Shayne Wissler
“… to understand is, above all, to unify.” – Albert Camus

Moderate Rationality

January 19 2013

“First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”Martin Luther King, Jr.

“There are no absolutes,” they chatter, blanking out the fact that they are uttering an absolute. – Ayn Rand

“Reality is an absolute, existence is an absolute, a speck of dust is an absolute and so is a human life. Whether you live or die is an absolute. Whether you have a piece of bread or not, is an absolute. Whether you eat your bread or see it vanish into a looter’s stomach, is an absolute.” – Ayn Rand

Making bold, universal, principled claims about something is very commonly thought to be arrogant, rude, uncivilized, impractical, and even possibly dangerous. Instead of placing as the root of civility an open and clear-cut rationality, people place feigned deference, manipulation, passive aggressiveness, and above all, an unyielding commitment to whatever dogma it is they have decided “the average person” can swallow. They don’t give you the truth straight, but highly filtered, according to what they think most people can deal with. Manipulation, not rationality, is the heart and soul of how they interact with others.

They think this method of manipulation can incrementally make society more civilized, so that ideals one isn’t allowed to express in “polite company” can, ultimately, prevail. But what happens in fact is that they only secure the status quo. As Aristotle writes, “We are what we repeatedly do.” They repeatedly manipulate people, they repeatedly act as if they believe one thing when they truly believe another, they “moderate” the truth, which can only mean that they do not truly believe or support the truth. In effect, they only support the status quo of whatever group it is they feel themselves to be part of. Their only relevance is that they are in the way of progress.

Imagine what “moderation” in mathematics would mean. It would mean not that 2 + 2 = 4, but that it’s more or less 4, maybe we can “agree” that 2 + 2 = 4.2. You don’t land a man on the moon with this sort of attitude about ideas. The field of ethics is even more important than the field of mathematics, and yet observe the slobby carelessness with which that field is dealt with in our times. If you claim that 2 + 2 = 4.2, you’re not “moderate”, you’re not “reasonable” – you’re a complete lunatic. Likewise, if you claim that in the field of ethics, reason does not apply, you are also a lunatic.

Now, here is one of those bold and “impolite” claims. I just called someone’s best friend (say) a lunatic. Note that while my remark would be regarded as completely unacceptable in our culture, it is not unacceptable when the ultimate consequences of this lunacy manifest in government action against innocents. If a SWAT team shoots a family dog or a marine or someone’s grandma while doing a no-knock raid for a certain type of plant, then that’s not lunacy. If a government drives a young idealistic man to suicide by threatening him with 30 years in prison, then that’s not lunacy. No, that’s perfectly moderate rationality.

Ideas have consequences, and bad ethical ideas should not be tolerated in polite conversation, and the process of irrationality that generates them should be tolerated even less. By “not be tolerated”, do I mean we should refuse to engage or deal with the person? No. I simply mean that we insist on the truth: that the person propounding the bad idea is wrong, that his method of thinking is bad, that his ideas will lead to horrific consequences in reality, and that he should learn how to think. There’s a huge difference between not tolerating nonsense and condemning a person to 30 years in prison. Not only that, there’s definite causal relation between tolerating nonsense and throwing decent people in prison for 30 years. So please, stop tolerating nonsense.