Reason and Its Rejection

The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is Reason. I have never used any other, and I trust I never shall.

Give to every other human being every right that you claim for yourself–that is my doctrine.

To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead.

Persecution is not an original feature in any religion; but it is always the strongly marked feature of all religions established by law.

It is error only, and not truth, that shrinks from inquiry.


A friend recently sent me these and several other quotes from Thomas Paine, and I was struck–once again– by how far we Americans have come from the insights of the Enlightenment and the basic, foundational principles and values that motivated so many of this country’s founders.

Last night, there was another debate among people aspiring to occupy the Oval Office, and anyone trying to evaluate their fitness for that position had to be appalled.

When did we lose sight of the essential role of reason in human affairs? When did we allow fear to overcome logic, distrust of “the other” to trump recognition of our common humanity? When did expertise and intellect become suspect, nuance and ambiguity a threat, moderation and intellectual modesty evidence of cowardice?

And the million-dollar question: can Americans recapture reason and sanity? Or is our country going to spectacularly self-destruct?

54 thoughts on “Reason and Its Rejection

  1. Imagine what we must look like to other people around the world. I can’t help but wonder sometimes if we would be better off if we had remained British.

  2. “…if we had remained British…” It is beyond my ability to speculate the overall legacy of the Empire: Canada, India, etc. The Right uses “Founding Fathers” to substantiate their arguments which too often fly in the face of what the Fathers said. Fantasy Football, fantasy church/state relation, fantasy choose your subject.

  3. Great topic today Sheila.

    Our country has allowed extremists to scream and throw childish temper tantrums. People that watch Fox have completely stopped thinking for themselves. Maybe they never did and the Koch Bros recognized this and saw an opportunity for even greater power and control over the masses.

    We have fallen so far so quickly. It will take a long time to climb our way back up to sanity, but I cling to a sliver of hope that we can accomplish it.

    My friends in Europe are utterly amazed at what is going on in our country and how we have allowed extremists to not only stop progress, but to reverse it.

  4. My only feelings when looking at the current GOP presidential candidate hopefuls is fear and embarrassment.

  5. IMO what we are witnessing is not the whole country going to hell in a wheelbarrow, but one political party going to hell in a wheelbarrow. Because of the media attention it just appears to be the end of times. I have faith that sanity will return and return yet still in what is left of my lifetime.

  6. The Tea Party has morphed into the Republican Party. The Tea Party is a brand of a movement. It moves and has been moving since 1980. There NEVER has been an organized countervaling force against it.

    The Democratic Party is no counter movement. And the Southern Poverty Law Center is no defender.

    The Nazi Party in Germany was a movement. They didn’t kid anybody. However, Germany had a multi-party system. They could operate and be successful out in the open.

    It’s different in America. You have to operate within a two party system.

    The Koch Brothers father was a main operative in the John Birch Society. They never held back. They said that one day they would take over the Republican Party and they have. Read their book.

    Quit blaming the Tea Party and others for this disaster. At least 50% of the blame belongs to the progressives, left or whatever you want to call it.

    Fortunately, John Paine had COMMON SENSE and, in addition, was not a COWARD.

  7. I’m so damn angry I can’t see straight. I apologize. I meant “Thomas” instead of “John.”

    Wake up! Abandon the “Ship of Fools.”

  8. Not a specific cited, just a pout that people dare to stand up for morals and decency in an age of depravity.

    Last night was a clear example that all the good ideas are held by the Republican Party and that the Democratic Party stands for nothing, being merely a spoiled rebellion against anything good, worthwhile, patriotic and decent.

  9. Sarah Palin and her ilk are not opposed to reason so long as they can select the opportunities for its application and define its essence. She, for instance, would doubtless invoke conventional wisdom’s view of gravity if asked to substitute prayer for reason when releasing a blacksmith’s anvil above her naked feet (in obedience to Sir Isaac Newton’s findings). The law of gravity and other such laws we have found through reason work, whatever Sarah, Rush and other such purveyors of ignorance may think or claim to think. Thus in matters economic we are told, for instance, that if you give more money to the rich (trickle down), the poor will prosper. That is unreasonable and ahistorical and not supported by the record in any place or time. Paine was right.

  10. Why don’t we try dealing with frustrations and cognitive dissonance, instead of continuing to use Gopper as our scapegoat? That hasn’t got us anywhere.

    Gopper said, “…that the Democratic Party stands for nothing.” I agree with him.

    The Democrats haven’t taken a REAL STAND since Bill Clinton introduced “triangulation” as a strategy to be elected President. Unfortunately, under the circumstance, there probably wasn’t any other choice.

