I recently finished reviewing a book where it was obvious to me that the author’s passion for his subject and his anger about what he viewed as negative political trends short-circuited his capacity for reasoned argument. Now, to be sure, I do not think I would have agreed with the author’s opinion had it been more reasonably argued, as there were certainly a lot of things that were left out by the author that undercut his argument in some fashion. This is by no means a fault of the author’s alone, as some element of selection is inherent in any effort at creating, and that element of selection is always biased in some fashion by our own subjectivity as creators with limited time, attention, sympathy, and understanding. As a personal essayist, selectivity bias is something that I regularly run up against, as I write with a limited amount of time and energy and patience and work with such materials as I have available to me, as everyone else does.
As is often, the case, though, this subject led me on to other thoughts that are of a more general applicability to myself and others. One of the characteristic and lamentable aspects of our contemporary world is the ubiquity of appeals that seek to short-circuit our sense of reasoned thinking about subjects. This is not accidental. From youth we are flattered into thinking that we are far more reasonable creatures than we are and that it is those evil others who are motivated by base and dark elements of human nature that we have mercifully evolved well beyond. Simultaneously with that flattery our capacity for reason is undermined by the cultivation of a wide variety of vices that undercut our ability to seriously question the pervasive miseducation of our age as well as the dark motives and goals of the people who push approaches at dealing with the world that make it difficult, if not impossible, for most people to engage with the world and the people and issues within it with any sense of rationality or justice or anything else that is noble and worthwhile.
There are a variety of ways by which our sense of reason can be crippled by short circuits that provide the illusion of deep thinking about subjects but without the reality thereof. We can be motivated to desire and long for that which is harmful for us, and our desires and longings can be inflamed by framing and marketing aspects of various kinds. Those who market junk food to child or who advertise everything with some sort of sexual appeal to adults know what they are doing and why. We can be motivated against the truth because it makes us feel bad and because we object to its tone, because it shows us to be something we do not want to face in the mirror and would rather push aside. We can be motivated by pride or anger or pity or other less than noble means of perverting our sense of reasoning and derailing our reason and replacing it with mere justification and fallacious reasoning. This is indeed something that may happen to us continually over the course of the day.
It is well worth wondering why this is the case. There is a great deal in this world that, when looked at honestly and without any fakery, is simply ridiculous and wrong, but which other people desperately want us to be in favor of. We ought to be aware of ourselves and how we react to something to be conscious of how people are seeking to short-circuit our reasoning processes to lead to a much less complex response. Our heated initial response to something tells us far more about ourselves than it usually tells us about that which we react to. This does not mean we should ignore how we feel about things, but rather that we should be careful to notice how it is that those around us, from individuals in our lives to institutions and marketers and others, seek to manipulate and exploit those feelings. It is all too easy for us to think of ourselves as more rational than we really are, as more reasonable than we are, and as more insightful than we really are. To develop the confidence to speak out against the fashionable nonsense around us without being overly proud of ourselves and subject to other failings is by no means an easy task, but that which is worth doing is seldom easy.