Monday, April 04, 2011

Out of Sorts

I have no idea how these people can stand to go on talking. This is wrong! They say, and they gather a big flock of people to bleat “Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!” together. And this is supposed to be a conversation.

No matter how wrong it is, and how many people agree with you, it's not a conversation. A conversation happens when you try to talk with one of the wrong people, or at least to imagine their point of view. A conversation happens when you figure out a time that you did the same kind of thing for the same kind of reason. A conversation happens, basically, when people discover that they're mistaken about something. Otherwise, it's just a bunch of primates getting together to fuss and make a lot of noise, like crows gathering for the night.

I find it increasingly difficult to talk to most people. Their moral vocabulary is so limited, and they have such black-and-white views. For them there are only two moral categories: right and wrong. It's a stretch for them even to get so far as to distinguish between “wrong” and “should be illegal.” When you get to something like “wrong but not as bad as the alternatives” they get panicky, and long before you get to “wrong but only because it injures your own heart” you've lost them completely. They want to be back in the comfort of the flock, bleating “Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!” together again.

The depth of ignorance displayed is staggering. A person asks, as if it was the most reasonable, answerable question in the world, “don't you think the Koran's effect on the world has been mostly negative?” The ignorance that makes it possible to ask such a question shocks me. We're talking about the foundational document of thousands of critically important institutions and scores of states, a document without which whole literatures and arts would not exist. In each and every case, you would have to investigate to find out -- what would probably have replaced it? Zoroastrianism? Byzantine Christianity? Some other cult? Would it have been better or worse, and in which ways? Where would world culture have gone under these other systems? Where would we be if, just for instance, arabic civilization had not preserved so much of Classical mathematics and natural philosophy? Would medicine as we know it even exist, without Galen and Avicenna? The questions are endless: I could fill pages with them. And each one would be rife with imponderables. Someone-- and this is a college professor we're talking about -- calmly undertaking to evaluate such a thing as a yes or no question in a Facebook comment thread makes me unhappy and nervous. Maybe civilization has ended, after all, but we've been too polite to mention it.

When I write something like this post, I'm usually a little physically under the weather: in fact the very earliest symptom of a viral infection that I get -- before I'm aware of any physical symptoms -- is a tendency to carp and blame and find fault, in my writing. I am, at any rate, short of sleep. I've spent this afternoon dozing at whiles in bed, listening to the rain tapping, reading the last chapters of a biography of Wodehouse. (Almost always a melancholy thing, reading the last chapters of the biography of someone modern. You already know it's not going to end well, and there's generally twenty or thirty pages of depressing medical history to wade through.) Crows complaining outside, justifiably, of the interminable rain. Perhaps I'll doze again.


Murr Brewster said...

If it helps, which it shouldn't, I also spent the day feeling fatigued and out of sorts and then I sat down and wrote about crows complaining and rain.

I too am dismayed at people's embrace of certainty.

Dave said...

You may be out of sorts, but you're also absolutely right, unfortunately. These black-and-white thinkers are WRONG! :)

Lucy said...

Sorry it came out of a state of unwellness, but this is just what I needed to read right now.

I feel a similar sense of head-shaking yes-but at the glib 'ban all religion' brigade. It seems so off-the-point and pointless. And the 'wrong but only because it injures your own heart' on a more immediate and personal level is something that I feel I have been bashing my head on a wall of for too long. And when something is thus wrong, of course, somebody has to be held to blame...

Wish I could go back to bed.

WV - 'conversh' - sounds like an imperative shouted by someone drunk on the sense of their own righteousness!

rbarenblat said...

Ah, Dale, much here resonates with me, as you might imagine. (And I too am sick...and drafting a post which I hope will not turn out to simply be me yelling "wrong wrong wrong" at the people with whom I may disagree.) Rest up and stay hydrated. *hug*

Dick said...

Appropriately dyspeptic, Dale. Sorry you had to be off-colour to write it, but there are very few certainties in my life and I too become increasingly bored with having the absolutist door slammed in my face.

Dale said...

Murr, of course it helps!

Dave, I know, Wrong, wrong, wrong :-)

Lucy (not apropos,but I'm still just so blown away) you wrote such a wonderful wonderful poem the other day. I'm still being rocked by it.

Rachel, rest, and get better! We all need you well. I'm amazed you can survive in that toxic atmosphere at all, even with the breathing-apparatus of your practice :-)

Dick, dyspeptic, that was the word I was groping towards!

Thanks all. Better today.

Anne said...

Oh, Dale, I know you're right (not wrong) and I know I'm wrong (not right) to think it, but I can't help feeling that the world would work better without most of its religions. But it's surely worth a conversation as you define the word.

Dale said...

I guess you have to have a fair amount of history in your bones to know, without even asking the question, that what you'd have gotten without Islam would not have been no religion, but different religions. Human beings without religion are very rare critters indeed, even now, and they didn't start appearing, even sparsely, until the late 16th Century. The classical philosophical tradition is often mistaken for an non-religious one, but it's not at all: it simply replaces the cult gods with a God of Truth, whose service instills virtue and harmony into its devotee. (Many science people today who think they are unreligious actually practice this same faith.)

Sarsparilla said...

I very much appreciated this post. I've moved overseas, and am finding it hard making new friends, though no harder than it should be; and two people here are being ever so nice, and making lovely friendly overtures - but they are "wrong wrong wrong" conversationalists, and I don't think my heart could withstand their company, I would eventually be drawn into the bleating.
So I resist.

That is, I would have agreed with you for those reasons, I really would, but then I realised I'd just be posting a bleat myself, agreeing with your "wrong wrong wrong" and adding my own "wrong wrong wrong". So instead, I'll wish you get better soon. It's so hard to escape these grumps and crotchety emotions when you're tired or in pain, isn't it? They seem to be able to invade you more.

Dale said...

Oh, I hear you, Vanessa. Of course we all need to huddle together in our primate cluster and spend some of our time doing the "wrong! wrong! wrong!" thing. It's a matter of how often and with how much awareness. I don't really mind it till it seems to threaten to swallow up the real conversation altogether.

And yes, pain & illness drop you right into it!