Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Stay out of the ocean

Explanations are strange beasts aren't they? Why? It’s obvious really - we all know the answer.

To explain something, we have to say it again or say it differently - from another angle. To explain this new angle, we have to say it again or say it differently - from yet another angle. To explain this second new angle, we have to say it again or say it differently - from yet another angle. Or we just go back to the beginning, to the first explanation. It's easier to go round in circles, close off the explanation so it doesn't get out of hand. Otherwise we'd have to admit other possibilities, maybe many possibilities.

An ocean of possibilities.

So there's only one way we can avoid the ocean of possibilities, find dry land, settle and build. We have to stick with what we said first time round. If asked to explain we say the same thing again. Maybe with tiny differences, but basically we repeat ourselves again and again and again. We opt for the safe, circular, dogmatic way rather than risk drowning in an ocean of possibilities.

This inbuilt advantage of dogmatism makes it so tricky, so difficult to settle on good answers while being open to better ones. It’s easier not to want better, to settle for the answer we have, to stay out of the ocean where all those dangerous possibilities lurk. Dogmatic is easier, gets things done, even if it’s the wrong thing at the wrong time in the wrong place, based on the wrong ideas and the wrong skills. Dogmatic still gets things done. It even seems like progress for a sweet, deluded while.

If we join some institution, any institution, then we adopt certain verbal behaviour in order to be understood, to speak the language, be accepted, be one of the crowd, get on, make the best of our abilities, avoid the raised eyebrow. So do institutions expect and require us to be dogmatic, to hone our dogmatic abilities? Of course they do. You know it, I know it, they know it.

As we adapt we either notice ourselves adapting or we don’t. We don’t have to see ourselves adapt, watch ourselves become dogmatic. We don’t have to be so aware, so introspective, so divided within ourselves. Dogmatic is easier – always so fatally easy, so seductive, so rewarding. A path of least resistance strewn with roses.

Too soon it’s too late. We didn’t keep anything back so we have nothing left, nothing to tell us what’s wrong, no way to describe our own dogmatic behaviour without simply saying again what we always say anyway. Dogmatic behaviour, addictive behaviour with no way to describe our thoughts from the outside, from the time before, before we adapted, became addicted so completely, so disastrously well.

It’s why people become stupid, why intelligence isn’t real, giving no protection against the fatal lure to adapt to conform, to agree, to reach a reliable, comforting, wrong, pointless but suitably circular consensus. Stay out of the ocean we are told - it bites.


Mark Wadsworth said...

I heartily disagree (obviously). The real problem is people not being able to see a total logical contradiction in their own views and being able to completely ignore facts.

I mean, I don't mind if e.g. people think the earth is flat, as long as they can explain away all the other things which strongly indicate that the earth is spherical. It's when people believe something which is totally contradictory to evidence of which they are aware that I get upset.

A K Haart said...

MW - I don't understand your disagreement.

rogerh said...

Dogma lends stability, that is why administrators hate scientists - who know nothing is certain.

James Higham said...

Having said all that, there are dangers in the ocean [as a sailor, I'd say that]. They're par for the course, part of the territory, just as playing rugby always has the possibility of spinal injury.

No reason not to do it.

A K Haart said...

rogerh - I agree.

JH - I agree, we need to take risks, both physical and intellectual.