Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Death of Reason, VII: A Little More Demonic Advice

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.

Not that our critics are in any such danger.  To complicate further the matter of our not reviewing John Mueller’s book, the commentator didn’t read the book, either, but quoted a passage from his third party authority that he evidently thought proved that Mueller had not “misapplied” the natural law.  That’s logically impossible, by the way, for you cannot prove a negative.  The quoted passage did, however, give further evidence that Mueller had, in fact, misapplied the natural law.

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.)

Not surprisingly, the very first advice that Screwtape gives Wormwood — in the first paragraph of Letter I, as a matter of fact — is avoid real argument at all cost.  Don’t allow your victim to consider whether or not something is true, but whether it is useful, or bold, or strong, or faithful to a belief . . . anything other than because it is true.  As Screwtape explains,

“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 begin to see the point?  Thanks to processes which we set at work in them centuries ago, they find it all but impossible to believe in the unfamiliar while the familiar is before their eyes.  Keep pressing home on him the ordinariness of things.  Above all, do not attempt to use science (I mean, the real sciences) as a defense against Christianity.  They will positively encourage him to think about realities he can’t touch and see.  There have been sad cases among the modern physicists.  If he must dabble in science, keep him on economics and sociology; don’t let him get away from that invaluable ‘real life.’  But the best of all is to let him read no science but to give him a grand general idea that he knows it all and that everything he happens to have picked up in casual talk and reading is ‘the results of modern investigation.’  Do remember you are there to fuddle him.  From the way some of you young fiends talk, anyone would suppose it was our job to teach!” (Ibid., 10.)

Screwtape, of course, is talking about modern economics that has managed to divorce itself from the precepts of the natural law and thereby turn itself into a pseudo-science.  The Aristotelian/Thomist principles underlying binary economics are, as we might expect, a disaster for needists and others who attempt to construct a faith-based science based on emotion.  (Theology is not a faith-based science, but a science based on reason dealing with matters of faith.)

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.

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