When we are surrounded by individuals swarming in a sea of irrationality, of UNREASON, how can we and others like ourselves with old-fashioned eighteenth-century minds navigate our way through this SEA OF IRRATIONALITY, in order to maintain our rational bearings and connect with other eighteenth-century minds?
The first step in this process is to study and understand the elements of UNREASON which surround us.
When we look at or engage with another human being we tend to assume that he or she is a rational human being, operating as it were more or less on the same planet as we are. This assumption has been pretty accurate in the past, with some notable exceptions.
One period of exception was in Europe in the 1930’s, most notably in Germany where the madness of UNREASON took hold in the form of Nazism and a blind cult of allegiance to Adolf Hitler. Something similar happened in Italy, beginning in 1922, with Benito Mussolini. For keen insights into these phenomena, see the brilliant play by Eugene Ionesco entitled Rhinoceros.
If you lived in Nazi Germany, it became extraordinarily important to be able to quickly perceive whether you were talking to a dedicated member of the Nazi and Adolf Hitler cult. Indeed, such recognition could be or become a matter of life and death.
But not all encounters with UNREASON are fraught with such immediate potential consequences. The risk may simply be that you waste an inordinate amount of energy and emotional investment trying to persuade, with reason, someone who is in effect on another planet, swimming in a SEA OF UNREASON.
Such individuals usually, but not always, cannot be reached by reason. If it is important to reach this or that person, some other approach, some other means of communication, must be found.
One approach is through the use of PROPAGANDA, and all of the tools that it employs to persuade individuals by manipulating their emotions. Here, the science of mass psychology is brought directly to bear. This approach is problematic, however, for advocates of a return to REASON. What can be done is perhaps to learn effective techniques of communication, developing methods for piercing propaganda bubbles and inducing individuals to return to the SEA OF REASON.
To reach an individual lost in the SEA OF IRRATIONALITY, the first thing that should be understood is that the goal must not be to win a rational argument on this or that point, or this or that fact or policy.
Rather, two goals must be simultaneously pursued.
The first is to get the person to pay attention and to listen to what you are saying.
The second and main goal must be to free the individual from the grip of UNREASON, to somehow get him or her to return to the world of Reason, to swimming in the SEA OF REASON.
This is harder to accomplish than it may sound.
- Don’t waste your energy or emotional engagement on someone who is captivated by a cult or otherwise swimming in the SEA OF UNREASON; and
- If you engage at all with this person, do not try to win a rational argument over a fact, a public action or a policy. Instead, focus your efforts on using other means to burst the bubble of irrationality in which they are living, and to bring them back into the SEA OF REASON.
Applying these points to engaging with a Trump believer, there is little to be gained, for example, by arguing about the facts of the coronavirus pandemic.
More promising, perhaps, would be a visit to a morgue with Covid-19 victims’ corpses, or failing that publishing a list of all the names of people who died in a given city, in a given state, and in the nation as a whole, on each day, in all the corresponding newspapers, in all the social media, and on all the websites which those who swim in the SEA OF UNREASON usually frequent.
A name, a picture of a corpse (with family permission), or a picture of a funeral may have a better chance of puncturing that bubble of UNREASON than all the rational arguments in the world.
Cults of personality are not the only phenomena that may be responsible for individuals not operating in the SEA OF RATIONALITY.
They may simply not be paying attention. They may be lost in one of the other psychological worlds which the Internet, Social Media, and modern technology have made available to them.
Indeed, it is conceivable that we may one day be living in a world where most individials are simply not paying sustained attention to actual reality (a redundant but necessary term), making them all the more vulnerable to manipulation by masters of mass psychology and propaganda.
See Ruchir Sharma, “People Aren’t Reading or Watching Movies, They’re Gaming; During the pandemic, digital three-dimensional environments are where much of life is taking place,” New York Times, August 15, 2020.
The first step for eighteenth-century minds to keep their bearings, therefore, is to understand what is going on in the consciousness of those we encounter, who may or may not be experiencing reality as if they were on the same planet.
Only after we understand the geography of the IRRATIONALITY that surrounds us will eighteenth-century minds be in a position to navigate through the SEA OF UNREASON, and to try to protect ourselves from the depredations which UNREASON may unleash around us, or even aim in our direction. Only then will we be able to link up and plan effective action.
Spirit of Voltaire