The Decline of Reason, the Decline of Culture, the Decline of Freedom

The following post by Robert LeChavalier (and reposted on Facebook by Richard Ruggiero) is an excellent and insightful explanation of how the death of reason happens slowly, progressively yet decisively. It was written in 2013, and seems to anticipate with disturbing clarity the intellectual and political collapse we find ourselves in, just 8 years later.

The decline of reason matters.


Arguing Ad Infinitum

I’ve had a notion for some time that you can measure the decline in reason in a culture simply by counting the number of “conversations” that consist of two or more people ignoring what the other says, merely so they can recite a mantra of talking points.

At one time, in the distant past, it was regarded as irrational and poor debating form to ignore what an opponent says before making your own point.

That is, in the “old” days, you lost points in a debate for doing what passes for “discussion” on most TV shows and too much conversation on the web or even in person.

Here’s how it’s supposed to go:

1.) Person A makes a point in support of his position.
2.) Person B evaluates the logic of that point and agrees or provides an argument against it, and then makes a new point.
3.) Loop and repeat until some agreement is reached.

Here’s how it normally goes today:

1.) Person A makes a point in support of his position.
2.) Person B has no clue how to answer that point, so he willfully ignores it, and repeats a well-worn talking point supporting his position.
3.) Loop and repeat till someone is dead.

The principle of persuasion employed in the first method is reasoning minds interested in discovering the truth. The premise of the second is brainwashing via the ballpeen hammer of dogma.

I note that even many otherwise honest people embrace the second method today. I think it’s the epistemology of desperation–people desperate to save a position and their own self-esteem from a lack of knowledge and articulateness.

On a show like O’Reilly, you have little choice but to get your point out by ignoring or talking over your opponent. But that is a symptom of the problem itself. Technically, those sparring sessions aren’t debates or discussion at all, just billboard advertising for a position, achieved by screaming, ignoring, evading, interrupting, bullying, dissembling or outright lying, and hoping that just one single word is heard and remembered by *someone* in the audience. These forums are little more than the modern equivalent of the Roman “Arena” that threw Christians in with lions and tigers and bears for the amusement of an audience salivating for blood.

Maybe not even that distinguished — they are the intellectual equivalent of ladies mud-wrestling.

One can argue that such sporting events are a complete waste of time for either side. A rational mud-wrestler, in appearing reasonable and making one single good point might leave a small impression on a few perceptive minds in the audience. But probably not many. Imagine the effect of Patrick Henry’s oratory on the crowd of the Coliseum.

The point of my post is that the mud-wrestling method of debate has infected every level of public discourse in our society. For instance, watch any White House press conference, either Obama or his minister of propaganda, Carney. It’s not so much that *they* are practicing evasion — we know that, and we expect it, because for them, it is de rigueur, done consciously, deliberately, as a modus operandi.

But look at the press. our alleged Fourth Estate charged with keeping the people informed and our government honest — they simply accept the evasions, lies and talking points. They will accept any point, really, that will make a splash on the 5 o’clock news, because that’s all they are looking for: entertainment, not integration; acceptance, not real answers. They’ve come to *accept* evasion, dissembling and lying as *the norm*, the to-be-expected, the acceptable.

By default, so do most other people in our society when they see that method practiced all around them.

“Infected” is the right word — the method of talking points is like a disease that has attacked the body and soul of good and bad alike.

People practice it by osmosis and often don’t realize how it’s infected every tissue of their own mind and soul, merely by playing by the rules of their enemies. That is, the rules of un-reason.

In such context, advocates of reason can and *do* make a somewhat better impression with they set themselves apart by appearing reasonable, even in the faux discussions of Bill O’Reilly’s or Sean Hannity’s evening mud-wrestling extravaganzas. But you have to wonder the genuine cash value of the experience.

If you fight on the enemy’s terms — and here I’m including O’Reilly and Hannity as victims as well as guilty practitioners — **by adopting the enemy’s method you are sanctioning it and surrendering the long-term battle for reason.**

Whatever small gains one might make on that kind of battlefield — and I broaden my point here beyond TV to include all irrational discussions on the web or elsewhere — the losses, I think, are greater, measured as a decline of respect, knowledge or practice in a rational method. The concomitant qualitative losses are a decline in respect for civility and good will towards one’s fellow man, and the loss of certainty in the conviction that persuasion is effective and reason practical.

Deeper yet is the loss in one’s emotional sense that a rational life is possible and that life is worth living — for when you can’t have a civilized conversation about *values* with another person who is interested in the *truth* of things, life becomes futile. If there is no value to be found in other human beings, what’s the point?

In the long run, when reason is abandoned, either by default or by expediency to advance one’s agenda, it can only lead to the complete decay of all values — not merely discourse, but any individual conviction that right and wrong are meaningful concepts. The result can only be a society that degenerates into intellectual and physical despotism, because without reason there’s nothing left to guide men but shouting and physical force.

– Robert LeChavalier, March 23, 2013



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