The Irrational Nature of Our Society or: An Irrational Society is not a Society

IMG_0031Today is the 40th anniversary of Roe v Wade, the landmark decision that permitted at-will abortions around the United States. As such, the debates I have seen amongst many of my friends – as I have friends on all sides of this issue – have been quite ferocious concerning this anniversary. Here at the Christian Watershed we are very much against abortion and are pro-life in all senses of the term. At the same time, we support logical arguments and thinking when approaching any issue, which is why I have found the debates concerning Roe v Wade, as well as many other debates on different issues, very disconcerting. These debates have typically been emotionally charged and full of irrational arguments. While every society at its lower levels tends to be a bit irrational (and all humans tend to be a bit irrational), ours stands out as unique in that from the lowest levels of society to our highest levels we lack any semblance of rational thinking.

Let us look at the abortion issue. I’ve seen many anti-abortion advocates shoot down arguments by Peter Singer and others because Singer is an atheist. “Oh, he’s an atheist, well then why should I care what his arguments are?” This should be expected at some level, but I’ve seen Christian philosophers write off Singer’s arguments by saying, “Oh, well, he’s a Utilitarian, so why bother?” While I am no fan of utilitarianism, if Singer’s arguments on abortion are tied to his Utilitarianism, then disprove his overall ethic. If they aren’t tied to it, then disprove his arguments. Either way, actually deal with what he’s saying. Alternatively, I’ve had many people ignore my arguments against abortion because I’m a Christian. They state, “Well you’re just saying this because you’re religious” even though I never once invoke religion in the discussion on abortion. Rather than dealing with my arguments, they just cast them aside as “religious.” And even if my comments were religious, they still have failed because they haven’t shown how religious arguments are wrong.

In both examples we see what is called the genetic fallacy, or attacking the root source of the argument rather than the argument. Often times when we hear, “Well of course the liberal media wouldn’t report that” or “of course Fox News wouldn’t report that” we’re hearing the genetic fallacy. The argument is not dealt with, no facts are actually presented, the argument is just cast aside because we don’t like the origin of the argument. “Of course you support pro-life arguments, you’re Catholic.” Perhaps that is so, but how does that disprove the argument? “Of course you think Obamacare is great, you’re a Democrat.” That may be the reason, but how does that negate the reasons for Obamacare?

If you look to our public discourse, from politics to the talking heads on television to everyday Facebook discussions, you’ll recognize that most of the arguments stem from logical fallacies. That doesn’t mean the initial beliefs are wrong, just that how they got to those beliefs have no rational basis. For instance, I may say, “I can’t see the wind, but I feel the effects of the wind, but I know the wind is real. Likewise, I can’t see God, but I can feel the effects of God, but I know God is real.” While as a Christian I would argue that God is real, I would also argue that such an argument is poor and even illogical. How we come to a conclusion does not affect the truth of a statement, but it does affect its validity, how convincing it is to others, and how we will defend it.

When we lack a proper rational basis for our beliefs, we get ourselves into a state where every argument we make must ultimately rely on our emotional support and biases. Thus, nothing said to us will get us to change our minds and nothing we say will get others to change their mind. This is why we see a lack of proper compromise in our Congress when it comes to issues where compromise should be easy to obtain, issues such as raising the debt ceiling, healthcare reform, taxation and spending, and so on. Because neither side has a rational justification for their beliefs they are left to act like children instead of adults, arguing over who gets what toys rather than reaching a compromise.

Welcome to the new America, the anti-society. A society tends to be any group of people who share the same customs and live in an ordered community. This cannot be said of the United States, mostly because there is nothing ordered about our community. A man shoots up an elementary school and rather than coming together, we immediately begin with the emotional outburst that we need to outlaw guns or allow more guns. All the while we ignore common sense approaches, not to mention statistics. Our emotional feelings on an issue inform us on what statistics we will believe, writing off any that seemingly disagree with us as part of the “pro-gun lobby, who is no more than big tobacco” or as “part of the anti-gun lobby, who is no better than Hitler or Stalin.” Both arguments are fallacious on many levels, but this doesn’t seem to deter anyone from the debate.

When a nation’s “top thinkers,” or at least most vocal leaders engage in obvious irrational justifications, it means the nation is beyond repair. Congress cannot agree on anything because there is no rational justification behind each side’s beliefs. When there is an obvious rational justification behind both sides and both sides articulate it, we tend to end up helpful legislation. Yet, this close-mindedness trickles down to the populace where simple disagreements cannot be overcome because no one is capable of rational thought. We disregard anything that challenges our position by attacking the person or the organization. Most of all, when our justification is primarily emotional, we take any criticism of our beliefs personally, which only perpetuates the problem.

For instance, if you say, “Well that argument just doesn’t make sense” or even imply that an argument is stupid (and arguments can be stupid and there’s nothing wrong in calling an argument stupid), then people immediately take it personally. In fact, if you go so far as to strongly argue that the person’s beliefs are wrong, then you’re considered rude in our modern society. Yet, there are some who are above the fray. One can look to Robert P. George and Cornel West as an example of two men who disagree on quite a bit, yet are willing to act rationally and like adults with their disagreements. Both of them have actually been able to come to a quite a few compromises and even changed their positions slightly via their dialogues. While there will never be complete unity between the two, both can at least respect the opinions of the other as rational even if false (something can be rational and still be false).

