Tuesday, April 20, 2010

the great unreasoning

ClubOrlov | Doesn't it seem laughable that the entire edifice of modern political science rests on mere opinion? Some mornings I entertain up to a dozen mutually contradictory opinions, and that's before even getting off the toilet! It is a flaw of the English language that when someone is convinced of something, the result is said to be a change of opinion. If one is indeed convinced, wouldn't that change one's convictions? But it's easy to see why nobody bothers to conduct "conviction surveys," because the results would be quite boring. Convictions hardly ever change, because they are generally not amenable to persuasion or argument. Convictions tend to form as a result of actual experiences, not from listening to pundits or experts or from reading the popular press. They form part of who we are, not what we might be thinking at any given moment.

It is almost impossible to change someone's convictions through persuasion or argument, and it is equally difficult to cause someone to form convictions through these same means. That is why the most difficult subjects of our time—ones involving hard issues such as overpopulation, natural resource use and depletion, global climate destabilization, looming national bankruptcy and the like—are more or less left out of public discourse. They are of no consequence as matters of opinion, while as matters of conviction they are political dynamite. Plus, just how many people are there whose lives have provided them with the experiences they would need to form convictions on these subjects? These subjects are avoided for the same reason one doesn't leave coiled hoses lying around a slaughterhouse: the sheep might think that they are seeing snakes, stampede and ruin your whole work-shift. It is much better to just let them move smoothly along and cast their vote for "Baah!"

The relatively few people who do have firm convictions are often regarded as "unreasonable" because their convictions cannot be reasoned away as mere opinions can. That to me seems exactly as it should be. Humanity is in the process of demonstrating that it can successfully reason its way into a cul de sac. But is there any reason to believe that it can also reason its way out of it? Perhaps it is high time to start being unreasonable, to decide for ourselves that we do not like the cul de sac into which our reason has steered us, and to refuse to go into it any deeper. Perhaps we could even find a way out of it. And perhaps a few of those people whose minds you can sometimes almost read will almost be able to read our minds as well, and will choose to follow us out. And the rest will just stand around and argue about it: "Baah!" Fist tap Dale.