Tuesday, February 21, 2006

VB2 - rationality's communication problems

Voltaire's Bastards 2
Rationality's communication problems

People like specific solutions. In societal terms we want to have a knowledge that the direction we are tending is the best possible course. We instinctively shy away from leaders who would answer with vagueness, indicating that the specifics we rely on really don't matter much in the end. This tendency seem analogous to religious tendencies towards highly specific extrapolations. From Voltaire's Bastards:

Our unquenchable thirst for answers has become one of the obvious characteristics of the West in the second half of the twentieth century. But what are answers when there is neither memory nor general understanding to give them meaning? This running together of the right answer with the search for truth is perhaps the most poignant sign of our confusion.

page 17

Confidence towards religion or rationality is based on the ability to understand. Realistically, religious language, while much deeper than most people can fathom can be interpreted to a point where sudden clarity seems apparent and limitations obvious. This seems similar to a move along Fowler's stages of progression. The limiting factor is often a deciphering of language and meaning. However, should we suppose that rationality suffers no such equivalencies? Continuing,

It is a curious sort of confusion. Organized and calm on the surface, our lives are lived in an atmosphere of nervous, even frenetic agitation. Hordes of essential answers fly about us and disappear, abruptly meaningless. Successive absolute solutions are provided for major public problems and then slip always without our consciously registering their failure. Neither the public and corporate authorities nor the experts are held responsible for their own actions in any sensible manner because the fracturing of memory and understanding has created a profound chaos in the individual's sense of what responsibility is.

This is part of the deadening of language which the reign of structure and abstract power has wrought. The central concepts upon which we operate were long ago severed from their roots and changed into formal rhetoric. They have no meaning. They are used wildly or administratively as masks. And the more our language becomes as tool for limiting general discourse, the more our desire fro answers becomes frenzied.

page 17

In the moral realm it is common to think of rationality as a saviour. Yet, the more complex its associated language becomes, the more religious in nature it appears. While an ability to decipher significant levels of interactions may lead one to believe that absolutes can be discovered, this very complexity may sow the seeds of its own inapplicableness.

Yet there is no great need for answers. Solutions are the cheapest commodity of our day. They are the medicine show tonic of the rational elites. And the structures which produce them are largely responsible for the inner panic which seems endemic to modern man.

pg 17

Perhaps there is something to be said for reliance on vagueness. While not a popular thought (it certainly could stymie progress), perhaps forcing reliance on over specificity may be one of the underlying principles true religion should teach.

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