you don't even need to give any particular reasons for why you doubt it, just emotively say that you feel it's not true...

Blogodidact: Won't using 'true' risk everything you've propped up?

Screwtape Univ. Thinker:: Nope, not any more wise guy, not if you used doubt, instead of a question, you see you don't need to worry about truth anymore, not even asking questions at this point, that's the beauty of the arbitrary, once you introduce it as a legitimate issue, nothing means anything anymore - works like sulphuric acid on anyone's beliefs and principles, there's almost no defence against it, and almost no rules for applying it, the more arbitrary you can be, the better. Such a deal.

There are a few more you've got to pick up and get the hang of, but they're just as easy and they follow easy enough from those first two.

The next is from another ol' french fellow, Rousseau, one of the biggest arms merchants of all time in the weaponizing of reason, he'll load you up with some heavy duty ammo, I tell you what. The way he put things, he practically had people begging to be poisoned by him! I mean this was a guy who could sound all concerned and pro-liberty like with things like

"“How can man, who is born free, rightly come to be everywhere in chains?”"
, and then turn right around and say that for men to be free
" that whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be compelled to do so by the whole body. This means nothing less than that he will be forced to be free..."
Yeah! Seriously, and people bought it!

By using Descartes's weapons grade reasoning skills, Rousseau even managed to take out the two other key foundations of Western Civilization, the Family and Private Property, by, get this, by saying that mankind used to have real freedom, back when he was in a noble 'state of nature'

"in this primitive state, men had neither houses, nor huts, nor any kind of property whatever; every one lived where he could, seldom for more than a single night; the sexes united without design, as accident, opportunity or inclination brought them together, nor had they any great need of words to communicate their designs to each other; and they parted with the same indifference"
(seriously, can you believe it?!), He goes on to say that man was tricked into having to care for a wife and kids, and having to burden himself with 'private property', and with these twin evils, 'tools of the oppressors', Civilization was born! Not only that, but he managed to say this stuff and convince people that these two things are what are being used to keep what's really good, you, from coming out!

Rousseau will also teach you that you don't need no learn and practices no habits of 'virtue', nah, just 'be yourself', be 'authentic', naturally. Really, the more grubby and raw, the more degraded the better, and you'll be thought highly of - seriously, how do you think people began to get away with throwing paint at a canvass and calling it 'art'?! And be respected for it! Rousseau is as highly thought of amongst the elites, even the truth seekers, as anyone, and he used to run around dropping his drawers in front of ladies windows at night... and bragged about it! Fun, right! Just look how revered he is! And because of him, you can do it too and there's no need to bother with real ability or virtue anymore, seriously, we owe this guy big time.

Blogodidact: what about the pesky people who persist in asking 'Why?'

Screwtape Univ. Thinker:: Well, yes, they did use to be a problem, a big one, but we haven't really needed to bother answering them in two centuries, yeah really. See, you can cut the floor out from under them with a just a few more tricks of another one of our founders, fellow named Hume, eh? Oh, it doesn't matter who he was, an old dead English white guy, and he didn't really develop anything new, he just applied Descartes' ideas to the one area that was really stumping us, Science. See, he convinced people in his "An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding", that, get this, that you can't really know anything at all, and he did it with just a few slick thought experiments. He'd say things like 'how trustworthy are your senses, if they can be fooled? After all, an orange could just as well be an orange colored billiard ball, for all you know,

"The mind has never anything present to it but the perceptions, and cannot possibly reach any experience of their connexion with objects. The supposition of such a connexion is, therefore, without any foundation in reasoning."
, that's because your senses don't experience anything directly, and so can't be trusted, and since you can't really trust your senses, then reality isn't really knowable, see? And since we can't really know reality, we can't really know anything about causality - why things happen - only that they do, but never why they do,
"The falling of a pebble may, for aught we know, extinguish the sun; or the wish of a man control the planets in their orbits. It is only experience, which teaches us the nature and bounds of cause and effect, and enables us to infer the existence of one object from that of another"
Oh yeah, it's an awesome gimmick. He even took it to the point of seriously saying 'Will the sun rise tomorrow? We have no way of really knowing, all we can say is that it seems to have always done so before, so it seems likely, but I won't really be able to tell you until tomorrow, if it has'... seriously, he convinced the most scientific people going, the British, within a century of Issac Newton no less, who enabled man to know the causes and effects of bodies millions of miles away, his skepticism wiped that all clean and convinced them that all you can do is just follow along with appearances and bet on what appears might happen, and so with just those few tricks of weaponized reason, we're now able to say that reality isn't knowable, and of course if reality isn't knowable, then no one can prove you are wrong! Bingo!

