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Ideas

Arguing with reptiles
Thinking leads to truth as much as driving leads to a destination. The question here is what "truth" and what destination?

Arash Sayedi
February 3, 2005
iranian.com

Pacifists argue that negotiation is a far more superior method of solving disputes than war. And my aim here is not to refute that argument but rather to question a premise that it is built upon; one that so blindly holds that most humans are logical beings who have come about their beliefs and arguments in a sound, logical manner, and are therefore satisfactory candidates for rational debate. But this could not be further from the truth.

It is true that all beliefs can be subject to the dialectical method. But in order to engage in debate we first require the two sides of the argument to hold truth in greater esteem then they do their deepest beliefs and values. This, however, is such an uncommon practice amongst so called educated people, that renders rational approach somewhat tricky. And when dealing with the likes of say, religious fanatics, it is so hopelessly futile that one must rethink the whole concept of rational debate.

What I mean by this I shall clarify further on. But for now I must hold that it is indeed possible to engage in dialogue with a fanatic of sorts and overthrow all his irrational arguments. But by doing so one will not have achieved much because as the saying goes; a man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still. Often the only thing that can follow from such activity is bitter resentment and in fact further resistance from one side of the argument. One should not forget that it was this accumulated resistance that forced Socrates to drink the cup of hemlock, great men of history like Galileo to back down from their arguments and caused still a greater many to lose their lives.

But before I go further with this I must first shed some light on the origins of our beliefs and opinions. And in order to do so I must bring to the reader's attention that humans are conservative beings by nature and very much creatures of comfort and habit. We are biologically driven to defend our own from attack; whether it be our possessions, our family or our opinions. Indeed our minds do not place any distinction between an attack on a family member and an attack on a cherished belief; there will merely be greater priority placed on the former and the defense more fierce.

When we adopt certain beliefs we take them in as our own. The ego identifies with the belief and therefore any resistance to it is viewed as a threat to the organism and is thus subject to the flight or fight response. Both kinds of attacks, whether it be on our physical selves and family members or one on our beliefs and opinions will engage the same flight or fight mechanism with it's single concern for one thing. Mainly survival; be it survival of the organism or the opinions it holds. Again, no distinction is made in our lower reptilian brain, just the mere acknowledgment that a threat exists.

A great man once said that the human mind, a product of the struggle for existence, is a food seeking mechanism and no more necessarily a truth finding apparatus than the snout of a pig. I believe those were the words of Lord Balfour.

If thinking alone led to the discovery of truth then we should all be enlightened beings. Thinking leads to truth as much as driving leads to a destination. The question here is what "truth" and what destination? If we do not want to stumble upon arbitrary beliefs and opinions then we must carefully examine all our thoughts and weigh the truth of all our opinions. But how many individuals scrutinize all their opinions and try carefully to place the origins of their beliefs?

Many of us hold opinions that are accompanied by strong emotions. And any belief which has roots in strong feeling is very likely to have irrational origins, and yet these are exactly the views we never dare question. The truth is that the majority of humans do not come by their beliefs and opinions through a rational process of thought, based on sound logic. Most of us simply adopt the ideas presented to us through our environment. Through our family, religion, peers, the state, the media and so on. Most of our beliefs and opinions are not rational views, derived from sound argument but are rather the irrational voices of the herd, whispered in our ears from cradle to grave. And most of our so called reasoning isn't reasoning at all but merely rationalizations that serve to protect our current prejudices.

If you asked a Christian why he is a Christian he would no doubt present countless arguments as to why he believes what he does. He would have a myriad of rationales that would argue for the general good and righteousness of Christianity but never the less, rationalizations are all they are. Such arguments presented by the defenders of different faiths for their beliefs are not the real reasons that has driven them to believe as they do but are merely cloaks of reason placed on irrational beliefs. If that very Christian was born in a different part of the world, in an Islamic or Buddhist family, then the chances of him presenting these very arguments in favor of Islam or Buddhism would be very good indeed. So the arguments he would present for his beliefs are not the real reasons for them.