And that is the entire point – it’s okay to “agree to disagree” so long as there is a reasoned argument behind the disagreement. If there is not and both of us are attempting to affect public policy then one of us must win out. Sadly, it seems the one who can create the more emotional argument is the one who will win out, which is what leads to bad legislation that is ineffective. What’s more, on a personal level, holding beliefs without rational justification leaves us empty when reality is too much and ultimately crushes those beliefs. There have been many times when, emotionally, I wanted to give up my faith, but rationally could not. Rational justification for beliefs roots them in the ground where they’re allowed to grow and change, but not fall over at the slightest wind.

The fix to this is mostly on a personal level. We need to learn how to think. This begins at a young age, but anyone at any age can learn this. I think the best book for this is Peter Kreeft’s Socratic Logic, which anyone can pick up and begin working through. When we learn how to think and not what to think, we begin to shape beliefs that have a rational justification, beliefs we can truly invest ourselves in emotionally because we know that, at its center, there is a solid core. Ultimately, we are made in the image of God and God is a rational being. Thus, we are happiest when we are rational in our beliefs. But on a more practical application, if we want our society to function properly and grow then we must move away from our emotionalism and towards beliefs with solid foundations.


Banning Guns Isn’t the Solution

DSC02079In the aftermath of Sandy Hook, many people are calling for tighter gun control in order to prevent future massacres. Of course, such a view fails to take into account a few things:

1) We’ve increased our gun control measures after a few recent massacres, and yet massacres still occur

2) Massacres occurred well before the invention of the gun

3) Prior to WWII, there were no recorded mass shootings of innocent individuals in the United States, though most Americans owned a gun and gun control was minimal to non-existent

4) The only crime shown to drop with gun control is gun violence – alternatively, every other crime increases with gun control. While the UK has a lower gun crime rate than the US, you’re more likely to be stabbed, robbed, raped, or assaulted in the UK than you are in the US.

Regardless, gun control has not worked and will not work in stopping individuals from killing innocent humans. For one, it’s a utopian idea to think that we can somehow end mass killings by banning the gun. Murder will always exist and when you take away the gun from the citizens, you then put the power in the hands of the government to inflict violence on its own citizens. This is especially true in democracies, wherein every democracy has tyranny as its logical conclusion.

The solution to our problem is a moral one, not a legislative one. Yes, the individual who carried out the sickening actions at Sandy Hook was insane and therefore incapable of fully grasping morality. But therein lies the problem – he is a symptom of society’s moral problem. Because we’re so enamored with making sure everyone is equal, because we’d rather spend money on creating thousands of Sandy Hook’s overseas rather than putting that money towards mental health improvement. We’ve raised three generations to believe that they’re okay as they are, so much to the point that a mother would refuse a son mental health treatment because it would send the message that he’s “different.” In our all-encompassing pursuit of tolerance and equality in all things, we’ve created a generation so selfish, so narcissistic, and so fragile that we’ve made our society nearly unlivable.

Banning the gun or regulating the gun will have literally no impact on our societal problems. While we may prevent multiple Adam Lanzas, we will create even more Joseph Stalins. Regulating the gun without first addressing our moral deficiency may lower or prevent gun crimes from citizen to citizen, but it will not prevent the violence a government holds over its populace. A gun is a tool and when placed in a society without a strong moral foundation, it becomes a tool for mass murder. Again, those who are insane cannot be trained to be moral, but an immoral society leaves those who are insane with no support, no medication, and no alternative to possibly heal them or cure them. An immoral society thinks nothing of its neighbors and causes a mother to leave her weapons within reach of a son she knows is not mentally well. We can condemn Adam Lanza’s mother for leaving these guns out, but the ultimate problem is she actually listened to the message society has been preaching: do what makes you happy, so long as it doesn’t harm anyone else.

Well, for a little over two decades she did what made her happy and it didn’t hurt anyone else. However, her happiness finally did hurt someone else, multiple someones, but she had no way of seeing this. Rather than preaching virtue and that we all have a obligation to the common good, we have preached to do what makes one happy so long as no one else is harmed. Of course, because we are imperfect and temporal and cannot see into the future, we have no idea if what we do today will harm someone tomorrow. What I can do, however, is choose to be prudent with my actions and show good judgement, but this would require me to buy into a moral absolute and that is simply taboo in our culture.

Blame the gun all you want, at the end of the day its our lack of moral fortitude that created the conditions for Adam Lanza to exist. Because we lack the moral fortitude to take care of the sick among us, especially the mentally ill, we created Adam Lanza. Because we’re unwilling to even use the term “mentally ill” and instead prefer the term “special,” we created Adam Lanza. While there are students with mental disabilities who are not mentally ill, we have eradicated the idea of being “mentally ill” because we think that’s unfair to some students, even if true. While we seek to regulate who can and cannot get guns, we will do nothing to fix our moral foundation, which is why another mass shooting is inevitable. We eradicated the truth in the search for equality and tolerance, we abandoned absolute morality for the sake of feeling better about one’s self, we condemned the common good in favor of just being happy, and now the victims of our pursuit lay before us and we’re unwilling to see that we were the artisans of their demise.