- In all debates, let truth be thy aim, not victory, or an unjust interest. [William Penn, Some Fruits of Solitude in Reflections & Maxims (1682), “Rules of Conversation,” Part I.]
- The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.[Norman Vincent Peale]
- Sometimes a man wants to be stupid if it lets him do a thing his cleverness forbids. [John Steinbeck, East of Eden (1952).]
- . . . for a man sees what he wants to see, and disregards the rest. [Paul Simon, “The Boxer”.]
Sometimes people say the goofiest things with apparent conviction. This is a sign that the person is not being intellectually honest.
Logic and reason have rules, which do not change in response to our desires. A commitment to honesty demands that we follow those rules even when they lead us to a conclusion we would prefer not to make.
When I see myself ignoring someone’s point, it is a sign that I am not being intellectually honest and that I probably have some reason why I do not wish to hear what she has to say. That is precisely the time when I need to listen most carefully. Until this practice becomes a habit among people at large, we will continue to experience major political, social and economic upheavals. It is not mainly the fault of dishonest or unscrupulous politicians. It is our fault because we are the ones who reward their behavior and have the power to stop it.
Opposites include propaganda.
- Charles Seife, Proofiness: The Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception (Viking, 2010).
- Alvin S. Felzenberg, A Man and His Presidents: The Political Odyssey of William F. Buckley (Yale University Press, 2017). Buckley never seemed to step outside his privileges and the assumptions that seemed to flow from them. Still, time after time he defended his opponents in the integrity of their views, and checked himself in adherence to principle, when he could see the principle.
- Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking (Alfred A. Knopf, 2005): “Her manner is deadpan funny, slicing away banality with an air that is ruthless yet meticulous. She uses few adjectives. The unshowy, nearly flat surface of her writing is rippled by patterns of repetition: an understatement that, like Hemingway's, attains its own kind of drama. Repetition and observation narrate emotion by demonstrating it, so that restraint itself becomes poetic, even operatic . . . ”
As part of her journey into intellectual honesty, Stephanie admitted the fact that she could be wrong.
On the dark side:
- Victor Sebestyen, Lenin: The Man, the Dictator and the Master of Terror (Pantheon Books, 2017). “Contemporary policy wonks will recognize Lenin as the ‘godfather . . . of “post-truth politics.”’ Offer the electorate ‘simple solutions to complex problems.’ Lie shamelessly. Designate scapegoats to explain all misery. Winning is everything, the ends justify the means. In politics, Lenin decreed, ‘there is only one truth: what profits my opponent hurts me, and vice versa.’”
- Steve Luxenberg, Separate: The Story of Plessey v. Ferguson, and America’s Journey from Slavery to Segregation (W.W. Norton & Company, 2019): “Luxenberg’s history contains so many surprises, absurdities and ironies that it would be a shame to spoil the final chapters by revealing which justice ended up on which side.”
- Michael J. Mazarr, Leap of Faith: Hubris, Negligence, and America’s Greatest Foreign Policy Tragedy (PublicAffairs, 2019): “The Iraq war was not a tragedy. It was more like a crime, compounded by the stupefying incompetence of those who embarked upon a patently illegal preventive war out of a sense of panic induced by the events of 9/11. An impulse to lash out overwhelmed any inclination to deliberate . . . ”
- Thomas S. Kidd, Who Is An Evangelical? The History of a Movement in Crisis (Yale University Press, 2019): “He admits that evangelical fealty to the Republican Party is real and has done considerable damage to the movement, but he insists that evangelicals should not be defined by the 81 percent because being a real evangelical entails conversion, devotion to an infallible Bible and to God’s discernible presence on earth. But since polls show that evangelicals who attended church frequently voted for Trump at much the same rate as nominal evangelicals, he is left with no explanation for why so many evangelicals voted for an adulterer who boasts about his sexual conquests.”
- Ben Howe, The Immoral Majority: Why Evangelicals Chose Political Power Over Christian Values (Broadside Books, 2019): “Ben Howe is not the scholar Kidd is, but his book comes closer to an explanation; for, unlike Kidd, Howe was a conservative activist who went through a change of heart during the 2016 primaries.”
- Robert Draper, To Start a War: How the Bush Administration Took Americaa into Iraq (Penguin Press, 2020): Bush “was criminally culpable in his naïveté and incuriosity about the costs and consequences of war. At the same time, Cheney and Rumsfeld were inveterate schemers whose cynicism about going to war was exceeded only by their ineptitude in conducting it.”
- Eric Eyre, Death in Mud Lick: A Coal Country Fight Against the Drug Companies That Delivered the Opioid Epidemic (Scribner, 2020): “Eyre’s coup was exposing, in exact numbers, the volume of opioid shipments to West Virginia, but he organizes his book as a simmering thriller, in which villain after villain is introduced.”
- Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth (Brookings Institution, 2021): “He takes us on a historical tour of how a range of thinkers (Socrates, Hobbes, Rousseau, Montaigne, Locke, Mill, Hume, Popper) sought truth, came to embrace uncertainty, learned to test hypotheses and created scientific communities.”
