I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love him once,–not without cause:
What cause withholds you, then, to mourn for him?–
O judgment, thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason!
Mark Antony’s eulogy, Julius Caesar, Act 3, scene 2
Jonathan Haidt, an honorable man, has caused Chris Bellavita, they are all honorable men, to doubt his long-held affection for — even worship of — Reason. According to some readings of Haidt, the scripture, liturgy and authority of Reason is unveiled as deadly delusion.
I disagree. Rather, in the apparent death of their god they can find Reason resurrected, clarified, and even more capable.
I am not sure how Chris has viewed Reason. But Jonathan has been prolific on the topic. Haidt was apparently raised to understand reason as highly individualized and, if its liturgy was accurately observed, producing demonstrably dogmatic outcomes.
Consider Plato’s allegory of the cave: detach it from all the rest of the Dialogues and the whole pre-Socratic context. Haidt’s highly reductionist reason is achieved through the individual’s painful ascent to the light and direct encounter with reality; which among other gifts, brings the enlightened to a state of patronizing disdain:
He would first see the sun and then reason about him. And when he remembered his old habitation, and the wisdom of the den and his fellow-prisoners, do you not suppose that he would felicitate himself on the change, and pity them?… Better to be the poor servant of a poor master, and to endure anything, rather than think as they do and live after their manner? (The Republic, Book VII, Socrates to Glaucon)
Haidt has found this reason, which he long studied, attempted to master and live-out, to be a profound hypocrisy. He has rejected it.
Above is a visualization of Haidt’s alternative to reason, the Social Intuitionist Model, from a 2001 journal article entitled The Emotional Dog and Its Rational Tail. Please envision many other participants in the social process (B, C, D, etc.) and step through all six steps as outlined. Imagine a maze (or, I would argue, labyrinth) of interconnections.
Don’t miss Haidt’s comments in the fine print, “Two additional links are hypothesized to occur less frequently: (5) the reasoned judgment link and (6) the private reflection link.” Less frequent, perhaps, but in these links reason has been reclaimed from calcified post-Enlightenment reductionism. This is the crucial opportunity for self-critique, critical thinking, and creativity.
For too long, too many have presumed that our social reality could be functionally framed as some Newtonian system of cause-and-effect. This has always been a mechanistic fallacy that fails to embrace the fundamentally affective character of human experience and relationships. It mistakes sense-making as meaning-making. There are overlaps, but meaning requires much more than “fitting data into a frame (mental model) and fitting a frame around the data.” Meaning may be data-informed, it is almost never data-driven.
In links 5 and 6 Haidt restores the potential of reason inasmuch as reason is anchored in community, in relationships, and in beliefs, intuitions, heuristics and prejudices. Links 5 and 6 will often be subversive to all these predispositions. Greater objectivity is possible. But it is absolutely delusional to perceive reason can exclude the subjective. Meaning is — finally — humanistic, not algorithmic. Reason is how we engage the world together, more or less rigorously, more or less effectively, but together. Reason is to discern a possible path, a working hypothesis for how we can — together — engage our common context.
Reason does not reject the possibility of individual enlightenment or personal expertise. But neither does reason grant any innate privilege to such possibilities. Aquinas wrote, “Reason in man is rather as God in the world.” Must I be so explicit as to emphasize both reason and God are encountered in love and relationship?
If you know Shakespeare, who is the more reasonable: Brutus or Mark Antony? I strongly perceive it is the latter. Brutus depends too much on his own logic, his own analysis, his own strength. He becomes trapped in isolated self-contradiction. Mark Antony engages the crowd. He begins by acknowledging vulnerability. He argues from feeling. It is through this feeling that he reasons. We see — even better, we feel — him thinking aloud with us. (First Plebeian: “Methinks there is much reason in his sayings.”)
The famous eulogy is often played as cynical manipulation. This is not the only, nor best option. Read it again and imagine Mark Antony afraid, uncertain, but finding just enough courage to give voice to his intuition, to his judgment, and as the crowd listens and responds positively to this reasoning with them, to press further than he imagined when first he began.
Worship of fallaciously reductionist reason has seriously complicated homeland security. The national security priestly class has assumed ecclesiastical authority. A temple-centric policy and strategy apparatus has sometimes presumed to know and impose dogma. Acknowledging uncertainty and vulnerability can be branded as weakness or heresy. Projecting competence and confidence, regardless of inner doubts, has become a too often unexamined habit. Like Brutus we have trapped ourselves, even betrayed ourselves.
If the prior 844 words have fairly heard Chris Bellavita (and Jonathan Haidt) and if my response, especially where I disagree, honors the dignity of my antagonists and acknowledges the possibility I may be wrong, then I have exercised reason. If by starting with a Shakespeare quote and continuing with Plato and Aquinas, as well as Haidt, I have effectively dissuaded others from engaging with me, then I have acted unreasonably. To the extent I invite and involve others, I am a creature of reason. To the extent my rhetoric or actions reject a relationship with others, I am being unreasonable.
I look forward to Part 2.