17
Apr
11

Reason

Kant said many famous things, but here is something I think is unbelievably powerful and totally underappreciated by philosophers and non-specialists alike.

He writes

In actual fact too we find that the more cultivated reason concerns itself with the aim of enjoying life and happiness, the farther does man get away from true contentment. This is why there arises in many, and that too in those who have made most trial of this use of rason, if they are only candid enough to admit it, to a certain degree of misology — that is, a hatred of reason; for when they balance all the advantage they draw, I will not say from thinkin out all the arts of ordinary indulgence, but even from science (which in the last resort seems to them to be also an indulgence of the mind), they discover that they have in fact only brought more trouble on their heads than they have gained in the way of happiness. On this account they come to envy, rather than to despise, the more common run of men, who are closer to the guidance of mere natural instinct, and who do not allow their reason to have much influence on their conduct.

This is totally right, and I am now right there with Kant. Reason is like a voice inside one’s head that will not shut off, that will not stop interrogating, probing, connecting and wondering. Are people with a philosophical bent a type of psyhcopath or schizophrenic, and did people like Nietzsche elevate this into a complete philosophy. Did people like Wittgenstein live under the unending torture of a voice and an instinct that covered the lie in everything we do.

Nietzsche railed against Plato for being the reasoned voice of western society, picking apart its jurors, statesmen, religious figures, and just revelers and making them feel paralyzed, impotent, and did Nietzsche not call it when he said that the belief that “REASON is everything” was just a secret angry. An inflamed and infuriated inability to deal with anything ordinary or happy. In a word, to be incapable of happiness.

Plato speaks about the totalitarian rulership of reason and how noble life can be when our intellect rules our base passions. Wrong. A thousand times wrong. We are put under a despot that cares nothing for our needs and wants, and even to think about the most basic thing in a careful way is to touch sadness, is to creep into the realization that human life is a life and a sham. I try to avoid bitter, angry posts, but this is not a time for avoiding the issue.

You hear this all the time “I wish he would just THINK what he’s doing.” I’ve heard hundreds of people say, in complete contempt, how much better the world would be if people stopped being stupid; if politicians would just listen to reason, if their boss would just THINK for a moment. But no one has a fucking clue what this asks of people, what you’re really saying when you tell someone to go down that road and to question everything and to really be INTELLECTUALLY SINCERE.

I’ll tell you the answer, which is that having intellect living inside is like having a monster sitting over your actions, asking their justification, interrogating their motives and passing judgment on every decision and every whimsical thought. It means having an imagination that makes connections between one’s every flaw and one’s every decision. It means having a belief system that is never satisfied until it makes you eat your unhappiness and your flaws.

But set aside the judgments and go further. Imagine a screen between you and the world that gets in the way of your every desire and every instinct that takes everything natural and sacred and wonders why it should be done, interrupting the flow and ruining the moment, ruining one’s confidence and ruining the ability to connect with other people in a variety of ways because one simply “cannot understand them.”

And think of the opposite; the person of instinct who follows whim and wish. It’s true this person is also a disgusting creature, hurting, harming, and plowing through the world with no regard for consistency, reason, or a moment for self-reflection and autonomy. But this person can love, she can seize on an object and become consumed with it. Such a being can be confident; can forget past failures, ignore the truth, and barrel on with a plan and an animating hope.

If you take anything from this post, you should understand that asking someone to “be rational” or to think a little bit, is not a trivial demand. It is not a lament that can unfortunately never be completely fulfilled because humans are limited or fallible or selfish or whatever your pet part of human nature is. Rather, you should know that when you are asking someone to be rational, you are asking an enormous sacrifice from this person. You are asking them to touch sadness, and interrupt the smooth flow of life that they have so carefully constructed.  You are asking them to smash the signs and symbols that guide a full and verdant life. In a word, you are telling them that they must, at least a little bit be unhappy, and the more decisions you ask them to make, the more you ask them to see beyond their immediate experience and to make connections, the more you ask them to surrender their chance at love and at confidence and at instinctive, simply joy.

To ask someone to be rational is to place a demand on them, as if to ask for a kidney or insist that they repay a debt. You ask them to break with reality and the comfort it affords. It is not, as some philosophers have though, a life of happiness and emancipation to “see reason” as if one could see god.

Again, Nietzsche of all people saw the danger of reason and said that it took years of pain and struggle just to allow humans to see the need to keep promises, to reason that far ahead of their buzzing world of satisfactions and dissatisfactions. He saw this split more than anyone in human history and noticed that we must reason, otherwise we are nothing but animals, but that we must not reason, otherwise we are scared, lonely, and lacking any power at all.

This is the origin of his philosophy of forgetting. To give up and abandon experience and to NOT learn from it and rather to let it drift off into the darkness of our brains so that we can attack a new day, rather than replaying our failures and weaknesses infinitely in the theater of our mind, so that we can be traumatized by them again and again and so that we can be awestruck by their inescapability.

The worst is that for someone who thinks too much, who overanalyzes, who is gripped by the “paralysis of analysis,” there is nowhere to run. Almost no one can sympathize and indeed it seems trifling to call this pain what it is. Even that, one’s reason will assuredly uncover, is a type of weakness, and then one cannot help but think about that, and the cycle of thought and judgment begins again. This is the meaning of “intellectual honesty” or ruthless searching for the truth.

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