Reasoning


" … survival of The People seems to find in favor of those few."

Like many in my generation, I first encountered logic in an algebra class. I didn't understand that I was encountering logic at the time, so I struggled to remember all the strange new rules. My teachers treated these curiosities as simple extensions of the trivial principles governing arithmetic, but they seemed much more complicated, so complicated that I never managed to fully sort out or assimilate them. I experienced endless Easter Eggs, imbedded practices not obvious upon initial scrutiny and apparently only discoverable when the instructor judged my answer wrong. The gists never popped for me, so I learned to fake it, to work backwards from the answers in the back of the book or demonstrate my faith in an invisible higher power when taking an exam. I faked well enough to eventually earn a university degree, though the logical reasoning underpinning at least the mathematical part of that certification still escapes me.

My second encounter with logic came when I sat down to take the SAT exam.
I'd agreed to sit for the exam based upon a rumor I'd heard that had strongly suggested that if I didn't sit for the exam, I'd somehow be screwed. I apparently trusted the rumor enough to beg for a day off work and to part with some treasure to pay the associated fee. I entered with a beginner's mind, without explicit expectation. I'd assumed that the purpose of the procedure would be to assess the extent of my learning thus far, mere months before I expected to graduate high school. It never occurred to me to cram for the exam because I figured I'd absorbed what I'd absorbed, no harm, no possible foul. The "exam" ended up being mostly made up of curious little puzzles like the one illustrated above, the likes of which I'd never seen before. I later learned (or heard) that there's a trick to "solving" these little puzzles. If one knows the trick, they're easy. If not, they're impossible. Needless to say, I didn't know the trick.

The trick was reasoning, that property our Founding Fathers presumed would provide the basis for their experiment in creating a grand republic. This presumption might have amounted to so much privileged wishful thinking, mistaking the masses as being comprised of little Mini Me aristocrats, or at the very least, wannabe aristocrats, the sort of people who might have never read a book, but at least aspired to one day read a book and respected the practice of reading and those who could and did read. Most didn't have letters, as they said in those days, let alone numbers, though most understood enough to keep their yaps shut when in the presence of their betters, those who had taken possession of their letters and numbers. This ethic served as the foundation of the sorts of governance our Founding Fathers found both repulsive and somehow essential. The king was presumed to be uncommonly wise in ways the commoners could never hope to understand. Even when the king acted in ways that seemed uncommonly stupid, civility demanded that his perspective be respected and that the peasantry abide. Our Founders presumed The People could understand better than any king.

The Founders, recognizing the paradox their presumptions produced, championed free public education so that future generations might enjoy the obvious benefits of reasoning. The three Rs of readin', 'ritin', and 'rythmatic sufficed, or would have to, since generations of kids would leave free public education about the same time my maternal grandfather did, at the end of the third grade. Empowered with a third grader's deep understanding of reasoning, generations entered the world prepared to join the masses labeled The People. Even my parents considered algebra a kind of parlor trick with little practical application unless one was an egghead. They certainly never used it or saw it used except when unable to help their kids with their stupid homework, and so never employed the reasoning imbedded within it. They relied upon a sort of gut-feel intuition in lieu of any sort of formal reasoning scheme, and this strategy worked well enough in the world they inhabited. I might not overstate when I suggest that The People still hold little clue about what might constitute genuine reasoning. We justify well enough to reassure ourselves, but the bulk of our understanding of the great issues of the day amount to illogical self-justifications which work about as well as my belief in an invisible higher power did back when I encountered an algebra exam.

Logic makes little sense to anyone unfamiliar with logic. Exhortations to employ dispassionate Reasoning get interpreted differently by people with no conditioned understanding of dispassionate Reasoning. They process those invitations the same way they process pretty much everything else, employing a kind of common-sensical gut feel. They arrive at conclusions passionately rather than dispassionately, and could no more recognize the difference between the two than my grandfather, an accomplished carpenter, could employ algebra to calculate roof slope, something he could do quite accurately in his head without ever once consciously employing formal logic or reasoning. I suspect that most still operate like he did, though not everyone can accurately calculate even simple slopes in their head. Even those exposed to formal logic and reasoning might find little opportunity to ever employ either, preferring the infinitely more satisfying intuitive gut feel approach instead.

I figure (in my head, employing gut-feel intuition) that this little dilemma might be all anyone needs to understand about our times. Now, unlike in my grandfather's one room classroom, we're all surrounded by machines incapable of operating in any way other than logically, employing reasoning for even conditions much better suited to gut-feel intuition. A few understand both worlds, though The People, judging from their voting preferences, clearly do not seem to comprehend either while defaulting to the same old always.

I feel myself high-centered between these worlds. I argue that at least I respect those who, like the wise kings of old, seem to hold understanding and knowledge superior to my own. I can mumble about insidious eggheads while simultaneously appreciating their special gifts, ones no Santa Claus ever deigned to deliver down my chimney. I would that we could all feel that free, free to second guess our own passions and intuitions in favor of those few who might have a touch more of a reasoning clue than we do. It's a form of tyranny, I understand, when held in the wrong hands, but in a world where the choices seem defined by the undeniable tyranny of passionate intuition or the potentially kinder tyranny of a reasoning minority, survival of The People seems to find in favor of those few.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved









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