Saturday, March 24, 2007

One Source of Bad Information

There's a boy in you about three
Years old who hasn't learned a thing for thirty
Thousand years. Sometimes it's a girl.

This child had to make up its mind
How to save you from death. He said things like:
"Stay home. Avoid elevators. Eat only elk."

You live with this child, but you don't know it.
You're in the office, yes, but live with this boy
At night. He's uniformed, but he does want

To save your life. And he has. Because of this boy
You survived a lot. He's got six big ideas.
Five don't work. Right now he's repeating them to you.

- Robert Bly, Morning Poems

How often do we run across that ancient little boy today?

I'm not just thinking about hearing him in our own thoughts. But what about when folks irrationally deny evolution or global warming, or, for that matter, irrationally promote abstinence-only sex education? Isn't that the same ancient little boy repeating his bad ideas to us?

Anyone who still fails to realize humans have an intrinsic irrational side to their nature hasn't been paying enough attention to the news of the last two centuries. Science has pretty much settled that question now.

It's a very old idea that irrationality is merely a mistake in reasoning, but it's a wrong idea. As Bly points out, irrationality is actually built into us. It's part of our very nature.

Why else would otherwise reasonable people --- people who can be rational about their jobs or their marriages or their children --- think the science on global warming is a conspiracy of liberal minded scientists? "Eat only elk. Avoid elevators. Don't believe in global warming."

We shouldn't hate that ancient little boy. He's part of us, and to hate him would be to hate part of ourselves. Yet, we should understand he's there and what that means.


Brendan said...

Excellent post, Paul. This is essentially the same point I was getting at with my latest post on Constantin Brunner, though this version is shorter, more poetic and more elegant than mine.

Paul said...

Thank you, Brendan! That's high praise, although I think anyone who is interested in going into some depth on this should drop by your blog to read your post on Brunner. I certainly have not exhausted the subject!