That truth should be silent I had almost forgot.
Antony and Cleopatra,  Act 1, Scene 2

Unsilent Truth
June 5, 2020

The madhouse

Contradiction and passion



A thing cannot both be and not be
at the same time and in the same respect.
— The Law of Contradiction (classic formulation)
You can't have everything.
— Neff's Corollary
MOST PEOPLE MOST OF THE TIME have no problem with the Law of Contradiction. They go through life not thinking about it while it quietly does its job of helping them make sense of things.

That is as it should be. It is so foundational to both thinking and being that we shouldn't have to think about it all that much. For most of us most of the time, it functions primarily only as a kind of tool. Do you like Sudoku puzzles? Crossword puzzles? Almost every step in solving one is an application of the Law. Detective stories? The very power of an alibi rests on the Law. And those are just the applications that are really just for our amusement. Even our amusements rest dependably on it.

And for most of us most of the time, it is the Great Arbiter of Truth. Any idea that runs afoul of it is struck down by it. When we run into a paradox, it does not overthrow the Law. Paradox is not some kind of revolutionary; rather it is a kind of cri de cœur, not that some thing is wrong but that we have made a mistake that we have been unable to identify.

And we find ourselves perplexed when we encounter people who seem to be uninterested in setting an apparent contradiction or paradox right. (Especially when they are popularizers of physics who utter their paradoxes while smiling at us condescendingly, as though only inferior beings can fail to appreciate those higher reaches where contradictions are at last unshackled and can take in the thin air that would give us rubes hypoxia.)

When things are ordered in a non-contradictory manner, they attract us. That which is reasonable is true, and we are drawn to it. Truth is our natural home, and we are comfortable when we rest in it. Our minds are undisturbed and we enjoy the peace that logic imparts — even when the logic is too hard for us to follow.

Thus it happens that certain commentators on politics find the current situation perplexing. We are told that there is a dangerous virus abroad, that we must keep our distance, one from the other. (Six feet is the prescribed distance — not 5 feet 9 inches, not 5 feet 11 and a half inches, but 6 feet.) This virus is so subtle in taking root in our bodies that we must wear masks in order not to become infected and in order not to infect others. We must not gather in crowds, not even to pray for the sick. And the only churches that can be open are those of the true gods, alcohol and marijuana. These strictures are so hardened that woe unto him who dares to flout them. The scolds and the nags of society have been given free rein to remonstrate with us and push us around.

And yet ... and yet ...

Comes now an occasion of Protest. And masks are no longer necessary. Keeping one's distance is no longer necessary. And the god of anger (parading now under the guise of the god of justice) joins the pantheon of true divinities, for his ability to intoxicate betrays his family connection to the others.

And commentators on politics of a certain sort are puzzled. How can this be? Why the contradiction? And in attending to the contradiction, they somehow expect that others will slap themselves on the forehead and say, "But of course! What were we thinking?" And change their behavior.

A paradox? Not really. But a contradiction easily unraveled. The mistake of the puzzled commentators is to think that the Law of Contradiction counts for anything when you have run away from home. And that is what most of those among whom we live are: runaways. From logic. From reason. From Truth.

I said above that Truth attracts us and we are drawn to it. But I should have added the warning that such was the case only in an undeformed intellect. We have all, at one time or another, stomped our foot at reality and said, in effect, "But I want it MY way!" And in that moment, we have allowed our intellect to be pushed aside by our passions, and for that moment, the intellect is deformed.

But there are those whose intellect is not merely momentarily pushed aside by their passions. Rather, it has abdicated its majestic role in them, and their passions have taken over the driver's seat. They are not attracted to what is True. For them, what is true is whatever attracts them, whatever pleases them, whatever engages their passions. Their passions determine what to believe. Their passions, not their intellects, guide their choices and determine what they say they will believe. Believing what is true is not always easy (just as doing what is right is not always easy). But believing what pleases them releases the phlogiston of their passions — it's as easy as falling off a log, indeed falling off anything that is vaguely log-ic.

And as anyone who is still capable of even a little bit of self-knowledge knows, our passions — perhaps alone of all the wonders of the universe — are not subject to the Law.

They allow us to want contradictory things. The Law does not allow us to have those things, but it allows us to want them. And it allows us not to give a hoot for what it tells us.

And so widespread is the demand for contradictory things, that we now live in a madhouse. For madness is the penalty that the Law imposes on those who would trespass into that world where it does not reign.

That is the world in which we live. A mad world. A world at war with the Law of Contradiction.

I cannot speak for others, but I am desperately homesick. Ω

June 5, 2020

© 2020 Ronald N. Neff
Published in 2020 by WTM Enterprises.


Related reading: "The Moral Authority of the Lockdown Fetishists Is Gone. Thank the Protestors and Rioters," by Ryan McMaken, Mises Institute, June 2, 2020.

And if you want to try navigating the astonishing twists and turns of leftist thinking, you could try making your way through this piece from Politico: "Suddenly, Public Health Officials Say Social Justice Matters More Than Social Distance," by Dan Diamond (June 4, 2020).

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