Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Enlightening

I'm studying the Enlightenment, and what all those thinkers keep saying is really pissing me off. It's hard to keep reading. Here is one example, among many, of what they say:

"Our hopes for the future condition of the human race can be subsumed under three important heads: the abolition of inequality between nations, the progress of equality within each nation, and the true perfection of mankind...

The time will therefore come when the sun will shine only on free man who know no other master but their reason..."

- Antoine Nicolas de Condorcet, Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind

These statements seem so absurd to me, and the fact that they shifted the course of nations is really painful to consider. If there is one thing Lord Reason has told me, it's that humans are not reasonable.

1. The proper use of Reason requires a goal. But in every conceivable situation in which one can use Reason, people disagree on the goal. So what seems reasonable to you will seem foolish to me.
2. Can our own reason really be our "master"? All of our lives, we are influenced and taught by our experiences and surroundings. This plus our philosophical convictions (or lack thereof) make us all rather biased.
3. Psychologists have applied Reason to the human mind, and found it to be Unreasonable. They call this irrationality "Defense Mechanisms," because "All the Ways That We Lie to Ourselves So We Can Continue Feeling Good About Things" doesn't sell. The natural goal of the human mind is to be Comfortable, not Honest.

Besides that, it could be argued that it is precisely our ability to reason that allows us the freedom to be unreasonable. Deer don't reflect or ponder; they simply obey instinct, and as a result, their behavior is extremely predictable and logical. In a sense, they and all of nature are part of this cohesive rationality. It's stimulus, response. Natural selection is nothing if not the cold logic of survival imprinting itself upon a creature's essence. Humans are an exception: higher mental functions allow us to break free from this and do irrational things (i.e. depression/suicide).

But the real crux of my problem is, if Reason is Lord, then Jesus is not. But Reason gives us no reason to be good. Jesus says "Be perfect, as I am perfect," whether you agree with him or not. Reason says, "Do what seems logical to you," which is a major problem, because what seems logical to humans is often very destructive.

In short, I'm sitting here 8 years after the bloodiest century of human history, angry at Enlightenment thinkers for believing humanity to be innately good.