    Nevertheless, we are now at the “end of our rope.”

  11. It’s much worse than two party system death match theatrics. Even if one of those is considered sane by readers here. For the moment I accept that the republicans have this year gone completely off the edge for political purpose.

    You can see the developmental process at early stages in the democrats as the Sanders supporters and Clinton supporters become hardened in their outrage at supposed dirty tricks.

    The worst is the millions who refuse to vote at all. Not just find it difficult but refuse. That means fully 2/3s at minimum refuse to be reasonable in the political realm if not more.

    It’s the same across other arenas of life. Work, marriage and family, community engagement. Reason is an arbiter of power in human interactions but not the only force to reckon with. We’ve always had these limbic responses to contend with. And they’ve saved our lives repeatedly by providing the motivationing energy to act under threat. Fight, flight, freeze. Assign as you like. What I see is an absence of ability to accurately determine threat. So – we are subject to fearmongering and educational deficit from all directions.

    The pace of change, the growing complexity of human life in our systems of organization, universities, government, military security, business organization, sciences, all leave most individuals behind, constantly striving for mastery and failing, over and over.

    We are dependent on each other and expert practitioners in ever growing niches for best practices, creativity and reasoned attempts or approaches to problems.

    Three things among many occur. 1- Trauma for all as complexity mounts. 2- Trust fails as errors reinforce increased stumbling. 3- I suppose compounding traumatic cultural ubiquity is growing gaps between the educated and not, resulting in an elitism difficult for democratic people’s to swallow but true never the less.

    It’s not as bleak as could be. We have some remarkably advanced thinkers in multiple fields and evolutionary processes to give hope alongside despair. A creative destruction by evolving as a species where survival isn’t a given has always been true. Thus – I suggest fight to survive – flee as last resort but freezing isn’t an option.

    Some will cite faith in that human process or faith in a God that’s never reconciled to reason for comfort. Both may be helpful in the short term. One I’d suggest more than another given history’s examples.

    We are ripe for revolitionary systems of education and human organization in groups. Many believe we are experiencing it in digital, human interactions. I’m open. Offered a choice I prefer the excitement edge of the arousal curve, rather than the terror. (It’s just over the peak.). Saddened only that I’ll be dead before peering a great deal farther into the exciting and terrifying, unknown future.

  12. I think that our penchant for broad statements is a huge part of the problem. Empiricism and specificity are the keys to finding our way back to Reason.

    Broad statements speak to our emotions; they attempt to unite by acknowledging a shared fear, or bolster our sense of well-being by confirming our feelings of righteousness.

    Our reaction to broad statements is completely intuitive, completely visceral, because there’s nothing concrete to latch onto.

    In theoretical conversations we’re not talking to each other, and we’re certainly not listening. We’re really only dialoguing with our own internal reality. There is no empirical agreed-upon “other”. That’s why both sides complain the other lacks sense.

    For example, the earlier response that claims “all good ideas are Republican”, what does that mean? Which ideas? About what? By what means do you know they’re good? I would like to hear them.

  13. I worship evidence and reason. Why? It’s all we know for sure. We can make our guesses at the rest and connect with truth sometimes accidentally but just as often our guesses are our wishes – what we want to be true – and what we wish for holds no sway over reality.

    But the ability to reason, and the gathering of evidence, takes a lifetime of effort.

    We have developed into a society where our lifetime is devoted to instant gratification entertainment rather than delayed reward education. This is where our culture evolved to even though it’s maladapted to our environment.

    This could be a fatal distraction.

    I swear though I see signs of cultural evolution realizing its error and corrections underway.

    A decade ago many fewer of us would have reacted to the zoo parade of last night in horrer. Evidence and reason have built over those years and many more minds have become attentive to truth and reality.

    You people know this but I believe that our saving grace comes from the unavoidable evidence now that we have the demonstrated power to end our reign on earth and also the demonstrated power to adapt our harvesting of the energy that we are given constantly in ways that allow civilization to progress.

    So we once were lost and now are found; were blind and now we see.