Blogodidact: How can experimental science affect anything else?

Screwtape Univ. Thinker:: You trying to play me? You've heard of Karl Popper?

Blogodidact: Some.

Screwtape Univ. Thinker:: Yeah, well some others have heard of him too, George Soros for instance, his whole "Open Society" concept that's about to make your treasured 'Constitution' obsolete, that was all deeply influenced by Popper, and guess who Popper got the bulk of his ideas from?

Blogodidact: Hume?

Screwtape Univ. Thinker:: Bingo! See, Hume took these supposedly remote 'scientific' ideas, and brought them home to where they could do some use for us, he applied them to you 'truth seekers' treasures, and vaporized them,

"When we run over libraries, persuaded of these principles[meaning skepticism], what havoc must we make? If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.""
Truth? Goodness? Beauty? Poof!

Blogodidact: OMG.

Screwtape Univ. Thinker:: Ha! Yeah, you wish. So, anyway, moving on, there is one more supremely useful idiot, but you'll only need to know about him if you're getting into the big leagues, in fact he... isn't usually necessary anymore (and by that I mean useful in getting your way), but it wouldn't hurt to familiarize yourself with him because he's the guy that did away with the Individual, he's the reason why things like 'Individual Rights' are so easily laughed off today in favor of the group, the collective, and his name was Immanuel Kant. He actually bought the bull Hume was slinging, and decided to go him one further, but he didn't want to destroy all knowledge, which he though Hume did, he wanted to leave some room to be able to say what he though people should believe, and to do that, he said,

"“I have found it necessary to deny knowledge, in order to make room for faith”
, and he did it by removing reality, real reality, forever beyond the reach of Man, by dividing the cosmos up into a phenomenal world' simple appearances, and the 'noumenal world', real reality, which man could never even hope to know himself.

The joke was on Kant though, he ended up taking things further than Hume ever could have without him. One wag of the time, Moses Mendelssohn, called Kant the "all-destroyer"... and that describes what he accomplished, all right.

Kant's the guy who took the raw stuff of Descartes, Rousseau and Hume, and distilled it into the corrosive chemical we've used to strip the finish off of Western Civilization with.

He took their materials and crafted them into being able to say that 'the only truth that can be known is what most people believe is true', yeah, it's dead useful, and people love to repeat it, I mean go to any corporate marketing meeting and you'll hear people repeating it with things like "Perception is reality!", you can't buy gold like that and it's the stuff if you've got to get a good grip on it if you want real big power, but it's dead tricky to use, and you've got to memorize some stuff that's so seriously convoluted that even we don't like to get too close to it, it's like intellectual uranium... you've just got to be careful how you handle it, but its results are impressive.

How impressive? How powerful? Well, you know the United States of America, right? Remember how powerful they were after WWI & WWII? Well it was Kant's work, 'Perpetual Peace', that was key to slicking most of the Western world into the 'League of Nations', and though it took awhile, it was his ideas that got the most powerful nation in the world to through away their sovereignty and join the United Nations.

Now that's power!

He's also the guy who managed to take (ugh) morality, the result of good and virtuous choices, and transformed it into a set of rules which you had no choice in following, that you couldn't even attempt to use Reason (the truth seeking variety mind you) in applying and following, and to top it off, he managed to convince people that if you received any benefit from your actions, then... it wasn't virtuous!

Can you believe that?! The very thing that makes their world possible, virtue, which America's Founding Fathers took such pleasure in practicing and going on about, he managed to destroy it by transforming it from a pleasure giving skill, into a hated burden that you nevertheless strived for (or at least claimed you did). He took the idea of the individual, that morality was not the result of what you chose to do but instead doing what you had a duty to do, and that real 'virtue' consisted in doing things you could derive no pleasure or benefit from.

