Intellectual Humility vs. Passionate Certainty

I’ve been going through a sort of existential crisis the last few years. And because I’m sometimes a bit slow on the uptake, I couldn’t figure out what was causing the toxic combination of malaise and irritation I’ve been experiencing. Was it my diet, was it a lack of alcohol – I gave up drinking a few years ago – was it growing old and the slow, inevitable loss of mental and physical function that comes with ageing, or was it the preponderance of daily nonsense I read on social media?

To a degree, it was all and none of these things. But there was something concrete that irritated me, which I slowly began to understand. When the isolated pieces of the puzzle fell into place, I realised we’re all doomed, at least for the foreseeable future – and that there’s nothing we can do about the coming catastrophe. The issue is as old as human society, but one which has taken a new form under the dominating pervasiveness of information technology. It’s the problem of intellectual humility versus passionate certainty.

Since I was a child, people who are overly sure of themselves have confused me. These people, in contrast to my tentative understanding of the world, have a definitive answer to every question. Their self-assurance, though, always left me utterly perplexed. Because of their certainty, I was convinced that I was profoundly stupid; I must, I thought, be missing something that only intelligent people understand. I did not know it at the time, but it was their lack of insight that shaped their confidence. If you can’t imagine a question, then nothing can confuse you. The world, for people without imagination, presents itself without mystery. Culture, tradition, chatter or fashion answer every question, so thinking is superfluous. People fall into the ‘they’, as Heidegger said. In other words, the collective voice of the herd becomes dominant across every domain of cultural life and the ability of people to think atrophies. Their arrogance or certainty are paradoxically a sign of stupidity.

At the same time, in an attempt to make sense of the world, I learned a simple, all things being equal, method to determine whether something was true or false. It didn’t matter what people said or what people believed, the important thing was how they arrived at their conclusions, which meant that a lot of shallow opinions could be summarily ignored. I discovered, by accident, something that Socrates introduced to the human experience over 2000 years ago. People deserved respect but their illogical opinions did not. If someone relied on mumbo jumbo, bad history, faith, culture, ideology, feelings, or their ‘lived experience’, then, they were, again, all things being equal, probably talking nonsense.

Which brings me to why we are doomed. The last four and a half years, between Trump saying he would run for president and his last days in office, have been a psychological experiment in real time and the results of the experiment are not good. If aliens created the experiment, they’d surmise that it would be best to stay away from Earth because human beings are fools.

At this point, readers are saying ‘ah Trump, yeah. What can you say?’ But it wasn’t Trump who was the idiot, it was the people who were propagandised into believing nonsense. The extraordinarily important question: ‘how could this terrible thing happen?’, posed in relation to the worst crime in history, the Holocaust, has been answered by how many good, but largely apolitical, people reacted to Trump’s presidency. The genocides committed by left wing regimes also fit this paradigm. Just throw repetitive bullshit at people and they’ll believe anything with the fervour of the elect. Create a favourable or unfavourable impression of something or someone and then confirm the caricature with every consequent story.

Twist things a little bit with each iteration and a whole world can be conjured out of nothing. People, in this situation, like the proverbial blind leading the blind, are led to believe any nonsense. What was an absurdity yesterday becomes the truth today simply because people read something on social media. The most extraordinarily irrational and dangerous ideas become canonical overnight. The list of nonsense is endless. The Jews are evil and run the world. Western liberal democracies are guilty of systemic racism. Terrorism is the sigh of the oppressed. Feminism is only about rights for women. 2 + 2 = 5. Gender is a social construct. Global warming is an existential threat, but we can’t use nuclear power. All left wing activists are moral and compassionate. The Noble Savage is wise beyond the materialistic shallowness of the modern world. Patriarchy is real. Socialism works. Right wing riots are ‘insurrection’; left wing riots are ‘peaceful protests’. People are equal in ability and any other view is bigotry. Non-government organisations are unbiased and always tell the truth. Only white people can be racist. Donald Trump is a fascist. These are just a few of the nonsensical beliefs that are held by many people as unassailable truths in the current zeitgeist.

The issue, though, at its core, is that normal people have, by definition, average intelligence and are amenable to the persuasive techniques of propaganda. Intelligence, though, in itself, is a necessary but not sufficient condition to guard against the power of pervasive propaganda. The SD, the intelligence service of Nazi Germany’s elite SS, was top heavy with university graduates, many of whom held PhDs from prestigious universities. This fact suggests that the power of public opinion, in general, overrides the ability of the individual to think critically outside an established consensus. Whoever controls the dissemination of information controls the culture. And whoever controls culture controls thought. This was true in Nazi Germany, it was true during my childhood in Catholic-nationalist Ireland, it was true in communist-controlled eastern Europe, and it’s true now in the public sphere dominated by the left-wing woke ideologues of Big Tech. The problem will get worse before it gets better.

We live in a postmodern world where truth is conditional on holding the right opinions, which are, conveniently, the beliefs of the most educated generation in history – at least in relation to computers and social media – and the most uneducated in, literally, everything else. They know nothing except what they are feeling, and they’ve been told what to feel, which is that someone evil or something intangible is responsible for the ills of the world – or, in a new iteration of an old rhetorical fallacy, that their anxiety or the ache in their toe is the reason why free speech should be curtailed. It’s solipsism, narcissism and anti-reason manifesting on a global scale. And it’s all done with smiley emojis, conspicuous compassion, virtue signalling and socially sanctioned empathy.

