Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Critical Thinking II

Those men listed at the close of the last post all espoused the questioning of truth, or custom, if you prefer, and share the progressive (liberal, socialist,?) notions which thrive on the disruption of fact. They all seem willing to substitute man’s current thoughts and desires for those truths which have been painfully established over long periods of time. Theirs is a “me, now” posture which chooses to ignore history and experience to the exclusion of the success it has brought. By encouraging the subsequent confusion which constant argumentation brings, they feel enabled to furnish alternatives of their own design. In his autobiography, published in 1873, Mill projected the cycle.

“I looked forward, through the present age of loud disputes but generally weak convictions to a future … (in which) conviction as to what is right and wrong, useful and pernicious (will be) deeply engraven on the feeling by early education and general unanimity of sentiment, and so firmly grounded in reason and in the true exigencies of life, that they shall not, like all former and present creeds, religious, ethical, and political, require to be thrown off and replaced by others.”

It is reasonable to believe he defined the “true exigencies of life” by the Mill standard. All else was then subject to question. The huge signal is in the line, “engraven on the feeling by early education.” This concept has been eagerly seized upon to emphasize the importance of control in the education of the children, that their personal “truths” may be propagated and accepted in the future. Since we are connecting the dots, consider the attitude of progressives toward home schooling, public school vouchers, private schools and any other educational efforts which do not center on the state. Ten Commandments in the classroom; perish the thought! A Christmas program in December at school with carols of the season and possibly a reenactment of that holy night is absolutely out of the question. It has even become increasingly more difficult to release students on Good Friday for individual worship services.

I am reminded of commencement exercises at my high school in 1950. Part of the occasion was my presentation of a song chosen by my music teacher that was politically incorrect in so many ways. I performed the “Glory Road,” part of a series of ten Negro tone poems, which was a celebration—in dialect—of huge figures in the Old Testament. It remains in my memory today of “Moses, and Aaron, and Methusalum (sic), who banged and they hollered and they beat the drum.” I especially recall the line at the peak of this frenzied presentation after the “Lord came callin’ all his faithful flock,” which declared “and I cried massah Jesus, here I is, heays me.” That breech of contemporary etiquette would today reach the front page of the New York Times—above the fold.

Nietzsche, far more celebrated post mortem than during life, attempted in his ongoing work, an inversion of reality by proclaiming “art” as truth. He took that which is fantasy and interpretation and argued it was the bedrock of veracity. Ever eager for shock to cement his theories, he came up with an everlasting sound byte, “God is dead.” Not as eternal as Him whom he disparaged but an effective insult nonetheless. During the sixties and seventies it was used as an authority for all manner of hedonistic behavior.

As we closely examine his life, we see a man tortured by unknown demons. In the late nineteenth century mental health care was in its discovery phase. For whatever reasons, Nietzsche was plagued by depression and succumbed to virtual insanity for the last ten years of his too short life, 53 years.. My conviction is that his greatest contribution to mankind was his role as patient for the educational development of the mental health professionals who attended him. His failure to ever understand that which ennobles life and his celebration of that which degrades it may have contributed to his early demise. Having renounced his citizenship, he spent his final decade shuttling in out of various clinics in search of peace. He found it, however temporarily.

In later day proponents of critical thinking we find a definite change in the modus operandi. Richard Rorty (1931-2007) in advancing a school of self styled pragmatism fully utilized an easy manner and a disarmingly clever style to cover his radical critical thinking. Although, in the end, his cheerful outlook could not hide a nihilistic message. In Rorty’s “liberal utopia” it was not possible for truth to be independent of each person’s individual thoughts. His ideal existed in a world of phantasmagoria unencumbered by reality and fact.

Kant’s motto for the enlightenment was sapere aude, “dare to know.” Roger Kimbal suggests it should be, “Dare to believe that there is nothing to know.” This denies all history, tradition and, not least, faith in an almighty eternal God. It places pleasure and pain on an equal footing. Finally it places “self” in the role of the Supreme Being. In our current milieu this reminds me most of children whose progress to adulthood is measured by their growing awareness of selflessness as a virtue. Lacking experience, the accumulation of life’s truths, their primary occupation is learning and gaining those realities which serve successful adults so well. This curriculum is best obtained in the home, taught by loving parents, under the supervision of a kind and loving God.

No PhD is required.

In His abiding love,

Cecil Moon

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