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The death of reason

I've been reading a book, The Suicide of Reason, about the tendency of multicultural consumerist liberalism to disarm itself in the face of Islam. The problem the author sees is quite simple: in the West we're into what he calls reason---that is, we view orderly satisfaction of individual preferences as the highest goal. In the Islamic world they're into what he calls tribalism, fanaticism and the law of the jungle, which means they think there are considerations that trump individual self-interest. The result is that we're unable to fight off the Muslims or even (because of our increasingly radical individualism) recognize them as an enemy.

The author's conclusion is that we need some tribalism, fanaticism and law of the jungle of our own, just enough to maintain our ability to put individual self-interest first. It's the classic neoconservative version of the culture war: liberalism does itself in, so let's stick some traditional discipline into it and justify the discipline by pointing out that it'll put the system of everybody doing what he feels like doing on a more reliable footing.

It's hard to see how the strategy could work. If the discipline or fanaticism or whatever is a bad thing from the standpoint of the self-interested individual, how are you going to get people to buy into it in a society that treats individual self-interest as the highest human goal?

The basic problem, I think, is that you can't discuss such problems without discussing what it is to live a good life, and the scientistic view of reason I point to in the last entry, which the author shares on the whole, makes that kind of discussion impossible. A good life is a life according to reason, but identifying reason with observation, measurement, model-building, formal logic, and means-ends rationality makes it impossible to say what it is to act reasonably. If reality, including human conduct, is simply motions in space, then it's hard to see why one set of motions is more reasonable than another. The notion of reason becomes arbitrary, and therefore not a notion of reason at all.

Thus, the author identifies reason variously with the outlook of a cooly rational arm's-length capitalist dealer, and with the net effect of physiological reactions inculcated by the shaming code that came by chance to be characteristic of our society. Why bother striving for reason if it's that and no more? And if it's viewed that way, how is it going to serve as a reliable basis for intelligent cooperation?

Comments

"A good life is a life according to reason, but identifying reason with observation, measurement, model-building, formal logic, and means-ends rationality makes it impossible to say what it is to act reasonably."

Not that I didn't give an example of how scientific enlightenment informs the reasoned good life http://antitechnocrat.net:8000/node/2691#comment-10984 here but that aside, you would identify reason with what exactly?

"Thus, the author identifies reason variously with the outlook of a cooly rational arm's-length capitalist dealer, and with the net effect of physiological reactions inculcated by the shaming code that came by chance to be characteristic of our society. Why bother striving for reason if it's that and no more?"

Because perhaps the cooly rational objective approach to problems evolved as an efficacious survival strategy for humankind? Because the emotional reaction of shame also evolved as a beneficial group survival trait? I suggest you familiarize yourself with the fields of evolutionary biology and behavioral genetics. The distinguished scholar E.O. Wilson has written several books explicating the ideas underlying these scientific inquiries for the general public.

"And if it's viewed that way, how is it going to serve as a reliable basis for intelligent cooperation?"

And you would replace the understanding of fundamental elements of human nature as a reliable basis for rational discussion of co-operation with what exactly?

I didn't say science can't inform inquiries, only that it's insufficient for some inquiries. We've been through that issue repeatedly.

Reason is the ability to come to reliable conclusions about the world and conduct, what the world is like and how we should act in it. It particularly has to do with the ability to apply appropriate concepts to experience and deal with the concepts (and thus the experiences to which they apply) in a way that makes sense.

The point of the book is that there are evolved survival traits other than the ethos of multicultural consumerist capitalist social democracy. He's worried that what he calls fanaticism and tribalism, as displayed by Muslims, may be superior survival traits. That's why he wrote the book. I suppose I'd add that viewing something as an evolved survival trait does not settle its merits as a principle of conduct.

Who said anything about getting rid of an understanding of fundamental elements of human nature as part of the basis for rational discussion?

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

"He's worried that what he calls fanaticism and tribalism, as displayed by Muslims, may be superior survival traits."

On the face of it Muslim birth rates, which are second only to those of even more tribal sub-Saharan Africa, would seem to bear this out. However they are also the most steeply declining and apparently for the same reasons that they have and continue to decline elsewhere: increased urbanization and literacy as the population moves away from reliance on various modes of subsistence farming, aa way of life which of necessity puts a premium on producing surviving children. Those declines may very well come too late to prevent Europe from seeing considerably more blood in the streets due to its already huge and largely Arab Muslim population.

The US is somewhat more insulated from Arab invasion due to geography and we do still possess a tribal sense of our nation. There was certainly an enormous amount of quite tribalistic sentiment here after the attacks on 9/11. Instead of putting that fervor to good use in defense of the nation, Bush instead actively sought to dissipate it by urging us all to go shopping. But then he is after all a multiculturalist liberal; a point of view that I find to be most unreasonable.

Mr Kalb, is there a Jewish assault against western peoples ('other' western peoples if you disconnect Europe and the west), that our malaise also assists?

There are certainly radical Jews, but it seems to me their radicalism is mostly a way of leaving Judaism and making a place for themselves in the non-Jewish world. So the problem to my mind is the social and intellectual position of left radicalism and not the the social and intellectual position of Jews. If it weren't Freud or Marx or whoever it would have been someone else.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.