Friday, March 22, 2013

outrage culture, the rationalizing animal, and belief systems are B.S.

"It has been said that man is a rational animal. All my life I have been searching for evidence which could support this." – Bertrand Russell

"Man is a rational animal who always loses his temper when called upon to act in accordance with the dictates of reason." – Oscar Wilde

History's greatest comic was Carl Linnaeus, who named our species homo sapiens. Aristotle was no slouch either when he defined man as a rational animal. After making my post about Heinlein or my dad or someone else observing "Man is not a rational animal; he is a rationalizing animal," I asked a few people about the Latin for "rationalizing man". Chaosprime suggested "homo ratiocinens" and evergreen proposed "Homo autoexculpens". Bill Colsher emailed this:
I don’t think the Romans (or the Greeks, the phrase being from Aristotle) had a word for what Heinlein meant by “rationalize”, i.e. “invent a plausible explanation for something that doesn’t really have any connection with reality”. The verb “confingo, -ere, -inxi, -ictum” means “form, fabricate, invent, feign” It has the sense of making something real, like a pot but also to create a falsehood. So you might have “homo confingens” – man the maker-upper. Another possibility might be “enodo, -are, -avi, -atum” meaning “ unravel, explain”. That would be “homo enodans” – man the explainer.

And now for a short discursis:

Much like “man is a political animal”, “man is a rational animal” is one of those unfortunate translations that doesn’t really convey what Aristotle meant. In the first case he mean that man is a creature at its best and best suited to life in the city, with all the duties, rights, and responsibilities that entailed. In the second case he’s talking about what makes man different from other animals. It includes both thinking and planning but also the soul (where reason lives) and some other stuff that I can’t remember just now. Interestingly (perhaps), in the Greek the “capacity for reason” that is “logos” is something that man actively possesses. Man has “logos”, in contrast to animals, which, Aristotle recognizes, do reason in their way. But animals do not have “logos”
Aristotle may be right that humans have the capacity for reason, but I'm with Russell: there's no evidence. Robert Anton Wilson was glimpsing the truth when he noted that when you talk about belief systems, you're talking about b.s.

Now that I've accepted that we're all rationalizing animals, I'm giving up my belief systems. Whether I can live without one, I dunno, but I'll try. Because so far as I can tell, whenever large groups of people get together to do something awful, a belief system is the excuse, even when the actual reason is the hope of taking someone else's lands or goods. To do the worst things, people need to believe they're doing good.

A few observations about outrage culture:

In an outrage culture, the angriest members lead.

In an outrage culture, fighting doesn't stop when the outraged have won. The goal is unconditional surrender. Outraged people think their opponents must be destroyed socially, and often, financially as well, and in extreme cases, literally—every lynching and every massacre is a manifestation of outrage culture.

When outraged people have destroyed an opponent, they look for another. If they can't find one, they turn on each other at the least sign of cultural deviation.

Many commercial journalists pander to outrage culture because outrage addicts always return for their next fix.

When I think of outraged people, I try to remember that they may someday realize how wrong they were. Five years after the Salem witch trials, the jurors signed this apology: "And we also pray that we may be considered candidly and aright by the living sufferers as being then under the power of a strong and general delusion, utterly unacquainted with and not experienced in matters of that nature."

There's a book I've been meaning to read titled Time for Outrage. But now I think I would rather read one titled Time for Reason.