The name of this intellectual disease is wokeness, or identity politics, and it is an assault on logic, common sense, kindness and decency. It’s also, most importantly, a philosophy with no notion of forgiveness. Once you have sinned against its ever-changing tenets, you will be cast out of society. Ritual displays of contrition, repentance and obsequiousness will have no effect on your humiliation. Redemption is absent from the woke catechism. And, after destroying someone’s life, the modern-day Jacobins who champion this ideology congratulate each other, paradoxically, on their morality.

The problem, though, for anyone who knows Aristotle is that all putative virtues have a dark side. For every paragon of virtue, a devil has to exist, and monsters are being conjured from the imaginations of people who are too naive to understand that the demon they abhor lives within themselves. We’re in for a long and dreadful ride.

12 thoughts on “Intellectual Humility vs. Passionate Certainty

  • Harry Lee says:

    Yes, excellent summary of the state of the anti-human-flourishing group-think that now dominates our society.
    And there are no signs -none- that there is any appetite, no critical mass of proper citizens, for saving Australia.
    Look: No Saviour or Team of Saviours is coming.
    At minimum, it’d take a couple million Ordinary People to organise themselves and engage, as volunteers, in smart and tough, and unceasing ways, in politics in local Lib or Nat branches to start the push-back.
    Won’t happen, will it.

  • lbloveday says:

    ‘The last four and a half years, between Trump saying he would run for president and his last days in office…”
    Bit longer than that, as previously discussed, Wikipedia is oftentimes not reliable, but this is true:
    The 2016 presidential campaign of Donald Trump was formally launched on June 16, 2015, at Trump Tower in New York City.

  • lbloveday says:

    No Harry Lee, I don’t see it happening. I would take a suitable $100k job any day in preference to $250k as a politician and have everything I say and have ever said, analysed for fault by left-wing fanatics, have to put up with the, in my opinion, moronic questions and comments from the media, particularly but far from limited to their ABC, have to speak to these, again imo, morons….
    And like most, maybe all, of my friends and acquaintances, I’m too busy living to join in push-backing.

  • Harry Lee says:

    Yes lbloveday, you say it true:
    Most people are too busy consuming the fruits of trees planted by our forebears to be bothered to save the orchard.
    And it’d be unpleasant, dealing with morons.

  • Michael says:

    Watched a show on the Hitler Youth last night on SBS. The same techniques, more covertly, are being used today. The woke supremacy.

  • ianl says:

    >”Whoever controls the dissemination of information controls the culture.” [quote from above article]

    Yes, of course. Not only “Big Tech”, although the scariest aspect there is wholesale surveillance tracking of the population, but the insensate vanity of the MSM. These people actively describe themselves as “content creators” – objective journalism is not for them, they must create content – and in unintended irony insist that Big Tech pay them for it … because we won’t.

    So, yes. This ugliness will increase in intensity and nothing can prevent that. Underlying it is powerlust, which itself knows the masses may be controlled by manipulating fear and envy (the core of collectivism). Others here will disagree, but this is the flipside of evolution – you never get something for nothing.

  • pgang says:

    Nah, it was giving up alcohol…

  • pgang says:

    ‘Since I was a child, people who are overly sure of themselves have confused me.’
    Chesterton considered it to be a sure sign of insanity.

  • rod.stuart says:

    “The issue, though, at its core, is that normal people have, by definition, average intelligence and are amenable to the persuasive techniques of propaganda. ”
    My immediate thought was with regard with the propaganda from Jane Hansen on the “Big Shots” program.
    The only argument she could raise as to questioning the mRNA vaccines was to illustrate that the Measles vaccine has been useful, and that Andrew Wakefield produced junk science. (Producing junk science for money is a favourite pastime nowadays)
    No one asked legitimate questions like “Why is a vaccine necessary for a disease with an IFR of 0.02%?”, Or “Why are perfectly legitimate courses of action such as antivirals not considered superior to an untested vaccine?” Or “The Pfizer and Moderna products are not vaccines at all. Their widespread use constitutes the greatest medical experiment in history. Why is this not provided in the “informed consent ” specified in the Nuremburg Code?” “Why were Big Pharma and governments awarded protection from litigation? Why are these treatments claimed to be safe when they have not been tested?”
    But the propaganda just rolls on and on.

  • Patrick McCauley says:

    It is true that the woke (fully automated luxury socialism) … has no concept of the notion nor the intention of ‘forgiveness’ (they view forgiveness as a form of moral weakness) ‘Forgiveness’ is said to require a knowledge that the victim could become the perpetrator under different circumstances … and the perpetrator the victim – (we could all be Nazi Prison Guards) The intention of forgiveness is to wipe out debt or pay back or vengeance or retribution. To square the record. Some even believe that there should be a day upon which all financial debt should be erased … and that the ledger should begin anew on the following day. Forgiveness is a form of ‘faith’ in God or the universe … and is a skill which needs often to be learned and persisted with.

  • Patrick McCauley says:

    Forgiveness will always be able to enlist the complete power of the unforgiven … and by this alliance – enlightenment will be sure to follow.

  • Farel says:

    Where is the West now? Drowning in Jacobin induced irrationalism with the usual violent bent. Under the imperious intellectual rule of those Scruton denominated ‘fools, frauds and firebrands’,
    “To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again: and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself. That was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word ‘doublethink’ involved the use of doublethink.” Orwell, 1984

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