  14. Our politics have been bought and paid for so how this is the fault of progressives and the left (actually, there IS no left) since most of the country agrees with Bernie Sanders on most issues, I can’t fathom. The only reason Clinton has moved left is because her polls confirm this, so she knows tacking right will LOSE her votes (wish the Indiana Dems could see this) and the one city I know of who has elected a Green Party government is doing great–Richmond, CA. Talk about taking the fight to the enemy–Richmond, CA was an impoverished Chevron Company town, who spent over three million in the last election to beat the Green party mayoral candidate who spent around $78,000. What they have done, with a sweep of other Green Party officials is keep people with underwater mortgages from losing their homes by using public domain to force the banks to write down the principal (which they SHOULD have done federally with TARP) of these homes; instituting community policing (crime rate has gone down markedly) and making Chevron clean up after itself. So if this sounds ‘left’ to you, let me point out I haven’t gone anywhere. The party of FDR left me. But if you want to see a success story that we can’t seems to accomplish here because all the Dems are still running as Republican Lite in Indiana, check this out: So instead of blaming the very people who are making a real difference, maybe you should pitch in and help.

  15. For Gopper:

    Please read Matthew 7:1-5 and 21-23 in the Bible. I hope that you will see yourself in these verses and remove the plank from your eye.

  16. It’s not about politics. It’s not about party. It’s not about worldview.

    It’s about cultural evolution and progress.

    When we were freed 250 years ago it was a triumph of the reason of some that freed us to reason all. To reach individually for goals that benefited individually and collectively.

    Even more now we need that gift to do what has to be done.

  17. I view today’s blog as an addendum to Sheila’s October 20th posting of “The Real Problem With Trolls”…with the attachment of the back-biting and cat-fighting last night, termed a “GOP Debate” Her final paragraph sums us both blogs neatly…leaving all of us questioning ourselves as well “those other guys”.

    “And the million-dollar question: can Americans recapture reason and sanity? Or is our country going to spectacularly self-destruct?”

  18. Because of our proclivity towards entertainment many find that carnival side shows on TV like last night’s Republican grab fest merit attention. In reality from what’s been reported (I didn’t see them personally because Comcast here went out for most of the debate/World Series evening) but searching through media this morning I have yet to find any content. Nothing in terms of how America will progress under any of them.

  19. girl cousin,

    It’s way to late for a Richmond, California or a Senator from Vermont which has less church members than any state in the Union to make any significant difference with the grave problems we’re facing from the Extreme Right.

    According to the top odds maker in Vegas, in only a few months, Donald Trump has gone from a 150 to 1 to a 3-1 chance to be President of the United States. That was before last night.

    The only chance is to take on the Tea Party Movement. There comes a time when your only choice is to stand up.

    This is from Johannes R. Becher, author of the GDR’s national anthem and minister of culture:

    He who has his spine broken
    Is hardly to be persuaded
    To stand up straight.

    The memory of the broken spine
    Terrifies him.
    Even when the break
    Has long since healed,
    And there is no longer and danger
    Of breaking his spine.

    The Tea Party Movement isn’t going to be countered by the likes of something like the California based Coffee Party. Unfortunately, there is a real world out there and it is very dangerous at this time. “Blaming the money” is a lame excuse for the failure to take real effective action.

  20. Al Bush, wonderful words. I would just add that we should remember that the physical capacity for reason in the human brain is the equivalent of a pocket calculator sitting on top of the supercomputer of emotion and heuristics. Among many who are alive today, the capacity is less than that. We are faced with the problem of living under a democratic, anti-elitist system among a dangerously ignorant and intellectually weak citizenry. We who have superior motives must take advantage of superior tactics in the fight against those have no qualms in using any means to achieve their nefarious goals. We must not be above politics, and we must play to win.

  21. Ted Cruz became momentarily honest last night, accidentally I’m sure, when he declared how much he hates news, primarily because of its insistence on facts and accuracy. He much prefers to be told that he’s right, even when he’s wrong.

    While she didn’t say so I’ve always thought that Carly has the same mindset and that’s why she ran HP so far into the ground. Most everybody said that she was wrong but she only listened to the few who said that she was right.

    The entire right wing is a media creation. Fiction designed to appeal to minds hooked on entertainment at the expense of reason. While there’s nothing entirely wrong with small doses of entertainment, like small doses of good scotch, it is not sustenance. It doesn’t solve problems only temporarily obscures some of them.

    That’s why there is never an answer to the question here to our right wingers “why do you believe that what you belief is rationally right?”

  22. We know the Republicon Economic Platform – Lower taxes on the 1%, and big corporations, eliminate the EPA, de-fang the SEC or any other government regulatory body that should be regulating Wall Street. Drill baby, drill, frack, frack, and build the Keystone XL Pipeline. More Charter Schools to Edukate our chilrens. Reform, that is scuttle Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and of course the hated Obama Care. Some how get Jesus into the mix too. Did I cover it all???

    Republicon Foreign Policy – Provoke Russia and China, and bomb somebody.

