Ab absurdo, ad libertatem
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Cleverness Minus Reason

Feb 13, 2010

When satisfying our needs by our own effort we develop a rich and immediate understanding of the relationship between our actions and their consequences, and our beliefs and ideas remain in contact with their physical foundations. Stated obversely, the further we move away from living by and with the direct results of our own efforts the less we are able to understand the impact of our choices and actions on ourselves and on others. Proportionately then, the greater the separation between nodes in the network of operations required to satisfy our needs, the larger the separation between our lifestyle and our appreciation of its consequences, and the more tenuous our understanding of our socio-material footprint. The greater this separation, the more dangerous the tenuity.

Tenuity increases with distance, and danger matures from possibility into reality if we respond to this conceptual distance with cleverness minus reason. When applying cleverness minus reason we display remarkable creativity in the construction of sophisticated justifications to explain the desideratum of satisfying our unreasonable needs and unsustainable systems. Conversely as regards coherence, and simultaneously as regards temporality, we exhibit equal or perhaps even greater rigidity when reacting and responding to arguments that are contrary to our own sophisticated justifications. We make short work of counter-arguments, and declaim the absolute necessity of maintaining and embellishing all structures that accompany the maintenance of our chosen needs-systems.

Animals and thus humans are rationalization machines, and because of this even the slightest relaxation in intellective caution permits us to commit ourselves to reckless beliefs, resulting in the internalization of baseless apothegms. So it is that we defend the indispensability of some structure regardless of its real world costs, simply because of a personal affinity rather than an objective need.

Such rationalization processes are engaging because they exercise the intellect. However, such exertions are deceptive because they exercise intellection primarily at the level of conception required to defend the needs-systems in question and ignore levels of existence that are intimately if not always visibly connected to the the system's continuation. We hide from ourselves the many layers of reality with which our lives could not possibly be sustained, and in this way we justify the dissociation of high from low, the divorce of effect from cause, and the concealment of external impositions from personal consciousness. Important connections become insubstantial and nonessential peculiarities, and the consequences of our choices dissolve into the invisible environment.

"There is no prospect, in any time which we can conceive, that the whole invisible environment will be so clear to all men that they will spontaneously arrive at sound public opinions on the whole business of government. And even if there were a prospect, it is extremely doubtful whether many of us would wish to be bothered, or would take the time to form an opinion on ”any and every form of social action” which affects us."

Accepting this, how should we proceed? If the problem is that experiential distance inhibits and eventually prevents conceptual -- and thus ethical -- coherence and clarity, can any solution to this problem include the maintenance and multiplication of bureaucracies based on administrative hierarchy, and based thus on experiential distance? That is, can any solution to this problem be based on the very thing causing the problem in the first place?

Returning to the level of individual consciousness and responsibility, the problem is described by Michael Moore;

"I went to Littleton, Colorado, where the Columbine shooting took place, and ... when I arrived I learned what the primary job is of the parents of the kids who go to Columbine High School. The number one job in Littleton, Colorado: they work for Lockheed Martin building weapons of mass destruction. But they don't see the connect between what they do for a living and what their kids ... did at school. And so I'm ... up on my high horse thinking about this, and I ... said to my wife, we both are sons and daughters of auto workers in Flint, Michigan [and] there isn't a single one of us back in Flint ... including [the two of] us, who ever stopped to think this thing we do for a living, the building of automobiles, is probably the single biggest reason why the polar ice caps are going to melt and end civilisation as we know it. There's no connect between ”I'm just an assembler on an assembly line building a car” which is good for people and society and it moves them around, but never stop to think about the larger picture and the larger responsibility of what we're doing. Ultimately we have to as individuals accept responsibility for our collective action and the larger harm that it causes."

When reflecting on the relationship between needs and intelligence, how should our awareness of the phenomena discussed above inform our metrics? Does intelligence involve the reasonable exposition of connections, or the clever exaggeration of divisions?

Part of the series: Zwingli