David White Discusses the New Age at the Bertrand Russell Society Meeting

I stopped by at Verb Café at Writers and Books (740 University Ave.) for the meeting of The Bertrand Russell Society. David White was there to talk about Joseph Butler and Ken Wilber. White brought faith in the possibility of a "New Age" — where humans would work together toward common goals using a far more fluid communication method than the chunks of individual works produced today.

His evidence is the proliferation of conversational communication across vast distances. Essentially things like text messaging and blogging where the works are specifically brief. He teaches a course which exploits this: rather than asking students to summarize a work in an elaborate essay, they are invited to explore it then to respond to a small part of it that they found particularly interesting or inspiring. The aggregate of these responses is a new cumulative learning.

I feel that the development of a global consciousness is likely, but the form it will take will be much more subtle. I disagree with the notion that it will be guided by any person claiming to be a guide although some will migrate in that direction. Rather, I feel it will form organically and naturally only through careful nurturing.

One of the concepts that's poison to this idea is one of failure. We seem to have this collective notion that there are people who fail — and with at least a subtle negative connotation — and others who succeed — the pinnacle of existence. This dichotomy is entirely wrong.

The nature of a rewarding life is to constantly try. And that means — at least in this parlance — failing. As such, this "failure" is not "failure" at all, but evidence of actually trying. Not failing is not trying which is a much worse fate.

White cited Plato's Allegory of the Cave as an analogy to the difference between thinking like today and thinking like the "New Age". People who think like today — like individuals competing to survive — are like Plato's prisoners in the cave, resigned to seeing the world as simply shadows on the cave wall. Those who think in a "New Age" manner are analogous to those who escape and return to describe the world outside, explaining the shadows. Unfortunately, the prisoners are certain their form of reality is correct and reject the new information.

I think White was trying to act as a guide: that by taking the prisoners through the steps to the outside that he could teach them the more complete truth. However, I believe more in human behavior based on Plato's cave: that people will nearly-unanimously reject the notion of a "New Age" and of thinking in a different way.

As such, I think a better way is to reject the concept of failure as it applies to a person's life. In this way, the prisoners are released and free to go. Admittedly, convincing people that failure is false is nearly as difficult a task, but I'll argue that it is already ingrained in the culture of the U.S. West Coast with their "it's all good" kind of philosophy.


On Bullshit at the Bertrand Russell Society Meeting

I headed to The Bertrand Russell Society at Verb Café meeting at Writers and Books (740 University Ave.) for Ted Lechman's discussion of Harry G. Frankfurt's On Bullshit. [Got it?]

The tie-in to Russell was a short pamphlet he wrote in 1943 titled An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish: A Hilarious Catalogue of Organized and Individual Stupidity. Frankfurt's book was written in 2005 and professed to provide a philosophical definition of bullshit (also known as rubbish, malarkey, hokum, and humbug). Lechman generally spoke from Frankfurt's point of view, adding his own views where necessary.

The colloquial definition sets bullshit on the true-false spectrum — that bullshitting is a form of lying. Lechman argued that this is a flawed definition: that bullshit is much more anchored in motive than in truthfulness. My analogy is that fitting bullshit into the true-false spectrum is as valid as fitting apathy into the love-hate spectrum.

I think a linguistic flaw is the concept of opposites: for you can argue that love is the opposite of hate, and (in my opinion more strongly) that apathy is the opposite of love. Yet apathy is also the opposite of hate — and now we've got a triangle of opposites which is logically impossible. As the old joke goes, "two wrongs don't make a right but three lefts do." [Which I credit to 2NU in their song, "This is Ponderous", but I'm sure it's older than that.]

Anyway, Lechman was trying to suggest that bullshit comes from a motive of misdirection, not of deception. Thus, lying is the deliberate act of deceiving — of knowing the truth but professing something else. Bullshit is the deliberate act of misdirecting attention — of not caring about the truth of a statement, but stating it anyway to draw attention to someone else.

I think his perfectly constructed example was of one who states, "America is the greatest country in the world" to other Americans. It's a statement that has no provable truth, for there are statistics that favor America and those that don't. The purpose of making such a statement, though, is to suggest that oneself is great — that by complimenting the country and therefore its people, the people then express praise in complementary appreciation.

However, I deviate from Lechman's and Frankfurt's definition there. I think that bullshit can be as simple as assuming logical fallacy is more valid than logical argument. To me, this definition allows for a more innocent form of bullshit, where the bullshitter actually does have truthfulness in mind, but is ill-equipped to make an argument.

So in the end, I guess I support Lechman's (and presumably Frankfurt's) definition that one form of bullshit requires an apathy toward the truthfulness of a statement and an ulterior motive. However, I feel there is also another form of bullshit which is simply using logical fallacy as if it is superior to logical argument.