Escaping the Matrix
Escaping the Matrix
The red pill or the blue pill? The red pill will free you from the matrix. The blue pill will let you stay inside. In this famous scene from the movie “The Matrix”, the character “Neo” is offered a choice. Does he free his mind by taking the red pill, or does he remain in his world of illusion by taking the blue pill?
Theories of rationality are like the Matrix. We accept what we are told without question and organize our lives around the canons’ and dogma that indoctrinates us into the prescribed idea of reality. Prescribed by who? Good question. Who is it that tells us what is real? We think that we decide on these things, but we don’t. We are indoctrinated into prescribed ways of thinking to such an extent that we never question the ideology that we log on to. If something corresponds to what we were told, we accept it. If it doesn’t’ we reject it. This comes from our parents, our clergy, our schools. We’re a blank page coming into the world and we are told what to make of all that we see and how to interpret all we experience. We ask questions, but are never given answers as to why things are done the way they are done. We are fed theories of rationality and we accept them without question. To question is to make waves and invite scorn, and a young person wants to avoid that at all costs. We lack the courage to challenge authority.
So, we take it on “authority” that what we are told is true, without ever questioning what is the basis for the authority? We are fed the blue pill as a steady diet.
How do we “know” that what we are told or what we believe is true? There is a red pill I call critical rationalism. It can and will change how you think. It can literally rewire your brain, All our lives are spent attempting to prove that our theories about things are true, and the way that we go about it is to accept an idea, and then look everywhere for things that support that idea. We “build a case” for that theory and the more evidence that supports the theory the more real it becomes in our mind, until we become like Glenn Beck, drawing circles on a blackboard trying to make the case that one thing invariably leads to the next which leads to the next which eventually leads to Death Camps or whatever it is that he’s attempting to prove as demonstrably certain.
Know this to be true. You cannot prove your theory using inductive reasoning. That is logically impossible. Attempting to do it is irrational. That is the method used by Beck and others as well. If he’s using this as his method of reasoning, then you must conclude that his approach to reasoning is questionable and can be logically criticized.
What he is doing is building a case for making a general statement that he presents as conclusive evidence that his theory is infallibly and logically true, and he uses that to support his theory of rationality. However, what he is formulating is a generality and predicting an outcome that he can’t prove as true. You need to know this. With each step of his presentation at his blackboard as he draws his arcs and circles, you must ask why is that true? Why do his circles lead us to becoming China, or Nazi Germany? Maybe they lead to Sweden. Maybe they don’t mean anything. Maybe they are simply a way for him to build a case that satisfies his own theory of rationality.
What is that assumption based on? And who is the authority that justifies the basis and why should that authority be considered conclusive? Is Beck basing his theory of rationality on historicism??
My friend Mark Notturno wrote that Karl Popper criticized Marx as an historicist. “Karl Popper criticized Marx for his “historicism,” which he described as the belief that the course of history is predetermined by scientific laws”. If Beck is using historicism to make his point then he is following in the footsteps and using the reasoning of Karl Marx. I doubt that Beck is aware of that. As Poppers book editor and friend, Mark would know Poppers views better than just about any living person today. When we became friends, Mark would tell me whatever I needed to know about Popper and his philosophy.