- Erwin Chemerinsky, Presumed Guilty: How the Supreme Court Empowered the Police and Subverted Civil Rights (Liveright, 2021): “. . . Chemerinsky presents a damning indictment of the Supreme Court (in recent decades). In case after case, the nation’s highest tribunal has found that police actions, even when clearly in violation of constitutional prohibitions, are acceptable.”
The winners write the history, often with tragic results - on epic historical lies:
- Doug J. Swanson, Cult of Glory: The Bold and Brutal History of the Texas Rangers (Viking, 2020): “Debunking Rangers lore as sold in movies, television shows, museum exhibitions and novels is the crux of Swanson’s revisionist mission.”
- , Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth (Penguin Press, 2021): “The winning side, the Texians, will build their economy using slave labor. Why? Because without the use of human chattel the average cotton or sugar plantation couldn’t possibly turn a profit. Thus the zealous effort to defend the system . . .”
Technical and Analytical Readings
- Margaret Heffernan, Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril (Walker & Company, 2011).
- Sam Harris, Free Will (Free Press, 2012): the neuroscientist “explains the illogic of our belief in free will.”
Documentary and Educational Films
- : a documentary a Nazi war criminal and the many people who were his actions
- The Memory of Justice, a documentary that French and American assumptions about war crimes and who has committed them
Film and Stage
- M*A*S*H: this comedy about a medical unit during the Korean war broke barriers in mincing no words about theistic belief and taking no prisoners on the absurdities of war
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
- Jordi Savall has produced a work entitled “Erasmus van Rotterdam: Éloge de la Folie (Praise of Folly),” about the early Humanist Erasmus. This 6-CD set (three with music and words, three with music only) opens with a disc that presents Erasmus’ views on folly, its elements and its antidotes. The next two discs focus on Erasmus’ life and work. These early lines from Folly’s narration led to the placements of this work under intellectual honesty, instead of other suitable values such as rationality or reason: “I am the folly and I alone ignite the world with pleasure, sweetness and delight. All are in my service, more or less, each one in thrall, and yet there is no man on earth who thinks himself a fool.”
Poetry is the supreme fiction, madame.
Take the moral law and make a nave of it
And from the nave build haunted heaven. Thus,
The conscience is converted into palms,
Like windy citherns hankering for hymns.
We agree in principle. That's clear. But take
The opposing law and make a peristyle,
And from the peristyle project a masque
Beyond the planets. Thus, our bawdiness,
Unpurged by epitaph, indulged at last,
Is equally converted into palms,
Squiggling like saxophones. And palm for palm,
Madame, we are where we began. Allow,
Therefore, that in the planetary scene
Your disaffected flagellants, well-stuffed,
Smacking their muzzy bellies in parade,
Proud of such novelties of the sublime,
Such tink and tank and tunk-a-tunk-tunk,
May, merely may, madame, whip from themselves
A jovial hullabaloo among the spheres.
This will make widows wince. But fictive things
Wink as they will. Wink most when widows wince.
[Wallace Stevens, “A High-Toned Old Christian Woman”]
“Humbug! We are not quite reduced to that yet. Alfred who is as determined a despot as ever walked, does not pretend to this kind of defence; — no, he stands, high and haughty, on that good old respectable ground, the right of the strongest; and he says, and I think quite sensibly, that the American planter is ‘only doing, in another form, what the English aristocracy and capitalists are doing by the lower classes;’ that is, I take it, appropriating them, body and bone, soul and spirit, to their use and convenience. He defends both, — and I think, at least, consistently. He says that there can be no high civilization without enslavement of the masses, either nominal or real. There must, he says, be a lower class, given up to physical toil and confined to an animal nature; and a higher one thereby acquires leisure and wealth for a more expanded intelligence and improvement, and becomes the directing soul of the lower. So he reasons, because, as I said, he is born an aristocrat; — so I don’t believe, because I was born a democrat.” [Harriett Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin or Life Among the Lowly (1852), Volume II, Chapter XIX, “Miss Ophelia’s Experiences and Opinions Continued”.]
From the dark side:
‘O, there’s a great deal to be said on both sides of the subject,’ said a genteel woman, who sat at her state-room door sewing, while her little girl and boy were playing round her. ‘I’ve been south, and I must say I think the negroes are better off than they would be to be free.’ ‘We can’t reason from our feelings to those of this class of persons,’ said the other lady, sorting out some worsteds on her lap. ‘Indeed, ma’am, you can know nothing of them, if you say so,’ answered the first lady, warmly. ‘I was born and brought up among them. I know they do feel, just as keenly, — even more so, perhaps, — as we do.’ The lady said ‘Indeed!’ yawned, and looked out the cabin window, and finally repeated, for a finale, the remark with which she had begun, — 'After all, I think they are better off than they would be to be free.’ [Harriett Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin or Life Among the Lowly (1852), Volume 1, Chapter XII, “Select Incident of Lawful Trade”.]