Wednesday, May 9, 2012

If you have to say it

It's a known fact that there are some qualities that others, in a certain sense, must attribute to us.  To put it another way; there are certain qualities that if someone says they possess a certain quality, most likely they actually do not possess said quality.

Let us take an obvious example: humility.  A person who claims that they are humble most likely do not possess the quality of being humble.  A truly humble person is concerned with reigning in their pride, not preoccupied with letting everyone know they are humble.  Humility is a quality of a paradox, the last person to know that they are humble is the person possessing the quality.

There are far more qualities like this.  The Anchoress writes about "coolness,"  another quality such that the question "Am I cool?" is self answering.  The quality speaks for itself, and requires no comment.  Observers can admire it, but to question if one possesses the quality is to show that one does not (and for the record, I have no pretensions of my own coolness).

Note that this paradox is not limited to qualities of an individual.  There are qualities of corporate bodies, such as business or communities, where such qualities are best left unstated.  A business where the employees are "empowered" is one where the employees are "empowered" to do whatever they are told.  A self proclaimed "faith-based" Catholic parish is the last place you will find mention of the Divinity of Christ.

In the realm of ideas I've come to discover that "rational" is one such quality that exhibits this paradox.  An idea is either rational or it is not.  It must be received by the minds of others, churned and tested.  For someone to claim that their idea is rational is to call the question.

This is ultimately yet another reason why I do not take the New Atheist movement seriously.  The rather hilarious and self-consciously named "Reason Rally" is but another sign that the New Atheist movement has a huge gap between the reasonableness of their arguments and their perception of such.  Much has been made of  their arguments (and I use that term charitably), but events such as this are a warning that reason is the last thing that will happen at such a rally.

To have to bolster one's opinion by saying that "my argument is more reasonable" is to beg the question.  It is both an attempt to take the high ground while disparaging the other.  An actual discussion cannot happen under such circumstances, because the attitude itself precludes the possibility of a true exchange.

So the next time you hear a New Atheist beat their chest about how rational they are, remember that it is like the nerd with the glasses in high school.  He wants you to know that he is cool.  And like claiming that you are cool, attempts to claim superior rationality are more often than not self-refuting.

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