    You would think some of the Republican Candidates would do them selves and their party a favor by dropping out. Some of them need to face the facts they are 25 games behind and there are only 20 games left in the season.

  23. I’ve always believed there is a direct correlation between a graduating high school student’s SAT score in reading comprehension and his/her critical reasoning skills whether in comprehension of the written word or comprehension of the spoken word. Critical reading comprehension skills seem to be the foundation upon which all critical learning is based.

    Only a few weeks ago, 9/3/2015, the College Board shared with Bloomberg the rather dismal results of the most recent SAT scores for the high school graduation class of 2015. Lifting from the article, “Students in the high school class of 2015 turned in the lowest critical reading score on the SAT college entrance exam in more than 40 years.” The entire article is available at this link: Students in the high school class of 2015 turned in the lowest critical reading score on the SAT college entrance exam in more than 40 years

  24. Let’s review the bidding.

    Several marketing people realized that if you add up all of the cognitive followers in the country it’s a significant market. Not to mention that they’re the most susceptible to brand marketing.

    They packaged brand marketing, really entertainment, to reel in all of those eyeballs and ears.

    One place to peddle those captured sensory organs is to the most desperate political party as potential
    votes. The party in turn can resell them to oligarchs (NRA, fossil fuel /automotive/energy industry, evangelical churches, health care industry, nutrition industry) looking to shut down competition in the form of regulatory government.

    Who wins? The entertainment business, the political party, and the oligarchs.

    Who loses? Everyone in the country. Democracy. Capitalism.

    But of course the original victims, the cognitive followers, are the least aware.

    Not an easy problem to unravel.

    Short term the answer is to be confident in democracy whose resilience, i.e. free people out voting cognitive followers, has saved us many times.

    Long term the answer is education. Critical thinking. Ration + evidence.

  25. BSH, you have to wonder if the results that you speak of correlate with the right wing’s efforts to sink public education.

  26. Pete, I’m not especially given to conspiracy theories; moreover, the College Board might have more lucrative interactions with the colleges and the universities than with the common man on the street corner or with some group of Bible thumpers. Consider this for a moment, that our public schools are sending out graduates who are in fact ill-prepared for the big world they face. Of more significance, there’s been a long-term push from the education reform folks to encourage, perhaps over encourage, ALL students to attend college; hence, more students than ever are now encouraged, strongly encouraged, to take the SAT. Guess what? When all students of varying abilities take the SAT, the national scores will drop. If there’s any conspiracy then I’d say it comes from those well-meaning education reformers who’ve planted a false idea into the minds of all students that they will and can attend college, but without considering that many of these students have no interest in a post-secondary education and many of these students lack the cognitive abilities to succeed in a post-secondary education environment.

  27. BSH of course the question is what will be the value of college degrees vs high school diplomas in the future of work? Given the computerization of nearly everything, will in the coming years a bachelors be the equivalent of a diploma in the past?

    I personally think so. But the education profession has to step up to the challenge of educating not just exceptional students but also average students up to the bachelors level. A very tough assignment.

  28. The neuroscience of hitting a baseball is precognitive. The capacities of the body, it’s ways of knowing are complex processes not at all deniable nor within the realm of what we know for sure. There’s something unknown about our processes that is common, natural-whatever that is-, and promising.

    I agree, it’s cultural evolution and progress if discussing practical application to a general political worldview as is the norm here. It’s the means to evolution or de-evolution at issue.

    I have always discounted if not denigrated the elitist pov that seems the natural progression I spoke of.
    It troubles me and is why I added the individual example above to counteract it. I certainly do not know the path. I’m unwilling to go rigidly rational or eliminate processes yet to be discovered. I likewise, cannot throw rationalism away for the unknown.

    As to broad statements being a problem – perhaps. I believe it more likely we need both the near and far reaching hypothesis for elusive progress.

    I also wish I knew a few more here personally just for fun and whatever enlightenment is to be found. My name is accurate if any have the urge. Google or Facebook will hit me.

  29. I just read an interesting quote on Facebook that could explain many of the problems in this country today…and some of the diverse responses to these blogs.

    “A man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life.”

    Muhammad Ali

  30. BSH, one other thing. I also do not have a history of believing in conspiracy theories primarily because many of them are so implausible. Humanity is just not capable of massive underground collusion.

    But the birth and growth of right wing extremism in America requires explanation.

    I don’t think that it is a plan executed birth to death by a group of people but rather the natural evolution of a combination of factors including mass media communication technology, brand marketing, unregulated capitalism doing what it always has, trying to reduce competition, the evolution of extreme entertainment in our culture, and the fact that the GOP has become a minority party.

