On the day of the Parkland massacre, Valentine’s Day, I made a decision, one long in the making since my days as a Philosophy student and instructor nearly fifty years ago.
I had been for decades outwardly idle — “submissive” would be a better word — while watching the world be shaped by people’s interests in certain things (mainly about making money, buying lots of guns, going to church, and feeling good about themselves) and by their equally selective lack of interest in certain other things, such as logic and vigorous, intelligent debate about our connections to one another, and our impacts upon the larger world. I had been told many times by many people that logic, history, science, studies in the foundations of ethics, and reading in general “Just aren’t my passions.”
But inwardly, and quietly, I had been, all those years, observing, reading, and writing much in my journals, and sharing my findings only a little, until recently. My fateful decision was to do this:
I sent a long and significant letter (a small book) to important distant friends the day after that student massacre. As a direct result, predictably as the sun’s setting, I have been cast from their lives. I wrote that letter for the general reasons I will state here and for the particular reasons given within the letter itself. The letter explained why I made the decision I did, to speak up in a written document rather than in airy personal conversations in which words and meanings are neither understood nor remembered because minds are heated and fogged by fire and smoke, driven more by the dragons of our reptilian hind brain than guided by the light of our brain’s more recent developments. Knowing the trouble I could cause, and the price I might pay, I did so against the urging of everyone whose opinions I faithfully sought. I must live or die with that decision that was, necessarily, my own. As my remaining and now increasingly lonely days permit, I will offer the substance of my cares, concerns, and reasonings to anyone interested, but will not demand, nor even ask, anyone to be actually interested. As my mind is my own to make up, so too it is for each of us to do the same. And like it or not, the implications of that fact have been, and will continue to be, global.
Right or wrong, but with my shingle out for open written debate, I now have much to say about many things, after living a long life of learning and traveling the globe—and being publicly silent, too circumspectly careful, about the most important things. I have been outwardly quiet lest I be branded the cause of “personal offense” and ejected from family and polite society by people who wrongly think I do not love them—all because I argue that Proposition A is false or that Decision B is illegal and fundamentally unethical, for complex reasons no one “has time” to read about or the depth of education to understand (being too busy making money and raising a family, and feeling great about doing so). I have tried to be accommodating and polite and unobtrusive. I have been taken to be an odd combination of “very smart,” “highly useful” —and “duly deferential” to executive decisions that time and again have proven to be fatally wrong. Thus, I have concluded that I have been making an exceedingly terrible mistake of my own.
I had always been asking myself, “How much do we really love one another? Enough to study hard and seek the truth about what we are doing to each other?” My hypothesis, now confirmed beyond all reasonable doubt, was that something horrible has gone wrong in our society that now manifests itself as the outward symptoms of a virus whose periodic outbreaks blood-stain the pages of our entire history. I claim that we do not love our children, nor one another, nor future generations, quite enough to find out the implications of what we are doing—or failing to do. Decades of thinking and searching out the facts (and trying to falsify my own theory about which I have been publicly silent for most of my life) have led me to this conclusion:
This world has been shaped by our frequent and mysterious lack of curiosity about what is true, the implications of our presumptions, and equally by our manufactured ignorance and enabled arrogance; in other words by our lack of interest in genuinely understanding ourselves, our fellows, and the world. As of this day, I have ceased to acquiesce in the face of narcissistic power that 1) assumes—and now literally asserts—that only its own feelings and decisions matter and that, by direct implication, mine own do not; 2) seeks out the company of only like-minded people; 3) seeks to threaten, ignore, or muzzle anyone who begs to differ; and 4) does not know the difference between a fact and a feeling nor between a rational argument and verbal abuse.
In the interests of “getting along with each other,” because we claim to love one another, we have, in fact, chosen to act in ways that permit aggressiveness, ignorance, and malignant narcissism to be reinforced and rewarded in our children and among those to whom we believe we must submit in order to “keep the peace,” “enjoy life,” and “earn a living.” We all think our children are important, most important, in our lives, and that it is their personal happiness (and our own) that is most important. But the trouble is this: Everyone believes this, but it could not possibly be true. Family A’s children cannot really be more important than Family B’s children, however truly important everyone may be. But as this false belief is acted upon across a society, poisonous consequences show themselves.
