To Reconcile vs. To Rationalize
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As stated in the previous post “Smaller and Smaller Circles”, the human brain tries to make sense of correlations between the informational patterns it perceives. Early behavioral scientists labeled that innate talent for connecting things “conditioning”. We sense bacon cooking and many of us begin to salivate for the taste of bacon in our mouths. For those who react this way, our brains have forged a connection between the scent of bacon cooking and the pleasure of tasting, chewing, and swallowing those crunchy savory strips of pork belly. But, while brains making that connection would seem to be a relatively simple process, there must be something else going on inside our brains. Otherwise, why do some people not eat bacon? Liking bacon is just not a universal truth regarding human beings.

Human brains are not simple machines in how they make and act on perceived informational correlations. Brains either learn or don’t learn thought processes for calculating useful connections. During early childhood, before language is fully developed, learning how the world works occurs largely through play: through touching, tasting, and moving things around to see how they behave. We are born as little scientists, and good ones at that. But, as we acquire language skills, “hearsay” becomes increasingly dominate. And unfortunately, that’s where we become substantially less scientific. Abandoning independent testing and seeking to become “good members” of our family and local social groupings, we become agreeably accepting of all kinds of prejudicial, biased, and superstitious “connections” between patterns and constellations of patterns occurring in our surroundings.

Anthropologists will tell you that is “culture” stepping in to provide us with a short-cut to knowledge, knowledge gained through the careful research and testing our ancestors have done. And though that knowledge is largely offered to us from supposedly wise and benevolent elders, the fact is that so called knowledge may not be currently valid or may even be a fabrication whose purpose is to hide the truth, subjugate, and/or manipulate us.

So, what is the answer? We begin as little scientists directly interacting with the world around us, drawing our own conclusions. We then fall under the spell of culture through a process called “socialization” and in the end confidently assume we’ve reached a full and complete understanding of life with all its perils and possibilities. But then, the world we thought we’d mastered begins to change. What then?

Thoughtful educators will tell you we need “higher education” in order to cope. But, what are they talking about? What is “higher education”?

These days, “higher education” is not about learning more stories academics, clerics, politicians, and advertising executives have devised to account for supposed facts. No, its not about what to think. It’s more about how to think. It’s more about how to directly look at new informational patterns, and thoughtfully consider how they actually and possibly usefully connect with what we already think we know. It’s more about relearning how to be the curious scientists we were when we were very young, looking directly at the world to see how it works and drawing our own conclusions as to how things do and don’t fit together.

Well and good. But, it isn’t easy to just forget all the potentially dubious stuff we’ve filled our brains with via that learning short-cut “hearsay”. In fact, there might be a great deal of hearsay that is actually still valid and useful. We’d be doing ourselves harm if we just erased it in total and started off with a huge blank space inside our brains. The problem then becomes: how do we “reconcile” what we perceive as new with what we’ve already learned?

Reconcile? What is reconcile?

Reconcile is not: Oh, I don’t need to learn that. Or, who said that? If a Democrat (or Republican) said that, it can’t be true. Or, if it doesn’t say that in the Bible (or Koran), it has to be from the Devil. Or, if I heard it on NPR (or PBS, or Fox), it has to be true. Or even, its the law. It must be true. No, those quick assessments are not reconciliation. What those quick assessments are are “rationalizations”, another mental short-cut we sometimes use to avoid the hard work of thinking through a way to validly and usefully reconcile things that disturb us because, at first glance, they don’t seem to fit with things we thought we knew in a way that we can readily understand and feel comfortable with.

That last part, feel comfortable with, is important. It gives us a place to stand. It gives us both a meaningful past and a potentially meaningful future. It leaves us with agency, some control over who we are and what we now face. Reconciliation that leaves us without agency is not reconciliation. It is something else that needs reconciliation.

I suspect that feeling of discomfort some people have after hearing about the academic pursuit labelled “critical race theory” derives from exactly that, an inability to reconcile those new findings with what we always thought was true about the world we live in, namely that racial bias has apparently played a larger part in getting all of us to where we are now than we ever thought it did. And, if true, that fact is leaving us feeling at lot less blameless than we are comfortable with. Easier for some people to riot, make threats, and throw stones than do the hard work of getting themselves to a place less uncomfortable with those who have suffered as a result of that bias.

Same thing with the issue of climate change. Easier to rationalize, riot, make threats, and throw stones than to do the hard work of creating an economy that provides for individual agency while at the same time contributes to the stabilization of climate fluctuations within a range we can comfortably live, a range that also protects agency for the creatures of nature we depend upon for our own survival.

As harvest season and the colors of Fall begin to show their faces, may you remain well and seriously endeavor to not foolishly participate in the cascading extinction of all life on this planet.

Thursday, August 2nd, 2018
New Guyama/Junction
CA/UT
USA