Monday, 14 October 2019

When the censor says No!

In any other cause, I doubt not, you would have cautiously weighed the consequences of committing your name to the licentious discourses and malignant opinions of the world. But here, I presume you thought it would be a breach of friendship to lose one moment in consulting your understanding.
Junius – Letter III to Sir William Draper 1769

This delightfully satirical quote has lurked at the back of my mind for years. The analogy behind it is obvious enough – we consult our understanding in a manner analogous to consulting a friend, or an authority. Conversely we may fail to consult our understanding in a rush to judgement.

It is a powerful analogy which fits well with Daniel Kahneman’s analogy of fast and slow thinking. Understanding is the slow part while to lose one moment in consulting your understanding is analogous to a censor standing guard on our understanding. The censor is fast – much too fast for the slowly grinding wheels of understanding.

In the Junius quote, friendship is akin to censorship by allegiance. Friendship and allegiance are too visceral, their censorship too fast for certain modes of understanding to be consulted. Which leaves us with the key point – we may have the potential to understand something but we cannot consult our understanding if the censor flicks off the light.

It’s a spooky idea because it seems to work. Too often we see people defend the indefensible in a manner which seems to suggest a rigorously censored understanding. The root cause of the censorship may be obvious to others but that doesn’t help the afflicted – their censor just says No!

For example this one is too embarrassing to embed in the blog post -


Sam Vega said...

Yes, I'd seen that one. I'd like to think it might be the turning of the tide. It's good to see St.Greta's wisdom being challenged too.

I also wonder why the oddballs often have odd names. I'm sure there must be a causal link. "Zion Lights", indeed. Sounds like a hymn tune or a brand of cigarette.

James Higham said...

Is the takeaway from this that freethinking must be preserved at all costs, even that of friendship?

A K Haart said...

Sam - maybe it is a brand of cigarette. Perhaps her parents met over a drink and a Zion Light.

James - that depends on your censor.