In yesterday’s posting we got some advice from “Screwtape,” given in letters to his nephew, Wormwood, an Assistant Tormentor. Above all, Screwtape tells Wormwood, for the hate of Satan, don’t let your victim (“patient”) use anything that resembles reason or logic.
|Screwtape, lowly placed in Hellish bureaucracy.|
By basing his criticism of our reasons for not wanting to review Mueller’s book on an emotional reaction rather than reason — on what he preferred to believe rather than on what he could prove factually or by argument — the commentator fell neatly into the trap presumably laid by his Assistant Tormentor. This is something against which Hilaire Belloc also warned:
“When a man tells you that it ‘stands to reason’ that such and such a thing, to which he is unaccustomed, cannot have taken place, his remark has no intellectual value whatever. Not only would he be unable to analyze his ‘reasons’ for rejecting the statement, but he would, if pressed, be bound to give you motives based upon mere emotion.” (Hilaire Belloc, “The Approach to the Skeptic,” Essays of a Catholic, Rockford, Illinois: TAN Books and Publishers, Inc., 1992, 33.)
|"Avoid real argument at all cost."|
“The trouble about argument is that it moves the whole struggle onto the Enemy’s own ground. He can argue too; whereas in really practical propaganda of the kind I am suggesting He has been shown for centuries to be greatly the inferior of Our Father Below. By the very act of arguing, you awake the patient’s reason; and once it is awake, who can foresee the result? Even if a particular train of thought can be twisted so as to end in our favor, you will find that you have been strengthening in your patient the fatal habit of attending to universal issues and withdrawing his attention from the stream of immediate sense experiences.” (“Letter I,” The Screwtape Letters, op. cit., 8.)
This is why a “science” of economics based on faith and focused on satisfying immediate human needs instead of the ultimate purpose of life itself is so useful to those whom Louis Kelso called “needists.” Needists are those who insist that the total resources of the State and the private sector must be dedicated to meeting human wants and needs not on the basis of inputs to production, but on the basis of need; that the State’s job is to ensure that every individual human good is provided within reasonable parameters — neglecting the fact that such a goal is completely unreasonable.
Calling this an economics based on “love” instead of “greed,” needists make more or less wild emotional appeals that the State or a private elite should be forced to provide what people should have or need in “real life.” This is in preference to focusing on how things can be arranged so that people can help themselves, with an assist from private individuals or the State when necessary and as appropriate, so as to encourage their full development as human beings. It is no accident that Screwtape counsels Wormwood,
|"You see the point? You are there to fuddle him. Keep him on economics."|
|"The Skepticism of the Stupid."|
Not that this seems to make a difference to many people. Those who base their arguments on emotion, their acceptance of the familiar, and their faith in themselves or some system they accept without question can seldom, if ever, be brought around by reason. Calling this “the Skepticism of the Stupid,” Hilaire Belloc explained,
“The Skepticism of the Stupid is that denial of an unaccustomed statement which is based upon an undefined, but nonetheless real, belief that the hearer is possessed of universal knowledge. It is a common error in our day.” (Belloc, “The Approach to the Skeptic,” loc. cit.)
Common? If we believe Mortimer Adler in Ten Philosophical Mistakes (1985), the failure to distinguish opinion from knowledge, or vice versa, is one of the biggest problems we face in modern society.