The real reasons are usually subjective and can oftentimes be traced to his childhood period. Finding arguments for beliefs is not such a hard thing. "A savage can give all sorts of reasons why it is dangerous to step on a man's shadow", says Professor James Harvey Robinson.

So essential is the enquiry into the origins of our beliefs that no truth could ever result from a process of logical thought without it. Sound, logical arguments built on illogical premises are still fallacies. And one of the worst kinds I might add. Likewise, it remains a truth that the soundest of religious philosophies still have roots in the periods of human savagery.

If you should ever happen to wake up one morning and find yourself in a strange place with no knowledge of how you got there, the first thing your mind would crave is an explanation. Likewise, when humanity first crawled out of the woods and found himself naked and confused in the world, he no doubt set about finding explanations as to his whereabouts and general place in the greater scheme of things. The human mind, it seems, requires an explanation for everything it encounters, any explanation. Even a ridiculous one.

All religious thought has roots in our humble origins. In absence of objective, scientific knowledge, man was driven to find explanations for the various phenomenon he encountered in nature. This he did through mere guesses and speculation. Much like children they set about explaining these phenomenon through stories and myth. Thunder and wind were explained as angry gods and spirits. When they slept they encountered dreams in which they traveled to distant lands, visited the dead and did marvelous things. When they looked into water they saw reflections of themselves and concluded that there must be another person inside them; one that broke away from the body and roamed about in dreams; and one that did not die after the physical body attained death. This they concluded from having "visited" the dead in their dreams.

The origins of the idea of the human soul, separate from the body, has roots in the most savage periods of human history. These ideas are so ingrained and deep seated that they no longer deal with the higher, rational functions of the human mind; but are merely the fiercely protected possessions of the lower reptilian brain. The higher faculties of human reasoning in case of the religious fanatic are mere tools employed by this lower brain.. A savage having adopted civilized means of argument is still a savage. Similarly, the highly sophisticated religious philosophies of today, have within them the notions and primitive reasoning of prehistoric savages. Never mind the fact that they use sophisticated means of modern argument to present their views. We must come to see them for what they are.

The conservatism of the fanatic mind however is not limited to religious spheres but can also plague the scientific community all the same. Any belief that remains unquestioned for long will be pushed further down into our subconscious and the means of having attained it start to become ever more hazy. All sciences strive to reach truth through empirical means. In this way we never really attain "The Truth" but ever more accurate explanations of the world we live in.

Having said this we have to remember that all our current findings are merely a reflection of the workings of our universe and we must therefore strive to constantly question all we have come to accept as truth in the hope of achieving ever higher levels of truth. Our knowledge of the world must therefore be subject to the dialectic process at all times and always be under very close scrutiny if we do not wish for our beliefs to become the possessions of our ego and thus subject to conservative defense.

Now so far my argument has been laying the foundations of a question. The question itself is a reflection of the conflict I feel within myself. A conflict between the pacifist side of me that believes even the evilest of knots can be undone by a process of rational thought and the side of me that believes it is impossible to convince a man of truth if he does not care for the truth. Is it possible to sit down with a person who's only arguments are death to this and death to that and engage in constructive dialogue with him? Deep down the person you face might be fully aware of the fact that he may be in the wrong and yet be still driven to defend his position with blind animal rage.

Pacifism is well and good in the civilized world where truth is divine. But it is of the utmost importance to remember that when you deal with a Christian, Jewish or Islamic conservative (or anyone with fanatical beliefs regarding any subject for that matter), you are not conversing with a higher human mind that is struggling to make sense of reality despite of his lower, irrational brain; but rather you are dealing with the beliefs, opinion and emotions of a reptilian brain in possession of the most powerful tool of reasoning in the known universe.

Furthermore to that, when engaged in any kind of dialogue with such a mind, one must take the greatest of cares not to be influenced by it; lest the abyss should gaze back into one's self as Nietzsche would put it.

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