Voices in the wilderness: Are reasonable people an endangered species?

By David Boucher
Throughout history there have been many bright periods in human endeavor and reasoning: The Age Of Enlightenment, The Renaissance and The Age of Reason, to name but a few. All resulted in the substantial increases in basic understanding of just who the heck we were and why we were here. Advancements in various disciplines such as science, natural law and the increasing availability of information took mankind on a discovery of alternative pathways that took the world and civil societies into new and promising directions. For the first times in human history, the “individual” could break the bonds of ignorance and repression. Through the formidable task of becoming educated or at least reliably informed, the ability and the freedom to “think” shattered many of the boundaries that usually kept people in servitude or despair.
We currently live in a world where everyone has the ability to become well educated, but we are at a perplexing crossroads where many choose or are incentivized not to be. Our complex times burden us with limitless entertainment and endlessly titillating and dubious information resources. Additionally and all too willingly, we burden ourselves and others with an inordinate fascination with our own overly shared personal lives. Modern life is completely suffused with the reality series that often starts on television and when one hybridizes these mediums with the Internet reality become virtually indistinguishable and more than a little entangled and at great costs to our own lives.
The Greeks gave the world modern logic, a set of democratic ideals and attempted to create communication systems using the “Socratic Method” that would enable all of us to have a universally accepted and reproducible formula to form, to evolve, and to resolve the important concepts that we could come to understand conceptually as the “Truth." If one could learn to reason in the pursuit of truth, one could then combine one truth with other truths and begin to formulate more complex hypotheses and underlying theorems that inevitably enabled and propelled man forward.
The early “prophets” of natural law such as Aristotle, Socrates and Plato understood the power of an indisputable fact/truth and the efficacy of a rational and reasonable argument. A fact is a fact because it cannot be turned into just any construct to blindly support an uninformed or baseless opinion, or in our modern vernacular, the concept of “fake news." An argument based in logic had merit because it was capable of illuminating the complexities inherent in ever increasing knowledge and evolving societies and lending itself to the ability to solve everyday problems.
Sadly, it was not long before another body of individuals thought that the “Socratics” were getting a little too big for their britches and they evolved a means of countering rationality with a discipline that came to be known as “Sophistry." Sophistry is a disreputable derivation of the early disciplines related to formal argumentation and it regrettably survived and indeed thrived in opposition to reason becoming a staple and a favorite of politics and politicians at every level because if one could sway the uninformed and the uneducated then one could readily wield power. Briefly, Sophistry is best defined as: “Reasoning that seems plausible on a superficial level but is demonstrably unsound or contains bits of reason that are calculated to deceive”.
So, there in a nutshell is the place that all people find themselves in today. Socrates died in 399 BC, and, though nearly 2,500 years have passed since his death, mankind seems to have largely lost and discarded the increasingly elusive threads of the only thing that can save us as a species: Truth and the ability to reason in a forum that is diverse, inclusive and derived from a place of integrity.
This used to be a crucial human value; it was considered a desirable and a core normative social construct and only in recent history have we seen these values virtually coopted and thoroughly eroded. The pace of technological change has exponentially blown through the warning signs in the related ethical considerations of our use of these technologies. The planet is finally and demonstrably finite, but our human appetites seem to just grow and grow. People actually laugh at the concepts that have their seeds in the need to be sustainable yet, somehow not realizing that very few of us will get to go to Mars if we irrevocably wreak this world. Some thousands may inevitably pioneer other worlds. That just leaves some likely seven to eight billion of us with a really implacable problem if we don’t get a handle on facts, logic, reason and truth as it applies to the human condition.
Consequently and quite regrettably, we have all but stopped teaching the Socratic method in schools except at very advanced levels. As a society we seem to be content to share and promulgate information regardless of its source with little regard for the rigor or integrity involved in elucidating that information. Data becomes fact, morphs into unsubstantiated opinion and is endlessly debated in an increasingly Hunger Games like arena that has become “Infotainment”. This futile endeavor entertains and galvanizes everyone’s emotions across the most radical and implausible spectrums.
We have become willing and complicit hostages to aberrant and absurd behaviors with resultantly deadly consequences for all too many powerless and mostly innocent people. The end result is the ultimate diminishment of the very few truths that yet might yield solutions to mankind’s many challenges and increasingly intractable problems. I suspect that I am hardly alone in my perceived impotency at overturning this overwhelming set of obstacles to reason. I write to my valued community members on the chance that many of you feel and sense the same challenges. We still have a functioning planet, we care about the future of our children, and though Democracy is hanging by a thread, it is still conceptually intact.
The power of the humble and actively informed individual is the only force that can stand against the tyranny of power, ignorance and fear mongering. It matters little that we might disagree about anything and everything. What matters is how we choose to disagree. What matters, is that we engage in the arena of ideas and that we come together and tell each other the truths of our lives. Ultimately, It is the choice of reason; otherwise, the Sophist armed with ever increasing technologies will mold and obviate our opinions until we will eventually become incapable of advocating effectively for our individual as well as collective interests.