Western society is often said to be overly-rational, a claim usually made by women, New Age folk and little children. Western society, they claim, is too logical, too sterile, too left-brained, too methodical, too organized, too bureaucratic, and too joyless. It lacks the dionysian spirit of spontaneous celebration, fluidity, intuitive insight and unbridled emotional expression, as well as the mystical vision of universal interconnectedness. Surprisingly, some even claim that it is too masculine, lacking the feminine energy of the East, or of indigenous cultures.
And yet when I was growing up in Australia I was never encouraged by any of my peers, teachers or elders to lead a fully rational existence. No one ever advised me that I should apply logic to all aspects of my life in an effort to be perfectly truthful. I was never given any insight into how powerful logic can be in overturning my personal illusions, nor was I made aware of its unlimited potential to uncover the deepest truths of life. The subject of logic, if indeed it was raised at all, was nearly always relegated to the academic backwaters of science and mathematics (where it was safely confined). Other than that, no one ever talked about it.
To be sure, Western society is well-organized, methodical, sterile and joyless, which is both its strength and its weakness. It is an efficient system, but leaves little room for spontaneity. Everything seemingly has to be planned to the nth degree. To conclude, however, that this is the result of being too rational is incredibly misguided. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The real culprit is our egotistical desire to be comfortable and in control. Instead of striving to become truly rational and freeing ourselves from all delusion and fear, we Westerners are brainwashed into developing a bureaucratic mindset, which reduces life to a never-ending chore of working, planning, and saving. Indeed, we are so encouraged to spend our time organizing our lives and planning for the future that we forget how to live. And so whatever rationality we do possess is employed in a very limited way.
Is it any wonder why alcohol is so popular? And why there is so little desire from the authorities to have it banned, despite it being a dangerous drug that causes all sorts of misery and carnage? Getting drunk is one of the few opportunities Westerners have of cutting loose and experiencing a bit of mayhem. It makes their joyless, sterile lives more bearable. It helps prop up Western civilization. If alcohol (and other similar escape valves) did not exist, then surely no one could possibly accept things the way they are. There would be a revolution in no time.
Because this egotistical desire for comfort and control is so pervasive in society, and because logical reasoning is almost exclusively employed towards this end, people’s conceptions of rationality have become falsely associated with the desire for order. When people think of a “rational person”, they think of an anally-retentive creature who obsessively builds systems of thought, who minutely categorizes everything, who has emotional problems, who avoids chaos and unpredictability at all costs. In thinking this, they are extrapolating from their own limited conceptions of rationality. Due to their habit of automatically associating rationality with order, they automatically imagine that the desire to become more rational is simply the desire for even more order.
Yet reason is just a tool and can be used in many different ways. Just as a spanner can take apart scaffolding as easily as it can put it together again, so too reason can take apart illusions and systems of thought as easily as it can build them. In the hands of someone who really wants to rid his mind of delusion and tune into his infinite nature, reason can become a very powerful tool indeed. It can clear away all conceptual prisons, letting the cool, fresh winds of Truth to sweep into the mind.
But sadly, human beings tend to lack this kind of desire and courage. They are only willing to use logic to the degree that they feel in control of the process and can put a halt to its workings at any time. They like to seal their rational activities into watertight compartments within the mind, thereby ensuring that their personal lives are never placed under the logical spotlight. Science and academia are institutionalized examples of this.
We can think of each person’s life as an enclosed bubble. Inside the bubble, the person lives out his daily life and applies his reasoning powers to the degree that it will maximize his enjoyment of things. But surrounding this bubble are layers of unquestioned assumptions, articles of faith, mental blocks, contradictions, ambiguity, confusion, emotionalism, and vagueness. These layers form a kind of protective shield against reality, which allows the person inside the bubble to live as he pleases without being burdened with a spiritual conscience.
Life becomes a juggling act in which the need to experience pleasure and security (and remain safely embedded within the bubble) is balanced against the need for rationality and knowledge. On the one hand, most people know that a certain degree of logical reasoning is necessary for the practical aspects of life. They know that there could be no buildings or traffic lights or computers without it. They are aware of its benefits in areas such as science, mathematics, business and law. Even the process of buying a loaf of bread or putting out the garbage requires a certain amount of logic. Without logic life would be impossible.
And yet most people distrust it immensely. They can sense its impersonal nature, its absence of bias, its lack of favouritism, its lack of interest in human values. Let loose, logic is like a devouring alien creature that does not care what people believe or think. Let loose, it can destroy entire world-views in the blink of a syllogistic eye, and deep down most people know it. And so the human race tethers logic, keeps it on a leash, confines it, imprisons it, weakens it, cheats on it, ridicules it. We can observe this dynamic in the way science – which is itself a limited form of rationality, albeit an effective one – is both embraced and feared by the general public.
Genius is the courage to reason fearlessly in all directions, both inwardly and outwardly. The genius fully integrates what he knows to be true with his personal life. He doesn’t compartmentalise. He doesn’t seal his reasoning off into tight mental containers. He treats knowledge and truth seriously. He factors the whole of his life into the equation of truth, and in so doing he makes truth come alive and enjoys insights and understandings that no one else knows about. His life becomes a constant stream of surprise and joy.
It is fascinating to observe how anti-intellectual everyone suddenly becomes whenever their deep personal attachments are in the spotlight. If a person wants to buy a used car, he does not simply go to the nearest dealer and hand over his money for the first car he sees. On the contrary, he takes his time, he shops around, he investigates, he applies his reasoning. He understandably wants to get the best deal he can and does not want to be ripped off. But when it comes to the question of ultimate truth and the future of his soul, everything changes. The careful methodology miraculously vanishes. Reason and investigation are tossed out the window. He is happy to accept the first belief-system that pleases him. In short, he is just another human being. He puts far more thought and consideration into buying a used car than he does for the welfare of his own soul.
