Monday, December 15, 2008

Quid Est Veritas

Every true faith is indeed infallible; it performs what the believing person hopes to find in it, but it does not offer the least support for the establishing of an objective truth. Here the ways of men divide. If you want to achieve peace of mind and happiness, then have faith; if you want to be a disciple of truth, then search.”

---Friedrich Nietzsche

“What is truth?” asked Pilot to Christ, and though Christ had his own opinion the question must still be asked.

I have always been impatient with the human capacity for self-deception. In so far as the believer dares to reason, his reasoning is biased in his favor, something I like to call Jackoffhistry, a form of pleasing self-deluding sophistry.  But perhaps I am being too harsh, it is only our nature.

I was amused to create a comforting dogma for myself. What if it was widely believed that gravity was a myth, and that every man, woman, and child was kept tidily stuck to the ground by a multitude of divine fingers pushing down on our heads? We could add the charming intuitive connection that this is why babies have soft spots. It is a delightful tale that could give comfort to millions, and just as ridiculous as many another thing people believe without good cause. But, I must ask: do you believe in the value of truth? If you answer yes, but argue for something like the above out of comfort, then what is the difference between lying to yourself and others lying to you? At what point does comfort become an acceptable argument for laying down our duty to the truth?

To be fair, the capacity to reason is equally capable of forming chains of thought to tie one down. Much in the fashion of the circus elephant who, being chained when young, by habit and indolence remains chained ever after. Like all tools it is only as useful as the ability of the one who wields it. To lack basic critical thinking skills is to be prey for any con-artist or unscrupulous soul, so it is in everyone's best interest to exercise daily their critical muscles. This is why all things are open, or should be open, to criticism. And the believer must not frown but prove.

A little practice at basic reasoning would clearly do most people a world of good. Few follow the implications of what they believe to its ultimate end, and this is demonstrated by a simple thought experiment. When the child of a, for lack of a better term, ghost enthusiast comes to them from a nightmare seeking solace, do they reply honestly with what they believe: “yes sweetheart, the Bogey-man really is under your bed”? If so, they are at least being true to their convictions if not at the same time revealing their inadequacy's as parents.

When I was a boy I was fascinated by the supernatural. Finding a book at the library on palm reading I took to my classmate's sweaty uncertain hands, and divined their future's. I had a passionate interest in UFOs, spirits, and all things unusual, and readily believed whatever confirmed my desire to believe. When others scoffed I became defensive and indignant, and asserted my claims to the point of tears.

Thankfully, my natural curiosity was inoculated by an even greater love of science. I began to submit my belief's to the same rigor as any question should be, and found in each case a myth with no foundation.

I am still waiting for the ghosts to appear, the aliens to land on the White House lawn (not those trimming the hedges of course), and for a Bigfoot in a cage that the world might marvel at and the believer's at last receive their overdue praise. I have been waiting for some decades but, in this at least, I have no doubt I shall be waiting very much longer.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Dead Satyr

Van Dyck's Silenus

Satire is the weapon of the aristocrat, and so must always die in the hands of a democracy. A perfect example of this we can see in the just past presidential election. For weeks leading to the event, Saturday Night Live aired a series of devastating skits at the expense of McCain's running mate Sarah Palin. They were full of the true spirit of satire, a sublime mocking spirit of the noble soul who smiles in condescension at the fumbling's of the village idiot who pretends to more than she owns.

After a series of these scathing broadsides, the show decided to allow the attacked to attempt to laugh at themselves, completely negating the power of their parodies‘. The American answer to this is: "we want to be fair and give the other side a chance." Since when is fairness a requirement of satire? When Voltaire so nimbly vivisected the buffoonery of the Catholic church, he did not then turn to the Jesuits and say: "Now you do me."

The whole point of satire is to belittle one's enemies and bring to light the foolishness of the world. By then handing the poor man's (often) only weapon to that same enemy is an act of shear stupidity.

To add to the sense of cognitive dissonance, Tina Fey, who played the rustic Palin with such delicious glee, and who made comment that she would have to leave the planet should Palin be elected, was recently reported saying: “The people on the left were like, ‘No, you can’t do that!”’---And it’s like, ‘We don’t work for you.”’ First, all entertainers do work for us, the public. That is why when we are no longer entertained we ask for our money back and take our business elsewhere.

Secondly, I know there are those who will argue she has a point in giving the other side its voice, but no. We must live in a truly cynical and relativistic age when all points are deemed valid, and any fool can be allowed a clear shot at destroying the world. It defies reason and likewise, defies the spirit of the form.

If the mirthful spirits of Voltaire and Dean Swift could listen to such logic, no doubt they would find their disdain for human intelligence justified and smile just a bit more.