    All of those societal factors evolved in the direction that they did until they collided with reality; the reality of Bush II’s disastrous results and the realization that the Republican position on climate change was just like big tobacco’s attack of the link between cancer and smoking.

    Not a conspiracy theory but an analysis of historical reality and its impact on culture.

  31. Getting a little more specific. One of the memes that oligarchs have taught to right wing media addicts is to distrust everything government and instead trust everything to free markets. Of course both are wrong but they are easy beliefs to sell to marginal thinkers.

    Why do oligarchs want those beliefs to be common assumptions? It eliminates competition. Regulation is legal competition in free markets because it limits what companies can do. For energy related businesses, climate change has the same impact as automobiles did for the buggy whip business – it renders them obsolete.

    It also creates opportunity. Charter schools for instance. Private prisons.

    Thus Fox News is a 24/7 advertisement for the elimination of government. Definitely not good for all business but a survival strategy for some businesses.

  32. Pete, I agree that yesterday’s high school diploma now carries the worth of today’s bachelor degree which, in turn, leads us to believe that since all students now have a bachelor’s degree that all students who wish to excel in their chosen careers must next earn a Master’s degree. Somehow, the US high school diploma appears to be worth no more than the paper upon which it’s printed. That is not the fault of the students, actually not the fault of the K-12 educators, but rather, the fault of our society’s collective demand that all K-12 students, regardless of their abilities or disabilities, be afforded a public school education.

    The US is the only developed nation that includes the severely and profoundly disabled students in the funding pie for public school education. On the surface, we are a nation of compassionate people who invest our public school monies for ALL students including those students with severe and profound cognitive disabilities that other developed nations do not include in their mix of public education funds. Perhaps those other nations include those students’ care in funds designated for health or custodial needs.

    When you speak of exceptional students it may have a different meaning to you than the broad term “Exceptional Education” in the US which includes all students who are assessed as gifted or talented, specifically learning disabled, mild to moderately cognitively disabled, other health impaired, orthopedically impaired, visually impaired, hearing impaired, emotional/behavior disordered, speech impaired, and finally the severe/profoundly impaired. Your local school district covers the costs for the education or custodial needs of every student qualifying for such services, students from age 2 through 22 as per Federal Law.

    No, I’m not a cruel unfeeling person when I mention this to you.

  33. Just saw Paul Ryan’s acceptance speech. He clearly said what has been said here for years. Congress has become useless. Dysfunctional. Brought to its knees by Republican shenanigans.

    But, he does not want to place blame.

    Not surprising.

  34. BSH, it’s a challenging time to be in the education business. Like other professions due to other progress.

    My personal opinion is that real innovation is required but hard to pull off.

    That’s the challenge.

  35. Pete, I did not hear Paul Ryan’s acceptance speech where you mentioned and referenced his touching upon the dysfunction, the uselessness of Congress. If he did not place blame, then perhaps that’s a good thing. Placing blame never leads to finding common ground in any group. Until we as a nation give up our strange need to place blame, we’ll forever be dysfunctional.

  36. Next Republicans will say that “we” screwed up by
    ignoring climate science but they don’t want to place blame there either.

  37. BSH I sort of agree with you but it is nearly always impossible to fix problems without identifying what is broken.

    If they fix the problems that they caused without actually saying so that is still progress.

  38. Pete, problems can be fixed, can be remedied without pointing fingers, without placing blame. As Sheila’s late friend Mark St John was noted in his obituary by an IN lawmaker on the other side of the aisle, look for the person who seeks resolutions. How are WE going to fix this problem? How are WE going to find resolution in this issue? The key word is “we”.

  39. BSH, what’s interesting is the difference between blame, which seems like something to be avoided, and accountability which seems like a useful thing.

    IMO in the context of Paul Ryan’s speech blame or accountability doesn’t accomplish anything because so many people were complicit. So if being blameless still changes behavior among them it’s good. No problem.

    On the other hand being held accountable is what drives many people to avoid mistakes or sloppy work or even illegal stuff.

  40. BSH, et. al:
    The SAT is not administered to all students. Only students who choose to take it and pay for it then take it. At one time, it was said that there was an inverse relationship between SAT scores and the distance from the Canadian border, because Mississippi officials restricted SAT participation to just a few. Minnesota allowed everyone to take it. Mississippi got the highest mean SAT score, and Minnesota got among the lowest. I suspect more students are taking it because more students, even the ones with low grades, are taking it because they somehow think “you have to go to college”. The SAT, whatever it’s average scores are in every state, do not reflect the average performance of students in the state.

Comments are closed.