Scientists are no different. Although they are generally regarded to be the torchbearers of reason in this day and age, even they habitually short-circuit their lines of reasoning in order to safeguard their personal attachments. A neuroscientist, for example, might be fully aware during office hours that the self is an abstract fiction, that it is a momentary construction generated by neurons firing in the brain, essentially having no more substance than, say, the concept of “Wednesday”, yet as soon as he steps outside his office door, it all changes. Everything becomes focused on the enhancement of his own “self” (or just for fun, let’s call it “Wednesday”). He goes home to his wife and children in the hope of finding an emotional boost for “Wednesday”, he sits after dinner reflecting on how “Wednesday” can best make its mark in the world, perhaps dreaming that “Wednesday” could one day win the Nobel Prize, perhaps resenting that his colleagues, “Tuesday” and “March”, are becoming too successful – in short, the moment a scientist steps outside his office door, he leaves his rational knowledge behind and proceeds to go insane.
The neo-Darwinist and self-proclaimed atheist, Richard Dawkins, is another example. Having worked extensively in evolutionary theory, Dawkins must surely be aware of the causal nature of all organic beings, and by extension the causal nature of all things. He is surely aware that we are mere machines composed of components and processes, yet how far does he extend this knowledge into his personal life? Does he allow himself to become fully aware of the ramifications of our machine-like nature – which, when taken all the way, results in the priceless understanding of the Infinite? Or is he like everyone else, keeping himself inside his own bubble, never really straying from convention, always remaining a family man, always confining his rationality to professional biology and the philosophy of scientific materialism, never allowing it to seek something greater? Given the exceedingly poor job he does of promoting atheism in the community, I already know the answer to that one.
As far as spiritual reasoning is concerned – i.e. treating logic seriously, eliminating all mental delusion and reasoning one’s way into reality – there is a global silence. No one ever talks about it. No one ever thinks about it. It is the ultimate taboo subject. If people were a little more conscious, one could almost think there was a world-wide conspiracy going on. But alas, no, it is all played out unconsciously. Just as when a person is caught performing an illegal or depraved act and his first instinct is to bluff his way out of the situation (for his social standing is at stake), so too the average human brain instinctively cuts short lines of reasoning and whips up its favourite fantasies long before any of it ever reaches consciousness.
We can blame academics for this pitiful state of affairs. They have managed, throughout the centuries, to thoroughly mangle the art of reasoning and in the process destroy the status and reputation of reason in the community. What is academia nowadays but a refuge for people with high IQs, minimal courage and overactive imaginations? It is a government-funded safe haven, a kind of child-minding facility, designed to keep their brains occupied while ensuring nothing of importance is ever discovered. A glorified realm of crossword puzzles, if you will. And it is precisely because academia avoids everything personal that its reasonings and systems of thought have become so convoluted as to be unintelligible.
The history of Western philosophy, in particular, is littered with ugly, misshapen thought-structures which stand as beacons to the human avoidance of reality. It was once the most kingly of intellectual activities; nowadays it is a laughing stock all over the world. The professors have systematically butchered it. Even ordinary people can see it.
While academics continue to devour the corpse, popular culture is content to pick apart the remnants. Reason and logic are constantly belittled in the mainstream media. Rational characters in films are invariably depicted as psychopathic individuals who have serious character deficiencies, who are bereft of something “human”. Even poor old Spock from Star Trek is painted as a fraud whose rationality is a facade propped up by the violent suppression of his emotions. “Could it be that rational thought destroys the soul?”, muses Russell Crowe in The Next Three Days. I think Oprah and the Dalai Lama might agree.
But human cunning knows no bounds and there are thousands of other ways to fight off the disease of rationality. The use of “paradox” is a popular favourite these days, particularly of college kids and intellectuals. The blithe assertion that life is ultimately a paradox conveniently nips all reasoning in the bud before it can build up a head of steam. Who would bother reasoning in earnest when the end result (i.e. confusion) is already known? But such a stance is not all doom and gloom, I guess. At least it brings people together and unites the atheists and the religious under a common cause. For in the end they both have the same goal in mind. The religious might call upon “mystery” instead of “paradox”, but the intent is still the same. Indeed, calling upon paradox allows the atheist to remain religious without having to be blatantly irrational and subscribe to a belief in God.
Atheists often sneer at Christians for being irrational, which is a bit like watching politicians sneer at the opposition for being dishonest and manipulative. They are obviously not aware of the extent of their own irrationality. The only real difference between atheists and Christians is that they each cut off their reasoning at different points. They both still live inside their respective bubbles. They both still block out reality. They are both equally insane in their own ways.
Paradox is nothing more than a myth perpetuated by irrational people. Whenever a person uncovers a “paradox”, what he is really uncovering is his own contradictory thinking, conflicting values and limited vision. Instead of taking responsibility for the confusion in his own mind, he passes the buck onto Nature itself. It is Nature which is at fault, not he. And with that filed away, the mind can now rest in peace.
In the end, people just want to be happy at all times and it doesn’t really matter to them who or what provides it. Given a choice between remaining in a state of confusion (wherein the dynamics and contrasts can continue to feed their emotions) or ascending into the crystal-clear consciousness of enlightenment which is too pure for emotion to find any foothold, almost everyone will choose the former. Indeed, they subconsciously make this choice in every moment of their lives. It is precisely why the human race is still so deluded.