Can't tell you how much we owe that guy, but like I said, it's tricky stuff to work with, and huge... not only massive in the sense of the impossibly long volumes of his thoughts, but they're filled with impossibly long sentences that go on forever. Yeah it's a pain, but how else could you manage to convince people that reality was not only not knowable, but actually beyond your ability to even experience? Yeah! No, seriously, he managed to pull it off, and because he did, we've had the last couple centuries to get away with anything we've wanted to do.

But like I said, that's for specialists to deal with, and because Kant, and one who developed his ideas into even murkier depths, Hegel, did their work so well, made the prospect of seeking wisdom so daunting, no one bothers with it anymore. In fact, because of their good works, some Americans got together, Pierce and latter John Dewey and William James, and said essentially that Kant & Hegel were probably not wrong, but were just too dense to be useful, and since the 'truth' was beyond knowing, lets just try stuff to see what seems to work' and that's Pragmatism in a nutshell, the first 'philosophy' to break with the meaning of philosophy ' the love of wisdom', and it enables us to do just about anything we want to do today, we simply say 'we're going to be pragmatic and try this', and pretty much anything goes.

Luckily, that's as far as most of us need to venture anymore. If you need some more established 'intellectuals' to back you up, like I said, for the most part all we need handy for dealing with those pesky Truth-addicts like you, can be found easily enough with Descartes's doubt, Rousseau's noble savagery and Hume's free pass on reality. And... if those are too 'old-dead white guyish' for you, you can just pick up a few quotes from Marx, he puts them all to use in his stuff... and its trendier too.

So, there you go, now you too can go about winning any argument you want to without having to bother with worrying whether anything is 'true' or not. Just say it is, call the other person mean names for believing something else, tell them everyone knows that they're wrong... and you've got it made.

What a relief, eh?!

Blogodidact: Can I say something now?

Screwtape Univ. Thinker:: Not that it'll do you any good, but sure.

Blogodidact: One of your big guns there, Rousseau...

Screwtape Univ. Thinker:: Yeah, what about him?

Blogodidact: Were you aware that his first claim to fame was in music?

Screwtape Univ. Thinker:: No... really?

Blogodidact: Yep... yeah, your big gun was a guy, who during the era that would produce the likes of Mozart, Bach & Beethoven, that cretin proposed a musical system that would reduce, if not entirely do away with, musical harmonies... what more do you think anyone will need to know about him?

Screwtape Univ. Thinker: Whatever.

Blogodidact: That's what I thought you'd say. But have you not noticed that in your system, your art, your music, everything of the sort... is ugly? The fact is that your system, your 'weaponized reason', is a flat, ugly, toneless system that reflects much of Rousseau's musical've can manage a simple, flat melody, but that's it. No depth. No harmony. And you lack the sense or regard for truth and beauty and virtue, to even question it.... and because you don't question yourselves, you assume that no questions should be asked of you at all.

Pure hubris is just what you’ve been saying... and teaching, this system of thought that tells you that your whims are the justification for everything you want, that reality isn’t really real, and that whatever we say, should be real.

What else could possibly follow from that but envy, ugliness and a passion for disharmony?

Screwtape Univ. Thinker:: Yeah?Why is it so popular then?

Blogodidact: I suppose above all else, because it is easy to master, rewards you for not discovering your errors and it enables you to feel like a wronged god, even to the point of being able to pronounce your errors as being new facts, in your own minds you actually think "Ye shall be as gods..."- I wonder if that Sssounds familiar to you?

Screwtape Univ. Thinker:: Nope, can't say it does.

Blogodidact: But... you mentioned it yourself earlier... well...Not surprising I guess. Thanks for coming by.


Weaponized Reason said...

What the flibbin niblets?!?

Is this some kind of "new and improved" Blogodidact speak? Where’s the cranky old guy we knew and loved who ripped apart everything left of Rand, sullied the nics, and violently banned the malcontent? When dealing with these crapweasel Obamao screwtapes you gotta leave nothing more than smoking embers. Nuf with the metrosexual claptrap already.

Van Harvey said...

LOL. Noooo... just giving out rope as generously as I could so that screwtape U could quickly fashion an effective noose from it.

I really wanted to get all the gibberish which I've drawn out of opponents over the years, both in what they've said and what they attempted not to say, assembled into one extended confession.

And of course it made it easier to suppress my crankiness, knowing as I did that when the 'interview' was over, I could dispatch the interviewee back into the oblivion from which it came.