Friday, October 10, 2014

When a Rabbit is a Cat: A Requiem for Pure Reason

On many occasions, I have been staggered by the foresight of the Founding Fathers of the U.S. From Franklin's predictions in the court of King George III; to the Declaration's almost magical connection to the eyes, minds and hearts of the future; to the structuring of the Constitution, it is as if there is nothing that, in some way, shape or form, they didn't foresee.

One thing I realize, most vividly at this point, is that setting up a republic was the way to go. I'm no political science expert, but my understanding is that there is a distinct difference between a full-on democracy and a representative one. We often refer to ourselves as "a democracy" but we are really a variant on a direct democracy. In our republic, we vote for people to represent us and, while we can voice our opinions whenever we want, we have indicated our trust in them to make the final decisions.

This used to annoy me. If 80% of the people polled believed a decision should go one way, I thought it was absurd for representatives to decide in the other direction. But I don't, anymore.

Maybe is was the vestiges of elitism still ringing in the heads of those very literally revolutionary men, but something told them that it was a bad idea to go to a full-on democracy. (It could also be that it was, in terms of practicality, impossible to gather public opinion in such a large country with nothing even remotely like phones or the Internet -- if so, a happy accident of fate.) However it happened, it all worked out to the people voting for others who would represent them in national and state issues.

Jimmy Kimmel likes to go out and ask people on the street questions about history and politics. The results are usually horrifying. The other day, I watched about ten people struggle to come up with the answer to: "Who is Joe Biden?" This was in New York City. He was visiting there that day.

In terms of purely democratically based ethics, these people should be allowed to vote, but do we really want them to have a say in final decisions?

But truth is, even savvy people argue for what they want and what they feel and not for what is best or most logical. Among the thinkers, there are not many objective decision-makers and, as you see above, a lot of the other people don't know what the heck is going on anyway.

There are too many voices coming from all directions and too many people have forums like this one, just for the asking. If I am an idiot, I am one of the guilty. Sure, ethically, we should all be allowed to have a voice. But the voices of bad logic and of those who chirp cliches they heard from others whose recycled opinions flood our senses every day are clogging up the corridors of clear thinking.

The main problem is that people turn what they wish were so into a substitute for a factual or indisputable platform and, then, instead of arguing as if their wish-platform were not even possibly flawed, they attack those with different views as being unethical or prejudiced (in the literal sense, not the racial sense, necessarily).

If, for example, I said, "Slavery is bad" and someone responded that "Slavery is is good," I would attack them as unethical monsters. In the modern world, slavery is almost universally considered an evil, so I have a solid basis for my reaction. But, these days, someone says, for another example, "Children are perfectly capable of driving at the age of thirteen" (because they wish in their hearts it were so) and someone says "That doesn't make sense," the first person responds with as much outrage as I might if someone were to promote slavery as a good thing.

(Of course, I purposefully used ridiculous examples so as to avoid seeming to be promoting any agenda. People also have a really hard time separating an argument about a concept from an argument about a specific issue. For instance, someone might see my next example and, instead of taking it for a pure example, make a comment about how wrong I am about the Lennox issue. I am also not interested in dabating whether Lennox or her critic is wrong.  It is not the points or the people I am attacking, it is the reasoning. Even with this preamble, someone will probably go after it; even try to expose me as a closet racist.)

Part of the problem is that a lot of half-baked intellectuals give talks and write articles and do commentaries. The other day, Annie Lennox, the singer, criticized Beyonce who claims to be a feminist. A writer criticized Lennox, saying that, basically, it is  -- and they love this word, these cookie-cutter thinkers -- "troublesome" that a white woman would judge a woman of color:

“This need for white women to police Black women’s definition and brand of feminism is troublesome, bothersome, and disturbing,” she wrote. “It does nothing more than widen the chasm that already exists between white and Black feminists. What exactly are the depths of feminism Lennox is talking about? How does BeyoncĂ© not represent them? And what does Lennox think BeyoncĂ© is missing?”

(Yes, all three: troublesome, bothersome and disturbing. Again, this choice of words just follows a script, regardless of redundancy. Other commentators have used these very words, so...)

So, I get it: people like to point out hidden prejudices and this woman wants Annie Lennox to have a hidden racial agenda. (And she might, but to base the inference on the fact that Beyonce is black and Lennox is white is not exactly sound reasoning.) And the questions that end the quotation? They are meant to open the door for answers that would expose Lennox's racist ideals. Someone has seen some courtroom movies. 

The woman may be right in her implication about Lennox. I don't know. But this sort of script-following argument is an enemy of clear-thinking. 

Either way, in this world that does lip-service to the idea of free speech, Lennox is free to say what she wants, but the grass-roots thought police might try to expose her insidious purpose and even imply that she has no right to say what she thinks. Might she be racist? I guess. But her problem with Beyonce is not a guarantee. The writer's point is based entirely on skin color, which used to be a no-no. For all I know Lennox has a problem with Camille Paglia's take on feminism. Would it be okay for her to say that? 

These days, it is very dangerous for a man to disagree with a woman; for a black person to disagree with a white person; for a gay man to disagree with a straight man... Because, after all, where is this contradictory opinion coming from? What is the hidden agenda?  I find it "troublesome." 

Actually, it's not "troublesome" -- it's freaking scary. The current climate is such that we can and can't say what we think, especially if it is a complicated idea, because someone will do one of two things:
1) Reduce the complex thought to something simple and attack that, instead of the real point. 
2) Use false or tenuous analysis to expose the "real" meaning behind someone's opinion, a meaning based not on logic but on whim and wish. 
So, no, I don't want "the people" to directly decide public issues anymore, because many of them can't even name their country's vice-president and many of them are working straight from personal desire instead of a desire for truth and justice or are arguing with a facade of reason that serves their purposes. The rest? The ones who really think? They are neutralized and ultimately smothered by the masses. They are, quite literally, in danger. 

After all, if everyone calls a rabbit a cat, the guy who still calls it a rabbit is just plain wrong. 

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