Essentially it boils down to not attempting to prove a theory, which leads to irrationalism of the sort we see with Glenn Beck and others. Rather, it’s the ability to criticize a theory which can never be done through inductive reasoning, that allows us to maintain our rationality. Through deductive reasoning we can falsify a theory. If we can do that, we realize several things. One is that the false theory can be junked, but more importantly we realize that truth does in fact exist. If something can be proven false, then its opposite must exist. How else could we know that something was false without having truth to compare it to? Nobody can actually define truth, but it seems that the best description might be that truth is what is left after you’ve determined what is false. We don’t find the truth by adding one thing after another to build supporting evidence which supports a general conclusion. We find it by stripping away those things that we can determine are false. By doing that we get closer to the truth. Nobody ever possesses it, but it can be acquired incrementally. We use induction every day to predict outcomes that may in fact come true. However they aren’t infallible predictors. I may get in the car and drive to work one day, taking the very same route that I always take and know that by taking that route it will take me a half hour to get there. I do this every day and set my schedule accordingly. Then one morning I find that they are doing construction on my route to work, and instead of it taking a half hour, it takes me an hour. I get up the next day and find that they are still doing the road work and I’m late again. The next day I make the necessary adjustment to allow for the delay, and I get to work on time. I do the same thing the next day, because I know that since they are doing road work, I’m going to have a delay. Except that on this day there is no road work since they worked through the night to complete it. My prediction that I’d have a delay proved to be false. I used induction to set my time schedule based on what had happened previously and assumed something to be true, which proved otherwise. We do this every day. It’s second nature to make an educated guess. But we need to remind ourselves, that that’s all it is. When we enter the world of politics and legislation that effects our lives in a larger sense, we need to recognize the process that is taking us in a direction or conversely, preventing us from getting where we want to go. If the process involves emotional attachments to a theory of rationality, we should question why something like that is standing in the way of moving the country forward. When a congressman makes a prediction of how a bill will affect us, ( the Healthcare bill will lead to Armageddon) we need to ask what that prediction is based on. Remember that inductive reasoning will not prove the claim as being true. It’s setting at best a probability factor. We call that…a guess. Your objective should never to be to try and prove your theory. You won’t be able to. So it seems that a better idea is to formulate your ideas in such a way that allows them to be open to criticism including your own. Truth is the same for all of us. There is only one truth but we all approach it from different places and we see different sides of it. Imagine yourself in a large room and in the center of the room is a sculpture. In a circle surrounding the sculpture are twenty people. Each person is spaced 5 feet apart from the next. All of them are staring at the sculpture. The sculpture represents the truth. Everyone sees it. But none of them see the entire thing. They can’t. They can only see the side that is in their line of sight. Each person sees the truth, but no two see the same aspects of it. If asked to describe it, they will each offer a different description. Since we’re each approaching it from different directions and positions and situations, comparing, contrasting and criticizing these positions helps all of us to weed out error and get nearer to the truth. At least those of us who have an interest in the truth.
Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh have sold a very large audience which has always been prone to accepting theories of rationality as true, (they live in the Matrix and Beck wants to keep them there…so they take the blue pill. No thinking is required.) into his way of reasoning and then uses that to guide the audience into agreement with him. Beck is a good salesman I’ll grant him that. And the easiest of all sales techniques to employ is to sell fear. And that is Becks product. He sells fear.
The red pill represents the unknown, and fear of the unknown is a very powerful fear to overcome.However, he’s playing with fire here. His comments are so inflammatory and reckless, that people who are less stable then we would hope, have taken his comments to the extreme. Beck predicts Death Camps, and interment centers, and euthanasia, with the idea of inciting people to action against the government. That action can be less then responsible. Already we’ve seen examples of what author David Neiwert calls, “Eliminationist Rhetoric” bringing about violent results. In Knoxville Tennessee a man ( James Adkisson) walked into a Unitarian Church and pulled out shotgun and began shooting people. Police found a four-page, handwritten note in Adkisson’s 2004 Ford Escape that was parked at the church. The letter written in ink on lined notebook Paper was not addressed to anyone, but explained Adkisson’s reason for targeting the church, Knoxville Police Chief Owen said. Owen said Adkisson wrote that he was angered by “his lack of being able to obtain a job,” a reduction in his food stamp allotment, and “the liberal movement.” Owen explained the liberal movement, as defined by Adkisson, included liberal philosophies and issues pertaining to gays. A search of Adkisson’s home revealed brass knuckles (?..obviously used for aggressive deer hunting) , a .38-caliber pistol and three political books, according to a search warrant. Knoxville Police Department Investigator Steve Still wrote in the search warrant that Adkisson “admitted to shooting McKendry and several others at the church.” Adkisson went on a rampage at the church, Still wrote, “because of its liberal teachings and his belief that all liberals should be killed because they were ruining the country, and that he felt that the Democrats had tied his country’s hands in the war on terror and they had ruined every institution in America with the aid of major media outlets.” Seized from Adkisson’s home, were three books including “The O’Reilly Factor,” by television commentator Bill O’Reilly; “Liberalism is a Mental Disorder,” by radio personality Michael Savage; and “Let Freedom Ring,” by political pundit Sean Hannity. Each of those people would deny any responsibility for the actions of Jim Adkisson. However it’s obvious that words can motivate people into taking action. If words couldn’t do that, there would be no reason for commercials on TV, and an entire advertising industry would have no reason to exist. Motivational speakers would be non-existent as well. Salesmen and politicians would have no purpose. This is the extent that some will go to keep people inside the Matrix of their theories of rationality.
So which do we take; the red pill of critical rationalism, or the blue pill that provides us with our theories of rationality? It depends on whether we choose to be rational, or irrational.