Because everyone thinks their children are special and must be treated “carefully,” and that their bosses must be treated with extra special deference lest they lose their jobs, a global situation develops in which no one, no individual person, is willing to take responsibility for the reinforcement and enablement of ignorance and egomania, showing itself in the proliferation of weapons, the perversion of religion, the election of Trump, and the perpetuation of sexual and economic predation by many of the most powerful people in the world, people who have in fact risen to power precisely because we each have done our part, deferentially, to allow it all to happen. There is a private, though never a public, cost-benefit analysis of what we are doing, and we fail to see that just about everyone is doing this. Doing what? Refusing (out of fear of personal harm or lust for personal gain) to stand up and blow the public whistle against “BS,” that is, against corporate fraud, financial predation, money laundering, tax evasion, racist hatred, religious bigotry, manipulative lies, all manner of political corruption, and invincible ignorance with its contempt for higher education and a sneering suspicion of anything that smacks of literate and scientific intelligence.
My short answer: All of us need to learn the poisonous patterns of pseudo-argument and see them for what they are: strategically ill-motivated substitutes for coherent reasoning, all intended for two destructive purposes: manipulating an intellectually defenseless audience and, if one can pull it off, deceiving oneself to anesthetize the conscience while shifting responsibility. Introductory logic textbooks catalog the jungle of formal and informal fallacies, often identified by their Latin names, and antiseptically defined. They are all symptomatic of a diseased and thoughtless desire, not to get at the truth, but avoid it, or should it be necessary, to confront it, grab it by the throat, and drown it in the nearest bathtub.
“Molly coddling” is the generic term for respecting another’s “feelings” (even our own) above a respect for truth, rationality, and the avoidance of the growth of self-delusion. Turning our backs to the facts, we forget that facts bite us in the ass—in due time. If every employee submits unquestioningly to their bosses, our bosses come to believe that they cannot be wrong and increasingly grow arrogant and presumptuous about their powers, knowledge, skills, and wisdom. They then rationalize their stroked “feelings” (enabled by their parents, peers, shareholders, or underlings) as proof of their ethical superiority and command of reality. Financial “success” adds pragmatic fuel to the “confirmation” that they are right, just, good, and deserving of all they have. Underlings buy into the whole story of how their bosses make a fortune and, in so doing, become not only more tolerant of abuse but wish to imitate what they see as “leadership” behaviors.
Hence we have the likes of Michael Cohen, Sam Nunberg, and half of Congress, who outwardly bow to Trump as their “Mentor,” for example, while Roger Stone asserts that he saw Trump as a nice piece of “horseflesh” to back and exploit in a “race” to advance a personal agenda. Hence we have Weinstein and his “Director’s Couch.” Hence we have the NFL issue a threatening directive about what will constitute “patriotism” in their players. Hence we have a Mark Zuckerberg who has been neither able nor willing to understand the power and the implications of the global machine he has been building, how malefactors could exploit its “mere tools” to turn countries inside out and upside down by hitting targeted ignorant people who lack even the vestigial powers of rational analysis that would help them distinguish news from propaganda. He claims his “virtue” created his “success” by “connecting people globally” and “sellings ads” that selectively target them (more often than not with malice aforethought). Devils and the Lords of Mayhem are often not who we think they are. They are brilliant but selectively thoughtless people who seek to “impact the world” and garner “personal wealth” and thus “make the world a better place.” Still, the executives of “Cambridge Analytica” (a name itself reeking of arrogant pretension) do win the award for being the creeps of the century, for being exactly who they appear to be in surveillance videos.
Education and non-egoistic thoughtfulness take a distant back seat to ego and money and the building of one’s dream home and career and family. Genuine mutual human respect, thoughts about how our individual beliefs and actions impact society when likewise acted upon by others, and the humble willingness to admit we might be factually wrong about a whole lot of things, begin to rapidly shrink—or are stillborn in our childhood. We see the ultimate corruption of politics, of business, and of familial relationships in which the scientifically ignorant, the fundamentally incompetent, the ethically bankrupt, and the psychologically diseased seize power and wield it over others to the ultimate detriment of everyone. Historically, this has been the fatal formula for the rise of autocracy, fascism, oligarchy, tribal conflict, the collapse of countries, and the outbreak of war—all of which we thought we were trying to avoid in the first place.
Someday, the power of ignorance, arrogance, and malignant narcissism may learn that it only exists, and persists, because too many people have acquiesced in silence, fearfully or greedily or naively, but utterly mistakenly. Meanwhile, our purported “love of one another” is proving, yet again, to be nothing of the sort.